The Perth-Lowell Telescope Dome 1968-1971

You may recall from the last instalment, that Polish WWII survivor Tadeusz Andrzejaczek and family, had arrived in Australia from England in the mid-1950s as “ten-pound-tourists”. Andrzejaczek was a qualified architect on arrival and eventually settled in Perth to begin a long career with the then Public Works Department of WA (PWD).

Also, by 1969 NASA’s International Planetary Patrol Program (IPPP) was collecting observations ahead of launching two Viking landers to Mars and the PO was one of eight telescopes around the globe, enabling observation hand-offs that ensured ‘round the clock’ data collection.

Director of the Planetary Research Centre at the LO, W. Baum, successfully wooed the PO Government Astronomer (Bertram ‘John’ Harris) from mid-1968, and eventually, the PO was the proud possessor of a brand new 24″ Cassegrain reflector.

John Harris was no slouch. Born 1925 in Sussex, England in a tranquil, green southeast corner of England, his young life was quite different to Andrzejaczek. Harris attended the Royal Grammar School of King Edward VI in Guildford. He played rugby, cricket and chess. He won a Magnus mathematics prize, took part in debating and graduated in 1941. By age 21 he had served three years in the Royal Navy and had become employed by the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He completed a science degree, and by 1956 was Experimental Officer at the Greenwich Observatory and had married a civil servant in a neighbouring county parish church. He accepted the post of Assistant to the PO Government Astronomer in 1957 and succeeded him in the job in 1963. The next decade would see both men in the prime of their careers before Harris passes away in 1974 and Andrzejaczek in 1987.

Andrzejaczek was variously described as “a dreamer and an idealist” who would not “compromise on deeply felt principles”. According to his son, however, he was “very energetically driven to complete his projects”, was “very pragmatic” and “believed anything was possible”. He was Project Architect for the Perth Cultural Centre in a post-International, Brutalist style, as well as the Kalgoorlie Courthouse, (Stripped Classical) and Perth’s Anzac House. His son said he was “absolutely fascinated” with La Grande Arche de la Défense that was being built in Paris during the last few years of Andrzejaczek’s life. The architect for La Grande Arche, the Dane Johan Otto von Spreckelsen was a contemporary of Andrzejaczek who used strong geometric shapes. Andrzejaczek would have definitely known about Spreckelsen’s work because, as his son repeated, he was “very much in touch with what was going on around him in the world” often taking holidays to Europe and spending much time visiting
and photographing buildings of interest to him, sometimes at the expense of including family in the pictures.

Some of you will know of Johannes Kepler’s tract in the ‘Six-cornered Snowflake’ that reveals a repeated fascination with the Divine Proportion, otherwise known as the Golden Rectangle. If a rectangle with length b and width c has:

a/b = b/c = 1.618 if a = b + c

then it is said to be in Divine Proportions. This ratio is seen in very many places in biological morphology, and is thought to be a basic element of nature and therefore visually pleasing. It is seen in the proportioning of body parts in plants and animals and in such structures like the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal. Coincidence as it may be, it is nonetheless instructive to consider that Andrzejaczek may have been at least unconsciously leaning towards these visually pleasing dimensions in the Perth-Lowell design. This may well be a simple human preference, but Andrzejaczek’s personal history suggests he was particularly conscious of form and proportion, and likely to have known of the Golden Rectangle.

PWD records and PO archives have copies of Harris’ initial sketch, subsequent iterations, and Andrzejaczek’s free-hand concept drawings which are all outside the Divine Proportion. But the final proportions of the facility were very pleasing and comply with the Golden Rectangle dimensions. If the final subjective decision to raise it to its present height had not been made, the structure would not have made Andrzejaczek or Harris, entirely happy.

The Divine, or Golden Rectangle, in orange, is a visually pleasing shape seen in nature and used in architecture. The observatory in Częstochowa (far left) where Andrzejaczek was born, conforms to this shape, as does the final Perth-Lowell facility (far right). Harris' first sketch, second from left and Andrzejaczek's early concept do not fit the Golden Rectangle. Image Credit: L-R J. Waldemar, B. J. Harris, T. Andrzejaczek, R. Hunt

According to his son, Andrzejaczek “was a workaholic” but also a great socialiser, home entertainer, cook and raconteur. In Perth, he and his wife would often entertain political, social and academic luminaries, having dinner parties followed by long, intensive, boisterous, discussions, often centred around anti-fascism and culture. Andrzejaczek was also artistic in his recreation, enjoying painting portraits, never buildings, and supporting compatriots like Mr John Birman OBE, who was the Perth Festival Director for nearly twenty years.

Harris was active in Perth’s local amateur stage-play scene, so had an eye for artistic appreciation. He was simultaneously negotiating with the Bergdorf-Hamburg Observatory in Germany to build a dome to host a visiting meridian transit survey team as well as expediting the recently approved move of the entire PO to a new site in the nearby Perth hills.

Andrzejaczek was involved in the design of the meridian building on the new PO site, and although how he became involved isn’t known, there is documentary evidence that he was highly regarded and known by Harris. In a 1965 letter from an observatory manager in Hamburg, Dr J. von der Heide, to Harris, Heide remarks that Andrzejaczek’s design of the new Meridian Dome was “as technical as artistic very good building. We are very indebted to you and we beg to say our high respect to Mr Andrzejaczek.”

It was more than 12 months of to-and-from communications mainly between Harris and the LO, and between Harris and Treasury, before in September 1969, the business manager of the LO suggested the loan of a B&C telescope for use in the IPPN, and that it may be retained for subsequent use. The official offer was to come later on 5 December 1969 and included funds for two local operators, equipment, supplies and petty cash. The telescope would be fabricated in five months for delivery in June 1970. But the PO was responsible for building the housing for the telescope.