Located within the beautiful North Latvia Biosphere Reserve, the Kurgi Farm observation tower is tasked with two design challenges that are distinctive with its surrounding context: an ecotourism attraction point with primary focus on native horse breeding experiences, and a scenic observatory architecture sitting on a sensitive natural landscape.

The observation tower massing consists of five levels of platforms, staggering up on top of one another and in different rotations towards the surrounding. Unlike the traditional observatory, where the scenic point tends to be located only on the top, this proposal offers multiple scenic points on all levels and has different focused views through orientation on different platforms. The staggering tower also provides additional spatial quality that is unique from traditional observatory: a play between open and covered outdoor space on each level where activities can happen all over the year.

The Visit

The proposed observation tower seeks to integrate a poetic journey into nature with an intricately curated flow of visit throughout the building. Visitors will arrive at the observation tower through an accessible ramp connecting from the main road. The first platform above ground has the largest plate where most public gatherings can take place; the second platform points towards the horse arena within the Kurgi Farm, offering an ideal lookout during horse activities and serving as an education platform focusing around the Latvian Ardennes species; the third platform above provides another view on the North Latvia Biosphere Reserve landscape while transitioning to the top – the fourth platform, an enclosed lookout space with panorama balcony overlooking the entire Kurgi farm and surrounding context.

In addition to providing scenic outlooks for the North Latvia Biosphere Reserve, the observation tower dedicates its ground space as a protected horse grooming station. After touring the observatory, visitors are then invited to come down to the ground where horse grooming and riding can simultaneously begin as the next part of the ecotourism experience.

The Structure

The overall building can be conceived as several individual “Dom-Ino” structures, where the structures share some of its columns and pivots around one another. This move allows the observation tower to create a multi-faceted form while optimizing its load through an efficient structural system. 

With the help of steel construction technology, the observation tower can achieve larger floor spans and have thinner edge profiles to express a sense of lightness. The observation tower reduces its building footprint on the ground level by raising most structures up with a series of narrower tapered columns touching the earth, thus minimizing permanent impact from the building to the North Latvia Biosphere Reserve and allowing unobstructed flow for the horse riding activities.

The Lightness

The expression of lightness and care for nature continue through night. The light effect is primarily focused at the top of the observation tower, where the ceiling is evenly uplit from floor-mounted fixtures to illuminate the indoor observation space below. The light wash continues vertically both upwards and downwards through columns to highlight the lightweight steel structure. A few other light fixtures are also installed on the lower levels as uplight for pathfinding while avoiding direct glare onto ground and potential animals around.

The observation tower will be visible from afar, day and night, in all seasons. Overlooking the Kurgi Farm and the North Latvia Biosphere Reserve, the observation tower will become an iconic landmark for the ever-growing ecotourism in the region, as well as setting up precedents on how we can protect the natural environment sensitively and respectfully.

(This entry has won third prize in Kurgi Observation Tower International Competition. Collaboration with JJ Zhao)