Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard. PWL Partnership

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WLA 30 - March 2017

World Landscape Architecture Magazine #30

World Landscape Architecture Magazine
Published March 30, 2017

The Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard’s vision unfolded largely due to the Trottier Brothers commitment to science education and public outreach. PWL was the prime consultant for the project located near the iconic Simon Fraser University (SFU) Quadrangle on a non-descript open space by SFU’s central spine. As the prime consultant, PWL worked closely with Howard Trottier, a SFU physics professor and Starry Night program lead, faculty and a diverse stakeholder group to make this project a reality for students and more importantly the broader community. The project program included an integration with the Eriksonian grid and the vernacular of the campus, an observatory hidden within the landscape, and a courtyard where scientific learning and a connection to nature could be encouraged.

This courtyard developed into a public open space that has captured the spirt of place and learning.

The Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard has become an important community space for the Starry Nights Program to facilitate and invite learning. This project captures the spirt both in daytime and more interestingly at night. The landscape experience not only transforms from day to night but season to season as the night sky shifts. During the daytime, this space is used by the campus and UniverCity residence community as a hangout, garden retreat and learning centre. Every detail was designed to encourage exploration and discovery, letting curiosity and observations reveal information in new ways as the public moves through the space while representing fundamentals of astronomy and physics. The more time one spends in the courtyard the more discoveries and curiosities arise as each detail offers a functional purpose, discrete information or metaphorical reference to science and the universe. The story line plinth speaks to the origins of the universe and illustrates logarithmic scales of the human body and space. As a central organizing feature, the plinth offers a variety of functional and conceptual qualities. Functionally it provides direction, seating, skateboard deterrents, and follows the Eriksonian grid. Conceptually it tells the story of the birth of the universe. Five key elements were present during the big bang and these elements are represented in a variety of architectural details on the plinth. The most dramatic being the light spectrum of each element emerging from the plinth during low light.

The Courtyard is home to old and new technological methods of observing the night sky. By using benched slopes and exposed concrete, both of strong SFU vernacular, to create berm walls, ancient observatory methods are available to anyone to observe the night sky. Adjacent to this is a new observatory building, which houses a telescope and accessories, representing new technology. Black star benches signify dark stars and radial planting represent the orbit of the planets within our solar system. Screens that hide the Observatory are systematically placed to symbolize a key component in quantum theory in which objects can appear solid yet are spaced apart.

Glowing glass included in the aggregate emerges as the sun sets representing stars emerging in the nighttime. The Courtyard transforms into an interactive outdoor classroom, inspiring people to connect with the natural world, as day turns to night. The Trottier’s and SFU’s vision was exceeded as the Courtyard became an engaging, meaningful and conceptually rich space with intentional experiences for inspiring curiosity in science, nature and the night sky at a scale previously unforeseen. When Starry Night events are held, people from all over metro Vancouver make their journey up the mountain to experience the night sky landscape. It has surpassed all expectations and will remain a significant space at SFU for future public scientific exploration.

Owner + Client | Simon Fraser University Facilities
Project Managers | Philip McCloy

Prime Consultant
Landscape Architects | PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc.

PWL Principal | Jason Wegman, BCSLA, CSLA
PWL Project Team | Karin England, Katya Yushmanova, Nathan Brightbill, Jack Tupper

Architect | Kasian
Electrical Engineer | Integral Group
Mechanical Engineer | Integral Group
Structural Engineer | Bush, Bohlman & Partners LLP
Geotechnical | exp.
Contractor | Westpro Infrastructure
Specialist | Ian McLennan
Specialist | Howard & Lorne Trottier

Image Copyright
PWL Partnership Landscape Architects Inc. + SFU Creative Services