Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Observatory

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posted on 2023-04-19, 21:28 authored by Murray, Clark

This thesis investigation looks at how transformative heritage stories linked to abandoned architectural sites can be reawakened through an allegorical architectural project and safeguarded for future generations. The site for this design-led research investigation is Wellington’s Gifford Observatory. Located on the slopes of Mount Victoria, the observatory has been subject to various states of disrepair and neglect ever since its construction in 1912, and currently, the site remains unused and uninhabited. This abandoned heritage site represents rich contextual narratives, as well as an important biographical account of New Zealand astronomer, Algernon Charles Gifford –– the thesis author’s great great-grandfather. The aim of this design-led research investigation is to explore how, through speculative architectural representation, an allegorical architectural project can reawaken and safeguard transformative heritage stories linked to the Gifford Observatory for future generations.

To achieve this aim, this investigation integrates three strategies for storytelling in speculative architectural drawings: layering techniques, notation devices, and curation of fragments. It applies these strategies to unveil allegorical representations of three voices closely associated with this site and its heritage stories: the astronomer (great-great grandfather), the architectural artefact (the observatory), and the architectural designer (great-great grandson).

As a storytelling strategy using layering, the investigation explores the sequencing and overlapping of layers representing the three different voices. The layers representing the deceased astronomer are the furthest below, no longer visible in the present and only existing as fragments. The layers representing the architectural designer are at the surface and continue into the future as fragments not yet formed. The layers representing the architectural artefact exist in between, spanning the temporal contexts of the past and the future.

Building upon the layering techniques, notation devices are integrated as a storytelling strategy. The investigation explores how notation devices can be applied in conjunction with layering techniques to act as allegorical representations of the three voices coming together by transgressing temporal conditions. The notation devices establish unique identities for the three voices, whilst showcasing the transformations they have witnessed over time.

The final stage of this investigation integrates the curation of fragments, as a storytelling strategy, with the methods and findings of layering techniques and notation devices. Fragments of the three voices are identified as allegorical representations and are sequenced (curated) to reveal the meta-narrative of site.

The astronomer’s voice is allegorically represented by his telescope, sextant, desk, chair, and journals; the architectural designer’s voice is allegorically represented by the grid, his drafting board, and textual notations; the architectural artefact’s voice is allegorically represented by the observatory’s apertures and the positioning of stars in the sky.

As an allegorical architectural project, this thesis proposes to anthropomorphically embody the voices of the great-great-grandfather (the astronomer), the great-great-grandson (the architectural designer) and the architectural artefact (the abandoned observatory) through hybrid architectural design representations. The investigation examines how these three unique voices, as speculative dialogues converging over time, can be reawakened as speculative architectural drawing representations. The goal of the speculative drawings is to safeguard heritage stories of the site, whilst acting as design generators to help arrive at a didactic architectural outcome for the site.

The design-led research investigation asks: How can an allegorical architectural project be used as a critical method to safeguard the transformative heritage stories of the Gifford Observatory for future generations?


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Wellington School of Architecture


Brown, Daniel K.