Description of Historic Place
Sitting on a hill slightly over 700 feet above sea level, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) is a two-storey, white cylinder with a domed roof. A projecting main entrance portico consisting of double doors, a round-arched transom and a flanking column supporting a small pediment roof, denotes the main axis of the rotunda form. Multipaned windows with shutters are regularly placed four per bay, every other bay, and above the entrance portico filling the bay is the coat-of-arms. Classicism is evident in the tripartite division of the elevation into the foundation plinth, piano noble and the domed roof, while modern influences are seen in the flattened treatment of the pilasters and entablature. Situated on a circular bermed earthen platform, the structure’s axial composition is reinforced by a sweeping stone stair leading up to the entrance portico. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations and its architectural and environmental values.
The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) is one of Canada’s oldest and most important observatories one of the best examples of the development of early government funded astrophysical research, which permitted Canada to take its place as a world leader in astrophysics in the second decade of the nineteenth century. The DAO was built to house a -state-of-the-art- 72 inch telescope on which Dr. John Stanley Plaskett, a brilliant astronomer and the DAO’s first director recorded his first stellar spectrum on May 6, 1918. Its construction was an outgrowth of the early research begun at the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa (1902-04). For two decades, Plaskett and his colleagues studied the motions of young luminous stars in the Milky Way, and were able to provide the first accurate description of the size and nature of the Milky Way Galaxy. These original major studies in stellar and galactic astronomy established the Canadian astronomers at the DAO as world leaders.
The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) is a very good example of Moderne Classical Style and represents evolving modernist tendencies in design. It is also a very good example of the early development of modern construction techniques incorporating utility and speed of assembly. The DAO is characterized by its use of symmetry, its pure geometrical volumes and references to classical design, its flattened, attenuated treatment of the pilasters and entablature and its simple massing and design.
The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) reinforces the present character of the observatory campus. Located on top of Little Saanich Mountain, a hill slightly over 700 feet above sea level, the DAO and its campus have dominated the landscape for 80 years.
A well-known landmark in and around Victoria, the DAO remains the centrepiece of the observatory campus. Because of its world-class scientific work, which has made it the centre of Canadian astronomical research, it is also well known to both the national and international scientific community.
Jacqueline Hucker, Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, 5071 West Saanich Road, Victoria, British Columbia, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Building Report 96-103; Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, 5071 West Saanich Road, Victoria, British Columbia, Heritage Character Statement 96-103.
The character defining elements of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) should be respected.
Its very good Moderne Classical style, modern tendencies in design and modern construction techniques and materials as manifested in:
-its simple cylindrical massing with dome;
-the tripartite division of the elevation into the foundation plinth, shaft and dome;
-its placement on a circular, bermed earthen platform and the sweeping stone stair leading up to entrance portico;
-its projecting entrance portico consisting of double doors, a round-arched transom, and flanking columns supporting a small pediment roof;
-the flattened, attenuated treatment of the classical detailing;
-its interior layout of three circular plates with structural piers and stairs rising up to the third level;
-its light structural steel framing with metal cladding Toncan metal;
-its large foundation and massive concrete piers rising up through the building to support the weight of the telescope;
-the finish materials and detailing, multipaned windows with shutters and the coat of arms.
The manner in which the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory reinforces the present character of the observatory campus and is a landmark in and around Victoria and well known in the national and international scientific community.