The Biodôme de Montréal is one of the largest science museums in Canada, housing five different ecosystems filled with over 500 plant species and 250,000 roaming animals. In 2014, local architects KANVA were brought in to make a series of what they call ‘micro-interventions’ to enhance the visitor experience, with the stunning results only recently unveiled to the public.
To help people engage with the sensory experience of the Biodôme’s natural landscapes, KANVA focused much of their renovation on creating a contrasted minimalist design for the museum’s public spaces. In the reception area, they removed a ceiling insert from the 1980s to uncover the huge concrete vaults and geometric roof glazing – the original ceiling from when the building served as the velodrome for the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
KANVA also covered the walls with a ‘biophilic skin’, a pure-white fabric that curves around the space and guides visitors towards the similarly neutral central passage of the museum. These grey and white spaces provide a cleansing experience for visitors, allowing them to void their minds before choosing a tunnel towards one of the Biodôme’s five ecosystems: the Tropical Rainforest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Laurentian Maple Forest, the Labrador Coast, and the Sub-Antarctic Islands.
Before they even see each enormous habitat, visitors traversing these tunnels are slowly introduced to the smells, sounds, and temperature of the new environment – particularly in the case of the Antarctic zone’s incredible new ‘ice tunnel’. This gradual welcoming immerses them into each ecosystem and promotes the connection between humans and nature, a relationship which the Biodôme as a whole aims to encourage. KANVA also introduced a mezzanine floor spanning three of the ecosystems, where visitors can get a treetop perspective of the environments and explore a new interactive exhibition about how the Biodôme supports its vast array of plants and animals.
KANVA also made some small changes to the ecosystems themselves to bring some new life to the exhibits. The complexity of renovating delicate ecosystems meant that the project relied on multidisciplinary teams to ensure the changes were appropriate for humans, animals, and plants alike. Introducing a four-metre-high wall into the macaw exhibit, for example, required collaboration between a geologist, a tropical bird expert, and construction contractors with specialisations in backdrops. Even the animals got in on the work, with beavers from the Laurentian Maple Forest area carving the wood used to construct their new home. The architects found working with the environmental teams deeply inspiring, as they hope to continue using architecture to promote a harmonious relationship between humans and nature. It also highlighted for the team the ways in which humans more generally should approach the growing climate crisis.
For me, this level of collaboration is a reflection of what we need to do to collectively address the environmental challenges facing humanity!
The Biodôme de Montréal encourages visitors to appreciate the wonder of the natural world and understand how humans can interact with and protect it. KANVA’s recent transformation of the site only reinforces this message, emphasising how interconnected we all are with the natural world.
For more renovation projects that care about the environment, check out our feature on the Zvonarka Bus Terminal in Czechia, or to learn more about modern museum design, read about the new Nationaal Monument Kamp Amersfoort Museum in the Netherlands.
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