Window to the future

A theatre in the new CIRS allows users to experience future scenarios

For some, seeing is believing and the BC Hydro Theatre in UBC’s new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability is like a crystal ball, giving communities a look into their future.

“We’re giving people an opportunity to walk into an alternate future,” says Stephen Sheppard, the researcher leading the design phase of the theatre and a professor in the Faculties of Forestry and Applied Science. “They will be immersed in an environment that looks and feels like an actual place in 2050.”

Sheppard’s research group, the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP), will use the BC Hydro Theatre to model and visualize future sustainability, including how climate change will transform the way cities and rural communities look.  Working with scientists and local experts, CALP helps community planners and politicians plan for a future with climate change and lower-carbon footprints.

“They can see possible consequences of their community’s decisions and lifestyles,” says Sheppard.

The theatre, also known as the Decision Theatre, is a large space equipped with the newest imaging technologies that allow people to project five-metre images on two walls, immerse themselves in visualizations on a wrap-around screen, use touch-screen tables and videoconference. Users are also able to work off iPads or computers to change the content displayed on the walls and collaborate in real-time.

The new Decision Theatre is a bigger version of the experimental Landscape Immersion Lab that Sheppard and his students developed at UBC for research on 3D visualization, environmental perception, and decision-making.

Previously, Sheppard has presented different adaptation options for sea level rise in Delta, where modeling has shown that rising sea levels are likely to cause flooding unless major and expensive measures are undertaken

The research group has also worked with communities in the Kootenays, and is collaborating on land-use planning research with Canadian cities, like Toronto and Calgary.

Recently CALP has been working with Clyde River in Nunavut, a remote Canadian community on Baffin Island in the Arctic.

“With remote communities like Clyde River, CALP will use the Decision Theatre to give stakeholders and local experts the chance to virtually engage with UBC expertise, databases, resources and experiences, saving travel costs and carbon.”

With nothing fixed to the floors or ceiling, the space can easily be transformed for different purposes and is intended to be a communal space. The theatre will be used for interactive presentations, perception research, conference workshops, art installations and collaborative planning sessions.

“We want the space to be used equally by UBC researchers, practitioners, and community groups,” says Jon Salter, a PhD student in Sheppard’s lab who has been managing the design and installation of the Theatre.

The BC Hydro Theatre will be open to researchers across campus, partners like BC Hydro, and the public. For local communities, the theatre will serve as a hub for sustainability research, training practitioners on visioning methods, and engaging the public in dialogue on issues such as district energy and behaviour change.

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