The Harris Observatory

The Harris Observatory

The Center for Discovery

Dome building under construction, The Center for Discovery, Harris, New York, 1984.
February 15, 2012
The Harris Observatory

The Center for Discovery announces a special event for the opening of The Harris Observatory, a temporary project by Philadelphia-based artist RICHARD TORCHIA. This is the first of a series of projects developed for CENTERpieces, a cultural initiative of planned architectural interventions using vernacular structures.


Torchia’s project converts a disused 20-foot high geodesic dome located on The Center’s south campus into an immersive installation powered solely by sunlight. Viewers walking into the dome will find themselves beneath a canopy of thousands of holes drilled into the ceiling that attempts to chart the stars present behind the daytime sky. Lenses placed in the dome’s lower windows throw camera obscura projections onto hand-held screens. The large open space, which appears entirely empty at first, becomes dense with live, inverted images of clouds, trees, and wildlife.


Originally constructed from a kit by Center staff in 1984, the dome building has quietly embodied The Center’s visionary commitment to green architecture that remains one of the organization’s hallmarks. In recognizing the need to demolish the structure, The Center opened it to curators Julie Courtney and Jennie Shanker who identified the building as a unique opportunity for Torchia and his work.


The resulting project, The Harris Observatory, conflates the fate of the dome building with the history of geodesic structures and the evolution of the planetarium. The first dome to be called “geodesic” was completed by Walther Bauersfeld in 1923, twenty years before Buckminster Fuller’s research popularized the form. Bauersfeld, chief design engineer of the Zeiss Optical Company, adapted the geodesic framework for what is now considered the first modern planetarium. Still extant, its union of “school, theatre, and cinema in one classroom under the eternal dome of the sky” serves as model for the project.


Richard Torchia has developed sited camera obscura projections for venues across the United States and in Europe since 1990. Marquee, a permanent public work created in collaboration with Greenhouse Media (Aaron Igler and Matt Suib), opened in Philadelphia in October 2010. Since 1997 he has been director of Arcadia University Art Gallery, Glenside, Pennsylvania.


The Center for Discovery is an organization renowned for the educational, clinical, residential, social and creative arts experiences it provides to children and adults with significant intellectual disabilities and medical frailties.  What distinguishes The Center is its philosophy of creating challenging, accessible, healthy, loving, supportive and homelike educational and work settings in which the children and adults can develop relationships, learn and grow, and foster new social and artistic skills. The agency’s mission is to offer these individuals and their families innovative educational and social experiences, enriching their lives through personal growth. The end result is increased independence and improved interpersonal abilities for each individual.


For information about The Center for Discovery:


CENTERpieces is a new cultural initiative co-curated by independent curator Julie Courtney ( and artist Jennie Shanker ( It aims to transform abandoned buildings and empty lots into universally designed artworks and public gathering places, creating temporary projects that will fascinate, educate, integrate and create community, vitality and tourism in an underserved region of the Catskills. With the intent to commission several multi-year projects over time, CENTERpieces becomes, in essence, an innovative sculpture park that dots numerous sites throughout the region.


For information about CENTERpieces:


The Harris Observatory will be on view from February 18–March 3 between 10am­–5pm
by appointment:
[email protected]


Grand Opening event:
February 25, 2012
Benmoshe and Kinnebrook Roads
Harris, NY
Free and open to the public 


RSVP required:
For more information call about the event, contact:
Julie Courtney, [email protected]
Jennie Shanker, T [email protected]


Google map directions: 


CENTERpieces is supported in part by generous donations from The Center for Discovery and Carole Haas Gravagno.


RSVP for The Harris Observatory
The Center for Discovery
February 15, 2012

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The Center for Discovery will be in touch.


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