Astronomy is a natural science based upon the human curiosity about what is in the universe, and the desire for knowledge beyond ourselves. To facilitate this process of discovery and learning, the Astronomy Center is located in Big Bend National Park, where the coal-black skies are some of the darkest in the United States. The Park’s skies attract both amateur and professional astronomers, providing the opportunity to view a myriad of stars with the naked eye. As astronomy becomes more popular among people across the United States, the Astronomy Center offers a place to explore the sky for undiscovered celestial objects, while also learning more about the those already discovered.
As people enter Big Bend, they are introduced to an unusual ecosystem; the desert. Located in the middle of this desert is the Astronomy Center. When seen from the only road into the park, the unusual form of the Center peaks the curiosity, establishing a need to discover what it is. As the visitor approaches closer, they discover a man-made crater, with the building seen as a cantilevered mass floating above. Descending into the crater and entry plaza, they are drawn into the long, narrow building, which ultimately directs their view upward like a telescope.
The Astronomy Center is held up by a cantilevering trussed armature that extrudes from an embedded concrete foundation wall. The floor plate system is supported by the trusses but does not engage the walls, enhancing the experience that everything inside is suspended from the trusses. Programmatically, the trusses serve as a distinguishing boundary between astronomers and their desire to discover, and the public's desire to learn about the discoveries. One side of the structure intersects the lower building, splitting the spaces used for discovering and teaching/learning. A educational atmosphere is created, with separate program areas for professional astronomers and inexperienced amateurs/students. The professionals are provided with a variety of different spaces which lead to discovery, such as labs and an observatory. This knowledge is then communicated to the public through a classroom, public exhibit area, and planetarium.