Vassar's first completed building was the old observatory located on a small knoll northeast of Main. When it was time to update the observatory, the college chose a site adjacent to the golf course, located on one of the highest elevations of the main college grounds, for the new structure. This strategic location has two advantages: it allows for unobstructed viewing of the nighttime sky with minimal light disruption and it provides one of the few direct vistas to the Hudson River Valley, just three miles to the west. Given by the class of 1951 to mark their forty-fifth reunion, the new building was designed by Roth and Moore Architects.
The observatory contains offices, classrooms, and dome rooms, which house 32-inch and 20-inch reflecting telescopes, equipped with CCD cameras and spectroscopes. An outdoor viewing terrace offers various positions for the portable telescopes.
The building has been intentionally designed to minimize heat pollution. In the old observatory building, the thick masonry walls retained heat from the daily sun, which was released during the evening hours directly into the surrounding atmosphere. As telescopes became more powerful and therefore more sensitive, this rising heat caused a refraction of the light from the stars that in turn created a blurred condition for viewing. It was therefore imperative to design a structure that addressed this problem. The small exterior structures are clad with a lightweight, low-thermal-mass aluminum sheathing, which helps to reflect heat away from the building. The interior spaces are well insulated to prevent heat transmission, and the dome rooms are unheated to prevent any transmission in the vicinity of the telescopes.
Adapted from The Campus Guide: Vassar College, by Karen Van Lengen and Lisa Reilly
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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.