Enhancing education and experiential learning of the cosmos through design

Calgary TELUS Spark Science Centre

Year Completed

2021

Client

Calgary TELUS Spark Science Centre

Location

Calgary, AB

Size

10,000 SF

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Maintaining our status as leading global experts in planetarium design

The Telus Spark Science Centre is a gem of wonder, education, and experiential learning in the heart of Calgary.

After completing a master plan and contract work on the interiors and planetarium theatre in 2011, we continued a long-standing relationship with the science centre. In 2021, we were asked to reprise our role and serve as the lead architect on the renovation of the planetarium ‘Infinity Dome Theatre’ as part of Telus Spark’s three-phase revitalization project.  

Over the last two decades we have become a leading, global expert in planetarium and observatory design. Our projects include the largest technologically-advanced planetarium in the Western Hemisphere at the Liberty Science Centre in New Jersey. Teaming with Telus Spark, we were eager to apply our knowledge to their renovation. 

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Augmenting experience and safety

The original theatre had two projectors – one behind the stage and one at the back of the theatre. Our challenge was to take the existing traditional theatre, assess the needed renovations, then convert the space to accommodate a state-of-the-art, 360-degree, eight instrument projection system.  

 To do this, our arts & culture team had to work around the walls, walkways, stairways and mechanical equipment to strategically modify the pieces outside the dome to get these large projectors in place. 

Another challenge was raising the stage, so performers and speakers were visible from every seat. This required creating long ramps from the stage to the entries and exits.

The dome is quite steep, so to address this we customized seating with longer than usual backs to act as guardrails and increase the safety of all guests.

The key to a successful planetarium is to project highly acute, bright imagery on the projection dome while making the source of the imagery invisible to the audience. Our major focus was the audience experience. We wanted to make sure that people left that theatre thinking: ‘This was awesome. We’re coming back!”

Bill Chomik

Senior Principal

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Establishing safety, beauty, and comfort

We worked with a code consultant to help our team navigate approvals and attain equivalencies with the City of Calgary, and worked closely with the City to ensure approval. This allowed us to create a beautiful free-flowing theatre, while conducting due diligence and meeting safety specifications.  

We drew on international insights and planetarium best practices. As we worked with specialty consultants, we learned how to be better designers through augmented original security and safety design aspects.  

We also worked with a European projection and sound system supplier to ensure we delivered the best visual and aural quality for users.   

The resulting design strategy is a balance of safety, beauty, and comfort.  

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Using strategic design to enhance the theatre experience

We were extremely strategic, focussing on safety and comfort, particularly the creation of excellent sight lines to the stage and to the dome above. We began by stripping out the old guard rails and seats. Then, we raised the stage to create a more intimate performance environment.   

 We ensured our custom designed seats featured some of the longest backs ever created in theatre seating. They were tall enough to eliminate the need for guard rails. We opted for bright colours in our upholstery, so these seats are unlike any other theatre in the city. This was possible because the new projection system technology reflected a more brilliant saturated image, which meant we could utilize lighter, more intense interior colours.  

 Due to supply chain constraints, getting the seats delivered from Europe by ship would have created a delay in the project. Fortunately, our friends at WestJet stepped up for the Telus Spark project, expediting the seating shipment, and ensuring the project was delivered on time.  

 Barrier-free accessibility seating was redesigned with a guardrail made of glass to create a stronger connection within the theatre and a better viewing experience. We also added new lighting and carpeting.  

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Exploring the cosmos from the comfort of Calgary

The Telus Spark Infinity Dome Theatre is now completely transformed and modernized. The inclusive and inviting state-of-the-art dome theatre contains the latest advancements in projection and sound technologies; serving as a fantastic experience to explore the cosmos from the comfort of Calgary.

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