The "What If" Afterlife


Sarah Garland and Lauren Johnson

ARCH 501

From forest to clear cut, the Alcazar to the York to the Raja Theatre, the corner of what is now Commercial Drive and East Georgia has lived many lives. There was a time in which the site sat vacant, and in this moment many “what if” possibilities arise. At this moment, we’re treating the building as a person that has passed on to the afterlife. The theatre sits on the site among a mature forest, where the site’s past and present exist simultaneously, with only the original proscenium arch, a screen, projector, and a single seat existing in the afterlife. Our afterlife takes on the idea of the imaginative and regretful question, “what if”, and gives people who come here the chance to ask a “what if” question and watch it be played out on the theatre’s screen. The purpose of exploring a what if is not for indulging fantasies, but to resolve unknowns, to take lessons from this life into the next. New arrivals to the afterlife are presented with different “what if” scenarios through their own memory items which are cast in tree resin along the trunk of a tree. Objects can be a reflection of someone’s life, holding memories and reminding them of choices made and the potential “what ifs” they might have pondered before. The memory passage begins at the top, where new arrivals wake up on a soft bed of moss, enclosed in the tree canopy. Below them is the afterlife guide’s room, making it the first stop for people travelling down the memory passage. This is where new arrivals can ask questions about the afterlife before making the independent journey down the passage. The memory passage creates a contemplative space and process for people to pace themselves and make a careful decision of their memory item and “what if”. The new arrival makes the journey down the stairs wrapping around a central tree, descending from the canopy to the forest floor. The memory passage is contained within a wooden lattice which becomes more sparse towards its top as it becomes enclosed by the tree canopy. Apertures in the passage are oriented to the theatre to serve as reminders of the impending decision and nearing the chance to watch their chosen “what if” play out. As this process could be difficult for some, the memory passage is situated among the canopy of an old growth forest to make it a more gentle journey. This creates spaces to experience the universal comfort of being in nature, like the smells, sounds, and sensations of being in the forest. This afterlife station is experienced in solitude other than interactions with a guide, but the deceased may be comforted by the presence of six other memory passages among the forest, reminding them that they’re not alone.