Name, first nameSchatz, Marc-OlivierYear of birth1974UniversityHKBField of Interest / research fieldDesign Research and ReflectionTitle of projectSpace and Time: Stories from the Neuchâtel ObservatoryAbstractSince the modern era, astronomical observatories have been the places where the sky was primarily observed and time was measured. For almost 150 years (1858-2007), the Neuchâtel Observatory was a world reference for determining and distributing time. Thanks to the time signal it distributed daily on the radio from the 1930s, it shaped the daily life time for generations of people in Switzerland. But its national and scientific importance have been forgotten. My project aims to conceive and design an exhibition with two objectives: to introduce the public to this emblematic object of Swiss scientific heritage and to question, through the Observatory, time and its measurement.


Manufacturing and Exhibiting Time

What is time and how to measure it? This question has fascinated humanity, from both a scientific and philosophical point of view and I discovered this fascination in 1986, when Halley’s comet passed: I was marked by the fact that the comet would not return until 2061, when I would be very old. From that time, my interest in astronomy began to increase. Since the 17th century, observatories have guaranteed expertise in sky observation and time measurement; they have been fundamental actors in our quest for the meaning of time.

The first Swiss observatory was founded in Geneva in 1772 and is still a world-renowned institution today. The Neuchâtel Observatory was created in 1858 and has played a crucial role in the distribution of time and in the development of a national time culture. Created by the government, it had the particularity of being connected to the region’s watchmaking industry; it had to contribute by scientific means to the improvement of its products, in order to make them more competitive on the market. Its two main tasks were: to issue certificates proving the reliability of Neuchâtel watches and, to measure the exact time and communicate it to the industry by telegraph, so that factories could regulate their watches precisely. It also developed other scientific activities such as astronomy, meteorology and seismology.

The Observatory was an international reference in the field of chronometry, but it became famous in Switzerland with the diffusion of exact time. After 1860, it didn’t only distribute time to factories, but also to the region’s main towns, and later to all of Switzerland, culminating in the distribution of the time signal on Swiss radio in the 1930s. Finally, in the 1950s the Observatory was responsible for the creation of the first atomic clocks and before its activities ended in 2007, it worked for the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Galileo satellite project.

I would like to develop an exhibition project on the Observatory as a true “manufacture of time”, first as a key place in Swiss scientific heritage, and with time and its measurement. The exhibition is designed to be placed on the site of the Observatory. Exhibitions on astronomy and observatories are set up in the places where science was practiced. The famous Greenwich Observatory, now completely converted into a museum, is a fine example of this museological approach.

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is.
If I wish to explain to him who asks, I do not know.”
Saint Augustine, The confessions, Book XI, chapter XIV
TutorsRossella Baldi and Jimmy SchmidFileDownload file
Space and Time: Stories from the Neuchâtel ObservatorySpace and Time: Stories from the Neuchâtel ObservatorySpace and Time: Stories from the Neuchâtel Observatory