Biodome Science Museum / Kanva
Text description provided by the architects. Within the international architecture competition held by Montreal’s Space for Life Institution, KANVA’s mandate was to enhance the immersive experience between visitors and the science museum’s distinct ecosystems, as well as to transform the building’s public spaces. In doing so, the team proudly embraced the role that 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.
From the onset, KANVA studied the tremendous complexity of the building, a living entity comprised of ecosystems and complex machinery that is critical to supporting life. They realized that any type of intervention would need to be extremely delicate and that 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 truly collaborative effort that embraced KANVA’s storyline. 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 impressive scale of the existing space. In gutting the existing ceiling, KANVA opened the space skyward to the building’s extraordinary roof, composed of massive skylight panels that infuse an abundance of natural light.
With a massive open space now forming the core between the ecosystems, KANVA parametrically designed a living skin that they could wrap around the ecosystems, and which would serve as a guiding accompaniment to visitors. With exceptionally complicated structural engineering, the installation of the prefabricated pure 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 in order to accommodate a variety of movements and allow for on-site adjustments. The translucent skin harmoniously interacts with the skylights above, with beveled horizons that elicit a sense of calm and infinity.
The new core also amplifies the sensorial experience of visitors transitioning from its pure neutrality to the multi-sensorial discovery of its adjacent ecosystems. Conceptually aiming for a more immersive experience, KANVA focused its attention on soliciting senses, relegating sight to the end of the line behind sound, smell, and touch. From the calming lobby hall, the undulating living skin funnels visitors into a 10-meter tunnel leading to the central core, where their exploration of five ecosystems, including Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Sub-Antarctic Islands, and Labrador Coast, begins.
“We need to reconnect people with the environment, and the Biodome does that in a refreshing way that we are proud to have contributed to,” notes Rami Bebawi, partner at KANVA, and project lead architect. “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.”