Modernism meets biophilic design in Montreal’s Biodôme

Modernism meets biophilic design in Montreal’s Biodôme

Montreal’s science museum, the Biodôme, has been cleverly rethought by KANVA, merging modernism and biophilic design

The Biodôme, Montreal’s science museum housed in the former 1976 Olympics velodrome, has just been given a thorough and imressive refresh by local architecture studio KANVA. The architects led an extensive redesign of the structure, promoting biophilic design, environmental sustainability, restoration and reuse, and a dynamic, immersive display in a project that transforms the modernist-inspired concrete structure into a 21st century multi-level experience. 

Headed by Rami Bebawi and Tudor Radulescu, who co-founded the practice in 2003, KANVA won an international competition to breathe new life into the tired structure in 2014 – these works part of a wider reworking of the Space for Life complex, which includes the Biôdome, Planetarium, Insectarium, and Botanical Garden. 

‘Our mandate was to enhance the immersive experience between visitors and the museum’s distinct ecosystems, as well as to transform the building’s public spaces, says Bebawi. ‘In doing so, we proudly embraced the role that the Biodôme plays in sensitising humans to the intricacies of natural environments, particularly in the current context of climate change and the importance of understanding its effects.’

Photography: James Brittain

A project comprising an existing architectural structure but also complex technical equipment and whole ecosystems of plants, birds, fish and animals, this was a complicated task. The architects led a delicate operation composed of several ‘micro-interventions’, in order to achieve their goal.

This included opening up a new core for the Biodôme experience – an open, central space that links all areas and connects the visitor with both the displays and the context, by revealing the dome’s spectacular roof structure. High ceilings and skylights bathe the interior with light creating a fascinating shadow play between sun rays and the existing sculptural concrete structure. 

A translucent, biophilic design skin wraps around each of the musuem’s various ecosystems (there are five of them in total, housing more than 250,000 animals and 500 plant species), protecting them and guiding visitors by helping with orientation. ‘It’s a very powerful tool, half a kilometre in length and rising nearly four storeys,’ explains Bebawi. ‘It’s extremely emblematic of the space, and the white purity beautifully highlights and contrasts the original structural concrete.’ 

Making clever use of an existing structure while injecting biophilic design to bring it to the 21st century, the Biodôme is visually arresting and engaging. ‘We need to reconnect people with the environment, and the Biodôme does that in a refreshing way that we are proud to have contributed to,’ adds Bebawi. ‘This project has provided us with six years of invaluable knowledge, preparing us for new and innovative approaches to future projects where architecture becomes a tool to promote and facilitate environmental change.’ §

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