A Second Life for Montreal’s Biodome

Kanva unveils a biophilic overhaul of the beloved science museum, which occupies a former velodrome built for the 1976 Olympic Games.

All photography by Marc Cramer

For a science museum, Montreal’s Biodome has somewhat of an unconventional history. The original building, designed by French architect Roger Taillibert, once housed a velodrome for the 1976 Olympic Games. The city then decided to convert the landmark into a can’t-miss Montreal attraction in 1989, with the Biodome officially opening three years later. Beloved by locals and tourists alike, the museum recently underwent a sweeping renovation at the hands of the local firm Kanva that finally wraps after a seven-year saga of canceled contracts, construction delays, and postponed re-openings. 

Clearly it was worth the wait. Perhaps the biggest intervention involved dramatically opening up the building’s core, which previously divided the Biodome’s different ecosystems and exhibitions. Visitors can now experience the building’s giant scale through a monumental entrance flooded with natural light from skylights above. Additionally, Kanva wrapped the Biodome’s quintet of immersive ecosystems in a white biophilic skin that helps serve as a guiding accompaniment as visitors move through the museum. According to the firm, the translucent skin harmoniously interacts with the skylights, with beveled horizons that “elicit a sense of infinity.”

The interventions allow for each of the five ecosystems—Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Sub-Antarctic Islands, and the Labrador Coast—to thrive. Together, the facilities host more than 4,500 animal and 500 plant species, including new introductions such as four capybara sisters, two marmosets, a pair of broad-snouted caimans, and a flock of macaws. The species won’t be on display through shows; rather, the Biodome will continue to focus on conservation, increasing awareness of environmental issues, and interrelationships between plants and animals. 

“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 Rami Bebawi, who founded Kanva with Tudor Radulescu and served as lead architect on the project. “In doing so, we embraced the role that the Biodome plays in sensitizing humans to the intricacies of natural environments, particularly in the current context of climate change the importance of understanding its effects. We need to reconnect people with the environment, and the Biodome does that in a refreshing way that we’re proud to contribute to.”

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