Montréal’s Biodome redesign strikes balance between humans and nature

May 25, 2021

Architecture firm Kanva’s redesign of Montréal’s Biodome seeks to strike an immersive balance between humans and nature. Photo © Marc Cramer[1]
Architecture firm Kanva’s redesign of Montréal’s Biodome seeks to strike an immersive balance between humans and nature.
Photo © Marc Cramer

Montréal-based architectural firm Kanva[2] unveiled the newly redesigned Biodome, a Montréal science museum immersing visitors in the authentic environs of multiple ecosystems.

After winning an international architectural competition in 2014, Kanva, co-founded by Rami Bebawi and Tudor Radulescu, was commissioned for the $25-million project by Space for Life, the body charged with overseeing operations of the Biodome, Planetarium, Insectarium, and Botanical Garden.

“Our mandate was to enhance the immersive experience between visitors and the museum’s distinct ecosystems, and to transform the building’s public spaces,” said Bebawi, the project’s lead architect. “In doing so, we proudly embraced the role the Biodome plays in sensitizing humans to the intricacies of natural environments, particularly in the current context of climate change and the importance of understanding its effects.”

A complex storyline

From the onset, Kanva studied the complexity of the building, a living entity comprising ecosystems and intricate machinery critical to supporting life. They realized any type of intervention would need to be delicate, and a global strategy to the scale of the mandate would require careful coordination and management of numerous micro interventions. Every decision required consultations across multiple disciplines, and it became a collaborative effort.

From an organizational perspective, Kanva began by targeting spaces that could be transformed in ways that would maximize the value of the building’s architectural heritage. The carving of a new core combined with the demolition of the particularly low ceiling at the entrance of the building allows visitors to appreciate the scale of the existing space. In gutting the existing ceiling, Kanva opened the space skyward to the building’s roof, composed of massive skylight panels that infuse an abundance of natural light.

A calming nucleus

With a massive open space now forming the core between the ecosystems, Kanva parametrically designed a living skin they could wrap around the ecosystems, and would serve as a guiding accompaniment to visitors. With complicated structural engineering, the installation of the prefabricated white, biophilic skin was a monumental task. With no room for error, the skin was curved and stretched around a bowed aluminum structure, using tension, cantilevering, and triangular beams for suspension, and itself anchored to a primary steel structure. Mechanical junctions were also incorporated to accommodate a variety of movements and allow for onsite adjustments.

The translucent skin interacts with the skylights above, with beveled horizons eliciting a sense of calm and infinity. The new core also amplifies the sensorial experience of visitors transitioning from its neutrality to the multi-sensorial discovery of its adjacent ecosystems.

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