observatories have existed for thousands of years. these first structures were used for very practical
purposes such as observing the enemy in battle or guiding ships along the coast. over time observatories
have come to gain new purposes. today, observation decks allow people to look at nature from unique
vantage points or look skywards towards the constellations. these structures can be tall towers or tiny
edifices all of which have their own function. this building typology is not something you see everyday,
which explains part of its appeal. this collection of observation decks and lookout towers represents
a wide range of sizes and styles all of which are designed to observe different things.
Kirishima open air museum forest observatory
located in kuyshu, japan, this forest observatory designed by sami rintal is a small white structure which
is meant to be used to listen to and understand the forest. the observatory’s design collects and harbours
sounds for visitors. inside the structure it is silent to allow silent conversation. rather than observing a site,
this observatory is meant to create an awareness of nature.
Astro-view observation towers
built for the new york world’s fair in 1964, these three towers are a space-age take on the observation tower.
the tallest tower stand 226 ft. tall and is accessible via the ‘glass capsule’ elevator. they were designed by
philip johnson & richard foster architects for the new york state pavilion. fair visitors could ascend the towers
to look over the entire fairgrounds.
GDS architects recently won the competition to design korea’s main gateway landmark, located in ifez incheon.
their winning design features a 450m (1476ft.) tall observation tower at its core. surrounding it is a cultural
village with a performance center, indoor water park, kids town, retail, museum, sports and fitness center.
the tower has a crystal like design which will serve as an architectural beacon as well as observation tower.
part observation towers, part powerstations, the work of michael jantzen fulfils many functions. the american
designer and architect has created a number of projects which can be used as observation towers. by adding
wind turbines to the structures they do double duty as power sources. his ‘eco-tower’ uses a large top-mounted
wind turbine, while ‘wind tower’ uses louver like blades on its column to generate power.
Sogliano al rubicone tower
designed for a small italian town 90 km southeast of bologna, the sogliano al rubicone tower by francesco gatti
and giampiero sanguigni was actually not the winner of the design competition in 2004. the winning architect
was roger bacciarini, however gatti and sanguigni’s design was quite unusual. their proposal was a very normal
steel tower structure, however the back of their design was to be clad in greenery, making appear to be lifted
from the ground. perhaps it was a little too unusual for the competition judges.
Eiffel tower hoax
In early 2008, a design for a temporary observation deck at the top of the eiffel tower circulated around the
The unusual design was reported to be the winner of a design competition to celebrate the 120th
anniversary of the famous tour in paris. designed by serero architects, the design was met with controversy
and eventually revealed to be a hoax. while the firm stated that the design was real, eiffel tower representatives
didn’t see it the same way. either way the observation extension would have extended the space from 280m2
to 580m2. it claimed to be constructed from carbon kevlar and mounted for the celebration and then removed.
Pinohuacho observation deck
The pinohuacho observation deck designed by rodrigo sheward sits on a hill in the mountains of chile near its
namesake town. the simple observation deck is constructed using recycled wood. the project was initiated
as a new source of income for a group of local families who could no longer earn a living on the land after an
avalanche and volcano eruption. the families turned to agrotourism to show visitors the splendour of the
local area. the observation deck was built to create a place for resting along the trails, navigated either by
horseback or hiking. visitors now have a place to rest, take shelter or simple enjoy the views.
Korkeasaari island look out tower
Overlooking the city of Helsinki, the Korkeasaari island look out tower is perched on a cliff. the tower was
designed by students in the HUT wood studio workshop and consists of a 72 piece outer shell made entirely
of wood. a staircase leads visitors to the two levels which look out onto the sea and city. the design was
created by the students and first built in scale to see if the wood would bend and hold in the design. the final
structure was left exposed to the elements only receiving UV protection wood balm. the observation level is
protected yet open thanks to the criss-crossed wall design.
Grand canyon skywalk
Perhaps the most advanced observation deck in terms of engineering, the skywalk is a large u-shaped deck
which cantilevers over arizona’s grand canyon. the deck extends 70 ft. over the edge of the canyon holding
120 tourists at a time. steel supports have been drilled into the rock to anchor the deck and shock absorbers
prevent it from bouncing. to make matters worse the deck’s floor is made completely of glass. a strong
stomach is most definitely an requirement for this deck.
Offenbach observation tower
Designer boris banozic collaborated with bb22-architects to create this observation deck in offenbach, germany.
the structure was commissioned for the purpose of observing and analyzing weather. the structure itself acts
as a measuring tool. on the upper deck a looking scope directs visitors to distant sights informing them of how
weather impacts this view. the structure is made of three columns and a staircase and bears a resemblance to
moving staircases found at airports.
Located at the edge of a mountain road in aurland, norway, this look out by saunders architecture is a precarious
structure. the observation deck appears to drop off into the valley below, but a single sheet of glass protects
visitors. the design was the winner of a completion commissioned by the norwegian highway department.
the lookout is constructed from steel and clad in wood.
The nautical feel of the glasgow tower may perhaps be due to its architect richard horden, who is also an
avid yachtsman. the design is part of the glasgow science centre and its mast-like form rotates to reduce
the structural load created by the wind. thanks to ball bearings the building can make a complete 360 degree
rotation. at 100m tall the building has a restaurant, observation deck and exhibition space, and also happens
to be scotland’s tallest building. the tower opened in late 2001.