Trottier Observatory: Experiencing the mysteries of the universe from BC’s Lower Mainland
Simon Fraser University
On top of Burnaby Mountain at the east end of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) quadrangle, there is a place where curious astronomers and cosmic enthusiasts can freely explore the wonder of the night skies. Named after Dr. Howard Trottier, a retired SFU Physics professor, The Trottier Observatory’s concrete dome and adjacent Science Courtyard serve as a space that celebrates space exploration, art, and science. This is one of the few barrier-free observatories in the country.
Kasian collaborated with one of the world’s leading planetary experts, Ian McLellan Consulting, and the award-winning landscape and urban planning firm PWL Partnership to complete this design. The combination of vast expertise in global planetarium and observatory design, knowledge, and intelligent landscape architecture amongst the three was a recipe for success.
Our charge was to create a space that was subtle enough during the day, so as not to interfere with a busy campus, but then come alive at night to facilitate exploration, study, and community.
Finding the right site was our first challenge. We needed a place that was off the main path of foot traffic but was still intuitively accessible, and most importantly, had no visual impediments to the vast skies above.
Typically, observatories have ramps and stairs centered around one big telescope that visitors must venture to get to. SFU wanted a barrier-free experience to increase accessibility, so users could effortlessly approach the telescope platform. This required some innovation.
When a client asks you to do something that seems impossible, that has not been designed before, don’t resist. Take it up as a challenge and think outside the box.”
We facilitated a series of workshops with department heads, facilities, students, and multiple stakeholders to establish a design plan.
We shifted the observatory along its linear axis to avoid traffic, while opening the observatory park on the east, west, and south sides for exceptional night-time viewing.
Our design drivers were quiet, subtle, and conservative, so as not to disrupt the daytime happenings of campus. Though at night, our drivers transformed to art, light, and intellectual curiosity. The Park intrigues and orients people toward the observatory dome.
The interior of the Trottier Observatory is simple cast-in-place concrete walls that surround the telescope, which essentially serves as an environmental shelter.
There’s no heating or cooling, so as not to interfere with the telescope’s function. The metal Ash Dome roof rotates with the telescope, to capture as much of the sky as possible.
To address the barrier-free challenge, we sought help from Planewave Instruments to reconfigure the telescope to create equal accessibility for all viewers. The result is a telescopic eye piece adaptation (similar to a periscope) that is unique to the Trottier Observatory. The stairless, rampless interior is completely flat, comfortably fits a university class of 30 people, and provides easy access to the telescope, providing exceptional acuity for astronomers of all abilities.
The observatory’s outdoor theme park is accented with rainbow lighting and interesting facts and figures that prepares guests to learn about critical aspects of the cosmos.
The process was open, engaging, explorative, collaborative and fun. The end product was a public observatory that works beautifully – both technically and aesthetically. Its surroundings are captivating and beautiful (especially at night).”
Project client advisor
This world class observatory enriches and enhances SFU’s physics program, academics, and culture. It allows new opportunities to learn about astronomy and serves as a gift to the Lower Mainland.
The observatory park creates an artful gateway to the main part of campus, where its lights and astuteness attract both intellectuals and those just looking for a great place to take photos for social media. Astronomers in the area use the observatory for passionate discourse and community.
The Trottier Observatory won the 2017 Canadian Society of Landscape Architects National Award of Excellence.
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