Montreal Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

ARCHITECTS Cardin Ramirez Julien and difica Architecture + Design in joint venture
LOCATION Montreal, Quebec

The future Montreal Planetarium sets the stage for a special relationship with nature through views that open towards the sky, providing direct contact with new plantings and the unveiling of new landforms.

Core concepts for this project include the creation of a physical and visual link between visitors and the sky through two major volumes that suggest instruments of astronomical observation, and which house the two spheres of the Star Theatres. Also important was the manipulation of the topography of the Olympic site to encourage flow throughout the public spaces and to allow natural light to reach the building’s lowest level. Furthermore, the greening of the site brings added value to an environment that is dominated by mineral elements, and rekindles memories of star-gazing in the woods.

The site chosen for the new Planetarium is unique because of its varied architectural and urban qualities. A number of landmarks nearby bear witness to significant moments in Quebec history, including the Olympic Stadium, the Biodme, the Maurice-Richard Arena and Centre Pierre-Charbonneau. The Planetarium integrates respectfully with this exceptional environment and contributes positively to the larger context.

Firstly, it was desired to encourage users to appropriate the site by offering a variety of exterior environments designed at a human scale to complement the neighbouring buildings and outdoor spaces. Consequently, the area adjacent to the Place des Vainqueurs acquires a new dynamic feeling through the clear definition of the space and the addition of an adjoining caf terrace. A new wooded area at the entrance to the Planetarium provides shade and naturalizes the site, while the new building’s green roof is connected to the site, creating easy access to green space. And the provision of an agora, bounded on one side by the Planetarium and located next to the Place des Vainqueurs, offers an ideal site for gatherings and performances.

The second gesture involves the topographic manipulation of the Olympic site’s concrete slab. Reworking and reorienting the slab to create new landform shapes introduces a new flow to the public spaces and allows movement across the various levels.

Lastly, the new Planetarium needs to be clearly identifiable among neighbouring structures. The two optical tubes pointing toward the sky call attention to the site and give it a strong visual identity.

Pointing skyward like telescopes exploring the universe, the optical tubes convey the nature of the building from the outside. The main entrance is accessible via a footbridge that crosses a wooded area below; the ground falls away and the sky draws close as one approaches the building through the treetops.

Beneath the cones, visitors inside discover the two spheres containing the Star Theatres, as well as a space that opens up over three storeys, linked by a “fault line” that extends from the Biodme at the bottom level through to the top floor.

Adjoining the lobby and located at the heart of the building, the foyer gives access to both theatres. Various spaces related to the site’s operation, management and programming are located near the foyer, in a section on the building’s north side that is reserved for the Planetarium’s private spaces.

The exhibition room, located on a balcony on the top level, is accessible via a gently sloping ramp that circles one of the theatres. This ramp also serves as an extension of the exhibition room, with the space above the ramp available for the display of large objects. Public spaces, the boutique and a caf are situated around the lobby on the ground level of the Olympic site. Their location places them in dialogue with the site’s outdoor activity and allows them to benefit from already existing activities.

In keeping with program specifications, the lower level is primarily dedicated to visitor groups, and is where the Planetarium and the Biodme connect. Taking full advantage of its placement next to the Place des Vainqueurs, the group lobby provides access, natural light and views. Offering a view of the new wooded area, the naturally lit lobby opens up onto the three floors, with a progression through to the actual Planetarium containing the auditorium, the exhibition room and the two theatres.

GH: This is an alternative-universe type of site. But that said, this design appropriately places the new building as part of the family. I was excited to imagine being inside the building with the Boulle-type spheres. The architects will enjoy detailing the various elements–I look forward to visiting this planetarium.

JPL: This project takes advantage of an already crammed site proximate to the existing 1976 Olympic facilities. Clever reworking of the topography allowed the architects to reduce the impact of the building on the site through burying most of the programmatic elements. The integration of sustainable design components is particularly convincing, specifically with regards to natural lighting, heating and ventilation. The architects cannot be blamed for borrowing from the Stadium’s vocabulary, but I wish that this project evidenced a stronger independent identity.

PR: The general concept is very appropriately conceived for an important site with powerful, iconic architectural surroundings. While the entire scheme from the interior is about rendering and experiencing its own amazing volumes, it looks spatially stingy and too squeezed.

Client Montreal Nature Museums, City of Montreal
Architect Team Jean-Franois Julien, Pierre Cardin, Guy Favreau, Oscar Ramirez, Annick Brassard, David Cotten, Dominic Poncelet, Lise Gagn, Erin Halpin, Caroline Magard, Simon Mthot, Federico Pilotto
Structural SNC-Lavalin
Mechanical/Electrical Dupras Ledoux Ingnieurs
Interiors Cardin Ramirez Julien, difica
Signage Go Multimdia
Landscape Fauteux et Associs Architectes Paysagistes
Area 8,000 m2
Budget $33 M
Completion 2012