This section captures the overall interpretive design of the Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Centre at the schematic (planning) stage.

The interpretive experience introduces visitors to the essence of Waterton Lakes National Park in a fun and engaging way. The interpretive approach defines the themes, exhibit design, and graphic style that will shape exhibits as it is developed in further phases of work.

Interpretive goals

The following goals were developed specifically to guide the interpretive elements of the project. They reflect the goals and objectives as outlined in the project Request for Proposal, meetings with Parks Canada, and internal design team conversations.

The new Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Centre will:

  • Answer the question: why is Waterton Lakes National Park unique?
  • Help visitors get outdoors and experience this place by welcoming them, providing inspiration through “wow” experiences, relaying all the information they need to plan their trip, and proving opportunities to buy essentials like maps.
  • Encourage visitors to be stewards of our national parks by helping them make a personal connection to Waterton Lakes National Park and the role of Parks Canada.
  • Increase visitor’s comfort with being outdoors in the park and other wilderness areas—make an unknown known.

Thematic approach and structure

They should answer the question, “What do you want visitors to understand when they leave the Waterton Lakes National Parks Visitor Centre?”

A main theme and four subthemes have been developed for this project to ensure that the space is communicating the main ideas that we want visitors to understand. Themes are not the same as stories or topics, rather they express an idea or concept that help understand a place.

They should answer the question, "What do you want visitors to understand when they leave the Waterton Lakes National Parks Visitor Centre?"

Main theme: Convergence: "a meeting place"

Waterton Lakes National Park is a place of convergence - where steep mountains abruptly meet wind-swept prairie; distinct ecosystems intersect; diverse animals and plants mix; and people come together.

  1. Immerse yourself in the spirit of Waterton
  2. Convergence = biodiversity
  3. Protecting species and spaces
  4. Many voices meet

During the next phase of work, Parks Canada will work with designers and community partners to establish supporting stories that fit within these sub-themes.

Interpretive design approach

Quality and function of interpretive design

The following qualities and functions of the design were developed based on the outcomes of two creative workshops held in 2016 with Parks Canada, as well as background documents, subsequent research and the project Request For Proposal.

The interpretive design will be:

  • Awe-inspiring
  • Visually memorable
  • Exhilarating
  • Use elements of surprise and delight
  • Fun and engaging

Important functions considered in the design include:

  • Flexible and adaptable spaces
  • Seamless transitions between outdoor and indoor
  • Easy to update and share information
  • A public art / interpretive structure for social media images
  • Kids activities and space for them to experience nature outdoors
Conceptual approach

The conceptual approach of the exhibit design is intended to bring visitors along a path from awe to experience. Their experience begins with the awe of entry into the park, shifts to intrigue as they enter the visitor centre site, deepens as the exhibits build their knowledge and appreciation, and finally culminates with visitors going outside to experience the park for themselves.

Awe –> Intrigue –> Appreciation –> Experience

Each level of experience can be associated with an exhibit area:

  • Awe = Waterton Lakes National Park: A unique place
  • Intrigue = Discover the unknown
  • Appreciation = Get ready and be prepared
  • Experience = Say hello to Waterton / Make your own memories

The exhibit areas are organized around anchor experiences that provide a “wow” in each space—encapsulating a main message and providing a visually stunning experience. Surrounding the anchor are smaller exhibits that augment the experience and messages.

  1. Waterton Lakes National Park: A unique place (outdoor site experience)
    When visitors enter the site, they will get a sense that Waterton is unique. Interpretive exhibits establish this place as the Crown of the Continent and a place where cultures, ecosystems, and species converge to create something special that is protected in the national park. From this first exhibit area, visitors will move through four other areas, building their excitement to get outside into the park by connecting with the park’s history, significance, and stories.
  2. Say hello to Waterton Lakes National Park (welcome / orientation)
    Moving into the site and into the building itself, there are opportunities for visitors to get a quick introduction and orientation to the park. The anchor exhibit - a 3D model of the park - gives visitors the “big picture.” Some visitors may use a self-serve kiosk to plan their stay and can pick up printed maps and brochures.
  3. Discover the unknown
    Since many visitors spend a limited amount of time in the park, there is a lot they don’t get to see and experience. This area provides opportunities to see and experience natural events, sounds and sights they may not otherwise see while visiting Waterton Lakes National Park. This area will be an immersive experience, where the exhibit is integrated with the architecture from floor to ceiling. Dynamic sounds and displays deliver the messages to visitors as they move through the space.
  4. Get ready and be prepared
    This area is a “try it” area where visitors learn how to be prepared while enjoying nature. Through practice (i.e., climbing a trail, packing a backpack, learning how to act around animals), visitors have a chance to test their skills and knowledge to see what types of experiences they will enjoy and what they need to be safe.
  5. Make your own memories
    By now visitors know the importance of Waterton. They will also have a good overview of what there is to do and see in the park and are starting to feel comfortable and confident about going out in nature, along with their roles as stewards of the land. Now it’s time to go out and enjoy.
Visual style

The visual look and feel of the interpretive design will complement the architectural materials and textures - blending seamlessly into the environment of the site. This will ensure a smooth transition between interior and exterior experiences.

The interpretive experience will be reminiscent of being out in the park, but not replicate or mimic being in nature. The objective is to give visitors a familiarity of their surroundings, creating a comfort that will encourage them to enjoy and explore the outdoors.

The design will:

  • Provide experiences that support visitors to get out into the park and explore.
  • Include materials and textures, as well as seating and play opportunities that highlight and are derived from real materials within the park.
  • In the landscape, use native vegetation that represent ecological stories.
  • Be evocative of the dynamic range of park landscapes: tectonic, glacial, erosional, water-holding.
  • Include pathways that follow the constructed “lay of the land” and express the character of being used by a number of species to navigate the space. Visitors will feel the presence of animals that have passed this way when you were absent or not paying attention.

For the visual style, the designers consider colours, forms, materials, textures, illustrative styles, and graphic standards. The representation of animals, objects and concepts can range from the highly realistic to the extremely abstract.

The following is a range of visual options being considered:

  • Black and white, duotones (colour tinted), colour, film.
  • Realistic: pencil / watercolour (transparent colouring - delicate)
  • Line art: can be ‘burned’ onto wood, direct printed onto stone
  • Silhouettes: realistic, stylized or combinations that could include layering of interpretive messages. The type of stylization would be directed to harmonize with the sculptural, architectural, and interior design approach.
Patterns and textures
Graphics colour palette

The colour palette includes 19 colours that can be used to meet the various colour requirements on Parks Canada products. The purpose of the limited colour palette is to ensure consistency between products.

Colour speciaficatiions are provided for some promotional products. For example, web advertisements pecify how to use the Agency colour and program colours.

The colour palette is divided into four types:

  1. Program colours
  2. Agency colours
  3. Federal identity program colours
  4. Accent colours