Belvedere Obscura

The Belvedere Obscura is a small summer house designed for the grounds of Fort Belverdere in Great Windsor Park. The proposal is a small pavilion that plays with light as an ‘inhabitable optical instrument’, designed and oriented to capture the various views around it in a number of different ways, as ‘camera obscura’, diffracting lens and reflector. Its form and geometry are designed to maximize this effect, while at the same time making a number of narrative links to the original core of the Belvedere building first proposed for the site; a two-story structure, triangular in plan with three hexagonal towers, a serving space at the lower level and a viewing space above designed in 1752 by Henry Flitcroft.

Three main chambers in the proposed pavilion recall the Belvedere towers, and each becomes a different type of camera obscura; one that focuses the main view back to the tower itself using a lens to project onto a circular alabaster table, one that flips the view as a pinhole camera, and a third that lets light in through a slit and so gives an abstracted, diffracted view. Each space will have the introspective and slightly otherworldly impact that these ethereal, real time, moving projections create.

The upper level of the pavilion is light and airy, and almost dissolves into its immediate context through reflection. It is a space that transforms depending on whether the wall panels are opened or closed, seasonally and from day to night. There are two main sptial configurations; in the ‘closed’ condition the three independent camera obscuras create a jewel-like platform to be drifted through on walks through the estate, and in the ‘open’ condition the pavilion can be inhabited as a single space for drinks or dining with room for a table for eight to ten people.

A further transformation of the pavilion takes place between day and night. Almost imperceptibly, as dusk falls, the ink on the surface of the two-way mirrored walls which is invisible in daylight, becomes illuminated. As the sky grows darker, a new ‘ghost structure’ takes over the Belvedere Obscura, another unbuilt 18th century proposal for the site, the Root House by Thomas Sandby, emerges, with the outer walls softly illuminating the internal space. Lights in the branches of the cast Corten trees are multiplied through reflection creating a completely otherworldly space for dining.