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

Montreal Biodome's white and grey stone design interior with glass ceiling arched framed windows on a sunny day, with people walking around inside the building
(Image credit: Photography: Marc Cramer)

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.'

View inside the white/grey interior of the biodome, looking from the floor up to the metal framed ceiling frame and the stone diagonal pillars that support the roof from the ground level

(Image credit: 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.'

Montreal Biodome's curved white exterior, glass fronted entrance with blue biodome sign, surrounding grass verge and trees on a cloudy day


(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Montreal Biodome's ceiling windows and white shadow play on the floor

(Image credit: Photography: Marc Cramer)

Montreal Biodome's interior white concrete support pillar, in front of a white stone curved wall and view of the ceiling window frames casting a shadow on the wall

(Image credit: Photography: Marc Cramer)

Montreal Biodome's texture concrete in its curved stone wall white gallery gallery , view of the ceiling windows casting patterned shadow on the smooth white concrete floor

(Image credit: Photography: Marc Cramer)

Montreal Biodome's white stone floor and wall gallery, view of the window framed ceiling and four visitors inside the building, two sat on a small seated area and two walking by

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Montreal Biodome's grey stone auditorium, with white stone walls and metal support pillars frame the walls, with a small view of the window framed ceiling during the day

(Image credit: Photography: Marc Cramer)

Montreal Biodome's lightg wood table and chairs in the canteen and floor to ceiling glass walled entrance lobby with visitors sat at a table, and a person walking by, large yellow signage above the lobby area

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Montreal Biodome's white textured surfaces in tunnel, shadowed female brown haired visitor walking through wearing a red top, blue jeans and white trainers

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Five penguins, two on rocks and three stood together within the Montreal Biodome's penguin experience

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Montreal Biodome's white interior circulation system with visitors on various levels

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Montreal Biodome's internal forest experience, with a surrounding viewing gallery, bridge with visitors standing lookign onto the water and rocks, with surrounding rocks and greenery, overlooked by a layer design ceiling

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

Montreal Biodome's underwater views in marine displays, with two visitors looking through the viewing glass

(Image credit: Photography: James Brittain)

INFORMATION

kanva.ca (opens in new tab)

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).