PLEASE HELP: astronomy / astrology and architecture DISSERTATION TOPIC.


I am writing a dissertation on the relationship between astronomy and architecture. Please give your knowledge and opinions on all the questions I am asking below and if you have any references that could be helpful please let me know I will really appreciate it. 

I will start by specifically looking into the relationship between architecture and astronomy in the ancient world by studying the treatment of the prosaic’s of solar and lunar geometry in their structures. I will look at the Past symbolic and cultural beliefs behind these and how it affected the forms of their structures.  I will briefly touch upon examples such as the pyramids and the Myan temples as I am interested in how the ancient civilisations used astronomical studies around the world to inform a building design and how they compare to each other. 
I then want to explore the symbolic aspects and use the megalithic monuments of Britain and Ireland as detailed case studies giving a brief history and an in detail study on what made ancient civilisation look at the stars to form beliefs around culture, death, life and religion and how did this impact architecture of the time. I will touch on what careful mathematics was used to produce buildings that could act as great tools such as calendars.
After this background research on the topic i will focus on my chosen building – Greenwich observatory in London.  I will then do an in-detailed analysis of the relationship between architect, astronomy and the building.  I will then proceed in finding out if the geometry of the observatories plan and its sections relate to the universe in any way. I will put tracing paper over images of the technical drawings for the building and record where this important geometry is.
Detailed research into the architect – Sir Christopher Wren is important, i want to find out how he has used to universe to inform his design as he was a notable astronomer. I can study some of his other buildings and cross reference them to back up my evidence as i live in Oxford so i have good access to the Sheldonian theatre and Tom Tower if needed.   As a side question i want to finish by answering the question Should/does astronomy have any relevance to contemporary other types of architecture and if so how/why? I will back my question up by discussing examples of modern architecture that uses astronomy in their designs and explain why this is beneficial with in the design process and if not does it have a place in the design process? What I am hoping to find out overall is if the use of astronomy is still widely used in today’s designs and how? I want to know what civilisations or architecture firms still use this practise in architecture.
Finally I will conclude the dissertation with my personal thoughts on whether i believe astronomer still has a strong presence in architectural design. I will reflect with an overall summary of what I have discovered and state if it has changed the way I personally deign in the future. 

Many thanks

Jan 9, 13 10:23 am

Cool story, bro.

Jan 9, 13 10:27 am

Your topic is interesting however your dissertation topic does not really leave room for research as it seems you are proposing the answers within your questions.

Generally i would say that you are too broad in your scope for a dissertation.  Astronomy and architecture is more than orienting buildings to the stars, or buildings as observatories.  You also missed the biggest question in your proposal: why was astronomy important to ancient societies? You omitted the role of religion or any insight into man's relationship with God and how that manifested itself in the study of astronomy. Architecture formed part of this pathway of pursuit of truth.

Jan 9, 13 3:24 pm

This beauty is by Raimund Abraham.

Jan 10, 13 12:54 am

Where did you find this image? I have his book, and never saw this.

Jan 10, 13 11:42 am

It's from the Stargazer installation at Sci-Arc in 2003.

Here's another set of images from the exhibition

Jan 11, 13 3:50 pm

This is very similar to my thesis proposal: 'Existential Origins - Cosmological philosophy in Ancient Architecture.'

Try William Lethaby's 'Architecture, Mysticism and Myth'. It is an excellent resource into the cosmological (that's actually what you are talking about - not astronomy) archetypes of ancient into medieval architecture. The book does not delve into the experiential or transcendental effect of cosmological orientation; however still is a valuable resource for you work.

Feb 4, 13 7:19 pm

Geez...with thesis topics like these, no wonder kids don't find a job coming out of school or end up working for $8/hr. 

Its alright, though. Keep drinking the academic Kool-Aid that keeps your professor's salaries in check and drowns you into six-figure debt.

Feb 4, 13 8:05 pm

Wait, dissertation means doctorate, right?  We're not talking thesis here, then.

There are definitely some different things people are doing for theses.  Some schools just wrap up with a terminal topical studio, and call it a day.  The most unusual thesis I've heard of was from a B.Arch. grad of University of Houston whose thesis was something about an underwater living center in the Gulf of Mexico, off Galveston.  There was NO way that, in one semester, this guy could have evaluated the constructability of such a "contraption."  Oh well.

At any rate, is it astronomy or astrology you are trying to integrate into a thesis building project or research?  The only experience I've had with this was in a cathedral in Italy, of all places.  If I recall, Bologna's cathedral, San Petronio (looks unfinished), has some kind of exterior opening into which outside light pours in, and then "illuminates" one of the 12 astrological signs, depicted linearly on the floor.  I'm almost sure it was in Bologna.  Regardless, it was mind-boggling to see the commingling of Catholicism and astrology ... and in a church.  It's interesting that you also bring Sir Christopher Wren into the equation, whose most famous work is London's Episcopalian cathedral.

Feb 4, 13 9:42 pm

. I will touch on what careful mathematics was used to produce buildings that could act as great tools such as calendars

 what about projects that are still real "tools" like the hadron collider?  Contemporary projects are probably not going to align with orion, and if they do it would be more novelty than an instrument like in ancient times.  I would like to see a parallel to how buildings are still fundamental tools.  I would broaden the scope to include physics....since astrology is not really relevant to the 21st century.  Of course there is the work of turrell...Think of yourself as a archeologist in the future diggin up this crazy thing...

Feb 4, 13 11:55 pm

Star Axis: Contemporary example of building's aligning with the stars. Not really a 'tool', more like an 11 story sculpture.

Feb 5, 13 11:25 am

I would just like to thank everyone for their research and opinions that has helped me to develop my dissertation. The post I wrote was an over view of what topics I was initially interested in and was very broad. I have now narrowed it down into a more focused piece of writing that i am excited about. You have pin pointed a lot of projects that I was not aware of and have enjoyed doing some research in to these. On another note starchitect I have no problem getting in a bit of debt for the investment of my future and can assure you that I will not be working for $8 an hour. It makes me wonder what you do with your life as you have commented 3 times on my post that has served no interest to my questions.

Mar 5, 13 10:54 am

i'm interested to see where this goes...keep us posted!

Mar 5, 13 11:00 am


this is interesting topic and i m so much inspire by your topic i also want to do my dissertation on this topic so pls can you mail me your dissertation just for reference 

Jul 12, 13 4:00 pm
shah jabeen sajid

hello Jasmin1992, 

I hereby a student of Barch , working on the same thesis as you worked on. I would be keen to know how did your thesis go? it will be nice of you if you can share some references that you used in your thesis. 

Jan 9, 15 1:40 pm

There is a window pattern in the Corbusier Firminy church that is supposedly in the pattern of the constellation Orion.  May be something to look into.

Jan 9, 15 2:01 pm

You could research Vedic Architecture, dont think anyone mentioned that yet. 

Jan 10, 15 4:42 pm

I'm an astronomer, and an architect. I've worked on planetarium designs, and architecture for space habitats with NASA. I'd say, its the closest I can get to understanding my place in the universe and designing with responsibility to my environment.

Jan 12, 15 6:07 pm
shah jabeen sajid

Do you have an idea how do we design keeping in mind the alignment of stars. Further how does it affect the architecture. like it does in Stonehenge, pyramids or pantheon. etc. ?

Jan 13, 15 9:24 am

Stonhenge and the Pantheon are as far as I know, more related to the movements of the Sun (which of course, is the movement of the Earth around the Sun). These pieces of architecture were concerned with telling time, as the very notion of what we consider time (day and night cycles, and year cycles) is a measurement of the relationship of the Earth to the Sun. The sun shining directly through the oculus of the pantheon might indicate high noon on the solstice, or the appearance of shadows at a certain length or direction at Stonehenge might tell them when they should harvest crops.

So too, the movement (or alignment) of stars is again the relative movement of the Earth's rotation on it's axial tilt and those movements are more or less seen as the same, a path across the sky from east to west (azimuth), at a particular inclination (altitude) based on our latitude on earth during a particular season.

You can see these relative movements in some sun path images, or solargraphs, (6 month exposures of the sun moving across the sky) like this one:

You can see a similar phenomenon when you do long exposure tracks of stars like. The stars will appear to track around the pole star. You can see in this image at the equator the stars appear to move straight overhead (the pole being at the north and south horizon):

You can see in this image at the poles the stars will appear to track directly in a circle overhead:

Its just important to remember that these are relative motions, so what we see are the resultant of the movement of the Earth, specifically its rotation around its axis and its rotation around the sun. Though the sun, and the stars of the galaxy, and other galaxies are also rotating and moving due to the effects of gravity, our distance to these other celestial bodies is so great that what we mostly notice is our position relative to our closest star, the Sun.

Jan 13, 15 1:49 pm
shah jabeen sajid

Thank you Idealist that was of great help. Have you seen any modern architecture using any astronomy or cosmology phenomena? Which may incorporate constellation Orion belts (apart from Le  Corbusier Firminy church) or any other concepts related to stars. 

Jan 14, 15 10:40 am

I would be surprised if the water feature of the Salk Institute in San Diego is not exactly east-west. The institute is stunning. To compare Kahn's Salk institute with Gehry's MIT research buildings is sobering.

Jan 14, 15 11:30 am

Yes, twice a year at the spring and autumn equinox the sun sets directly in line with the axis of the water channel at the Salk Institute.

Jan 14, 15 11:44 am

You can take a look at the Shanghai Planetarium recently designed by Ennead Architects

Im not too sure about any that particularly follow stars or constellations, but many respond to the sun and light. Look at any Tadao Ando or James Turrell pieces.

Jan 15, 15 3:16 pm

Check out the Roden Crater, architecture or art or scientific instrument? Up to you!

Jan 15, 15 3:25 pm

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