Original features

July 30, 2009

James Wyatt's Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford is a major monument of English neoclassicism. Inspired by the Tower of the Winds in Athens, with huge windows specially designed for telescopes, it was used for scanning the night skies from 1773 to 1934.

The observatory is decorated entirely with mythological, meteorological and astronomical motifs.

Flying figures of the eight winds, by sculptor John Bacon, encircle the top of the octagonal tower, while statues of Hercules and Atlas support a copper globe on the roof. Below the balcony are the signs of the zodiac carved in a special blend of porcelain and stone made at the Coade factory, which was set up on the site of the Festival Hall in London by the pioneering businesswoman Eleanor Coade in 1769. The exterior was extensively repaired following weather damage in 2004.

The building is no longer a functioning observatory. It now houses the dining and common rooms at the social and academic heart of Oxford's newest graduate-only college, Green Templeton.

On the top floor, the main observing room is still in its almost-original state and will be used to host scientific and artistic exhibitions.

Send suggestions for this architectural series to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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