A Visual Clearing-up: Redesign of the Montreal Biodome by Kanva
Client: Space for Life
Structural engineering: NCK Inc.
Location: 4777 Pierre-de Coubertin Ave, Montreal (CA)
It is a well-known fact that cities struggle with their Olympic legacies. In Munich, the velodrome from the 1972 games was recently demolished in order to make room for a new sports arena designed by 3XN. The equivalent structure from Montreal’s 1976 Olympics has been spared this fate, although the hall erected by French architect Roger Taillibert has become increasingly unrecognizable since 1992. As the Montreal Biodome, it now houses an indoor zoo with five habitats, designed to echo nature as closely as possible, that range from the tropical rainforest to the subpolar regions of northern Canada and Antarctica. Thousands of animal and plant species live here under a single roof that over the course of time had become barely visible to visitors.
With their redesign of this museum, the architects from Montreal’s Kanva studio first and foremost wanted to return Taillibert’s architecture to centre stage. In doing so, they had false ceilings removed and concealed the many built-in fittings behind curved, white membrane walls as tall as four storeys. Altogether, these membranes are about half a kilometre long. They are held at top and bottom by gripper tracks and are stretched over a subconstruction of steel and aluminum. At the middle of the building, the architects have cleared a new central area from which the enormous hall roof and its many glass skylights come into their own. From here, visitors enter the five climate zones through narrow slits in the membrane wall. The architects lay particular value on allowing biophiles to experience the habitats with all five senses. Before the animals come into view, they can be smelled and heard. When visitors enter the subpolar habitat, they encounter an ice tunnel that allows them to acclimatize.
Visitors come especially close to the hall roof in a newly added, raised mezzanine that surrounds the central open area. From there, they can observe all the living spaces from above and also take a technical look behind the scenes – particularly at the large air-conditioning units that cool the subpolar habitat to temperatures suitable for penguins.