Biddle Point Stargazing Center
Type: Academic Project
Location: Naubinway, Michigan
Status: Completed Fall 2015
Scope: Master Planning, Site Planning, New Construction
Contributors: Ernesto Zuniga
The Great Lakes Circle tour was created in 1988 to call attention to the Great Lakes as an economic resource for tourism in the eight states and the two Canadian provinces bordering the five lakes. The tour, as it currently exists, is a series of road signs and an Internet website promoting regional attractions, lodging, dining and festivals.
Our focus primarily became Lake Michigan’s Circle Tour, and it’s ability to impact micro economies, environments, and resource management through cultural tourism. The semester began with extensive research about the Lake, and a four day trip around it’s entirety.
On this trip my partner and I were most captivated by what existed above: the stars. For this reason, we decided to focus our semester on the creation of a Stargazing Center and State Park. Our investigation process led us to select Biddle Point on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is located just west of Mackinaw City, and minutes from two National Forests and multiple State Parks. Most importantly, it is located at one of the least light polluted areas of the lake.
On the site itself, we situated the Observatory on a bay at the Southwest edge of the peninsula. We also curated a series of daytime and dark sky hiking trails, celestial instruments, and campsites to help create Michigan’s first dark sky state park. Our architectural intervention took two forms, a Visitor Center and an Observation Tower located in the same complex. As one begins their entry, they travel through the woods until they are greet by a sloping plaza which can be used for stargazing. The continue on to enter the Visitor Center by tucking under the Sky Theatre. On the Lower Level, visitors will find the reception area, gallery space, and telescope rental. By descending up the stairs, they can be captivated by the view out of the sculpted sky window. Up here exists a flexible gallery and event space, a classroom, the telescopic observatory, and the open air sky theatre. Tectonically, the building is quite simple: a solid wrapper with operable hangar doors at the ends and sculpted windows above. From here, visitors can continue outside to the large deck that is cantilevered over the lake to give them unique views up and out, or to the stargazing hill that hugs the edge of the telescope space. The Observation Tower features an entry under a hollow core that serves as a metaphorical telescope. As on ascends, they are greeted with filtered views through the charred wood screen at focused viewing platforms. Once at the top, viewers can look to the south at the more dynamic part of the sky, or move to the north to see above the tree canopy the Northern Lights.
Materially, we intend to be subtle and simple. Our palate is comprised of exposed concrete to showcase the structure, an infill and screen of charred wood cladding to plant the buildings in their context, and corten steel accents tie back to the region's mining history.