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208 × 156 × 25 mm
232 pages
82 illustrations, 43 in colour
11 Dec 2017

Star Theatre The Story of the Planetarium William Firebrace

Most of us can recall a childhood visit to a planetarium: the sense of anticipation, the room darkening, the stars coming up, the voice of the astronomer. In the planetarium, the wondrous complexity of the cosmos combines with entertainment in a theatre of the night. But how and where did the planetarium originate? What kind of simulation of the solar system and the universe does the planetarium produce? How does the planetarium mix theatre with science? And how has it changed with developments in astronomy?

Star Theatre explores the history of this unique building, designed to reveal the universe around us on an ever-expanding scale. It traces its historical origins, from the early precedents for the planetarium, to its invention in Germany in the 1920s, its developments in the USSR and the United States, its expansion across the globe at the time of the space race and the evolution of the contemporary planetarium in the recent period of startling astronomical and cosmological discoveries. This concise, well-illustrated history will appeal to planetarium lovers as well as those interested in astronomy, architecture, theatre and cinema.

‘Firebrace’s account extends into the present day and is placed in a long genealogy of buildings and devices bearing varied religious, artistic, and epistemic connotations as regards the relationship between humans and the cosmos. This is an audacious undertaking, and Firebrace writes with panache . . . Firebrace’s book will likely prove enjoyable and informative reading for both nonexpert and scholarly audiences. As a historian of science who works in a major planetarium, I was frankly captivated by many of the illustrations, anecdotes, and literary and artistic references with which Firebrace adorns his account.’ — Isis Journal

‘William Firebrace’s book provides interesting insight. In short, it gives us a fascinating “outsider’s” look at our workplaces, their history, science, art, and architecture . . . as a planetarian and show producer with more than 40 years’ experience in our field, I found his look at our community and its theaters to be a refreshing one. It shows us set against a much larger backdrop of societal and cultural expectations about science, space travel, and entertainment. It’s where we’ve always been, but I suspect we don’t always have time to appreciate the nuances . . . Star Theatre is thoughtfully written, nicely illustrated and provides good references, and is well worth reading.’ — Planetarian: Journal of the International Planetarian Society

‘Star Theatre is a richly illustrated history of the invention, development and widespread adoption of this new form of popular astronomical display and education, which became a ‘must-have’ in cities around the world keen to prove their modernizing, scientific credentials.’ — Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society

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William Firebrace is an architect and the author of Things Worth Seeing (2001), Marseille Mix (2010) and Memo for Nemo (2014). He is based in London.

Missing Planet

1 Holy, Rough, Immediate

2 Planetary Projection

3 Red Star, White Star

4 Outer Paths

5 Visible, Invisible

Timeline of Principal Planetariums

Principal Planetariums of Architectural Interest

Further Reading


Photo Acknowledgements