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Greenwich stares into space

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A new ú10 million planetarium by Allies and Morrison Architects is set to form a bronze-clad, cone-shaped structure among the Royal Observatory's historic domes

One of the world's most historic astronomical sites is to have a new planetarium. Allies and Morrison Architects' design for a new building at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich will join a constellation of observatories, including one by Sir Christopher Wren.

The cone-shaped development will be clad in bronze and have 120 raked seats facing a hemispherical screen.

Paul Appleton, Allies and Morrison's practice director, said the planetarium would be 'an environment that removes the real world; excludes all natural light, views and sound from outside; and creates an entirely artificial world for delivering the visitor into space'.

The scheme for the National Maritime Museum, worth up to ú10 million, is due to start next year. The site owes its current form to Charles II, who instructed Wren to build his observatory in 1675.

Appleton said the project, which has already secured planning permission, also involved the restoration of existing buildings and landscape. 'The cone pops through the landscape and is a major new development. But in a sense we see this more as landscape and sculpture with a discreet new building.'

His design will be surrounded by a series of existing buildings with domed roofs. These include an 1890s observatory, and the white-roofed Meridian Building, whose telescopes are the biggest crowd-puller.

Appleton added that the form of the new block was steeped in astronomical significance. The calculated tilt of the cone forms an axis with the North Star and the angles of the cone represent mathematical curves that correspond to the orbits of comets and planets.

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