Julian Abrams

Title: Receding Horizons

About the Photo:

‘Receding Horizons’ is a photographic project to document some of the most technologically influential astronomical telescopes of the modern observational era and the buildings that house them. Over the period of several years I travelled to some of the most extreme locations on earth to photograph observatories on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the hills of the Atacama Desert in Chile, on La Palma in the Canary Island and at Siding Spring in Australia, an area severely affected by bush fires both past and present.

I am particularly fascinated by the architectural design of the ground-based observatories which house some of the most technologically important telescopes currently in existence. The technological and optical requirements of the machinery inside these buildings means they increasingly occupy space at the extremities of the geographical environment where the natural conditions and rarefied air are conducive to clearer atmospheric visibility. As construction technologies and project funding have increased, astronomers have pushed development of these sites to ever higher altitudes to enhance the number of clear viewing nights per year.

The structures that have evolved are therefore a collaboration between architects, astronomers and engineers with the primary objective of being fit for scientific purpose. With no need for orthodox aesthetic considerations or to integrate with pre-existing built environments, they often convey a science fiction styled other-worldliness – detached and futuristic they exist only to serve their scientific function and to withstand the extreme conditions to which they are exposed. In fact, the general relationship between science fiction and contemporary architectural practice could be described as being fairly symbiotic: the realised designs from both present and past buildings and the fantastical imaginings of future structures each continue to influence the other.

As places of existential exploration, the domed structures are often reminiscent of the great Renaissance Italian cathedrals, metaphorical churches of scientific worship, where some of the most advanced minds on earth endeavour to de-code the mysteries of our expanding universe and humanity’s place within it.