Telus World of Science – Calgary

New vision, new experience

Mark your calendar—the grand opening of Canada’s first new science centre in nearly 30 years opens October 29 in Calgary. The $160 million Telus World of Science-Calgary, a “different kind of science centre,” boasts design and exhibits tailored by, and for, Calgarians.

When The Canadian Business Journal spoke to Jennifer Martin, President and CEO, Telus World of Science-Calgary, in late August, the fine details of construction were being completed and key components of exhibits were being installed.

“Orchestrated chaos” was how Martin cheerfully described it. “Our training, our understanding of visitor behaviour, all of those components are complex elements that you have to understand and squeeze in around all that construction that needs to be finalized in order to be perfectly prepared for opening day.”

Ambitions for the Telus World of Science-Calgary were high from the onset. The physical building was designed to illuminate and contextualize the world of ideas it houses, and will have an impressive 150,000 square feet, five exhibit halls and five additional areas of content from the expanded and enhanced Creative Kids Museum, to Being Human, Earth & Sky, Energy & Innovation, and Open Studio. It will also house Calgary’s only HD Dome Theatre, to open in spring 2012.

“Getting a science centre designed well is the challenge. We need to make it as cost effective as we can and as open and warm and inviting as possible. A lot of technological arrangement is needed to enable people to feel comfort, not lost; excited, not overwhelmed,” Martin said.

“I think anyone of any age is going to find themselves wowed by how the building has come together. It is beautiful, with a level of sophistication that is very welcoming.”

“We have a couple of exciting announcements to make during the opening and then we also have activities that are on the floor that will be directed by discovery leaders and facilitators,” says Maureen Henderson, Vice-President, Marketing and Sales. “[Visitors] will be able to participate in the fabric of the display we are putting on for the opening.”

The opening marks a defining moment in the region’s history, “and the addition of Canada’s first purpose-built Science Centre in nearly three decades to our community is creating an environment for South Albertans to foster the next generation of great scientists, technologies, entrepreneurs, and innovators.”

Martin lauds the exhibit hall for its ability to reflect its own environment and geography and the experience of its visitors. “It is going to be a fabulous exhibit hall because it is really rooted in Calgary and reflects what we are really thinking of our place in the universe but from a very local perspective.”

And it is that perspective that is central to one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of this new science centre. The building itself will be a display of engineering feats and will stand out in the city of progressive architecture, however, it is the exhibits, and the way they came about, that is drawing the most consideration.

Telus naming sponsor

The science centre has the support of Calgary’s biggest companies, including generous donations from Suncor, Petro Group of Companies, Enbridge, and Telus. These companies, along with private sponsorship, have not only brought early funding, but also technical expertise.

Relating specifically to Telus, Martin says, “We are permeable technologically. We can bring in signals and information from anywhere in the world, we can go out with it as well. If you are coming in with your iPhone, we want you to be able to engage in lots of different ways as people would expect. Telus has been helpful in giving us the foundation of how to create that kind of platform.”

Crowd-sourced exhibits

“What I think will really separate [Telus World of Science-Calgary] is that every exhibit that we will have on the floor and all of the programs that have been developed to enliven and animate have been crowd-sourced,” says Martin.

By “crowd-sourced”, Martin means that everything that has been developed by the heads of the team’s professional exhibit developers has been influenced directly by what the audience have been interested in.

“There is no point having professional exhibit developers coming up with big ideas, executing them and finding out later if those were any good,” says Martin.

“Every idea has come from the minds and activities of people in our community.”

This is a new way of looking at exhibits. “When I was a professional exhibition developer myself 20 years ago at the Ontario Science Centre, we did [the old method of] putting it out and hoping it was well received. This is a massive change for our industry, and I don’t know any other science centre in the world that has done 100 per cent crowd-sourced exhibits as we have.

“A lot of it is getting out of the way sometimes,” says Martin. “My job is to help set the direction and large scale vision and having worked in science centres and interacted with my peers around the world, I have a pretty good sense of what opportunity there is for science centres to play a bigger role in the community.

“Setting that direction and that kind of large-scale goal for the team is my responsibility, and having given them the space to be creative, they have opened my eyes to how you can engage the public that I would have never thought possible. It’s been a great collaboration.”