In 1985, the National Maritime Museum invited Ian Ritchie Architects to investigate the possibilities of bringing the Observatory at the top of Greenwich Park into the 20th and 21st century. Unfortunately, our design for a bronze sphere housing a revolutionary new planetarium behind Flamsteed House was rejected by The Royal Parks, whose chair at the time Dame Jennifer Jenkins refused to have a ‘daffodil’ moved. The project was enthusiastically taken up by locals, who formed the Society for the Greenwich Planetarium. As a result of their efforts, a riverside site on the meridian line was selected.
The revolutionary idea we invented was the ‘Spheriscope’ – a planetarium providing a full 360° spherical experience. The main visible part of the Spheriscope will be a smooth, low-reflective glass-skinned sphere supported above the river bank and set in a landscaped garden. Between the Speriscope’s spherical shell and the outer glass skin, will be a circular viewing and exhibition gallery at its equator, reached by a pair of escalators and a lift from the supporting accommodation.
The structure of the sphere will be a steel shell on which inner and outer skins will be mounted. The array of light sources set into the shell will be visible through the translucent glass skin, and may be programmed to provide animated displays, images, or information – they may, for example, trace the course of significant astronomical bodies or recently launched satellites.
The planetarium will hold 300 spectators floating on a glass floor in the middle of a 30m (100ft) diameter sphere. Co- ordinated images will be projected in vector fields onto upper and lower hemispherical surfaces. These will combine to produce a total illusion of floating in space or moving through space, with the possibility of upper and lower star field and planetary object images moving together to reinforce a three-dimensional effect of movement in any direction.
The audience will sit on a non-reflective glass floor with minimal structure supporting it, each person having enough space to see down in all directions. Up to 150 reclining seats around the perimeter will be available for those preferring not to sit on the floor. The glass surface and cleanliness will be preserved by issuing disposable ‘space over-shoes’ to each visitor, to be kept as a souvenir.
Although outline planning permission was granted on 28 January 1992 by unanimous decision of the Greenwich Planning Committee the project was not realised when rejected for financial assistance by the Millennium Commission for not being sufficiently unique.