Montreal, April 13, 2022
Kuehn Malvezzi, Berlin
Pelletier De Fontenay, Montréal
Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes, Montréal
The metamorphosis of the Montréal Insectarium redesigns our relationship with insects
The metamorphosis of the Montréal Insectarium has been completed. Nestled alongside the Biodôme and the Jardin botanique in the city's nature museum district Espace pour la vie, the new Insectarium aims to transform the public's relationship with insects through an innovative architectural and museological approach.
The design for the Insectarium was carried out by Berlin-based architects Kuehn Malvezzi with Montréal offices Pelletier de Fontenay and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes as well as landscape architects atelier le balto, Berlin. This partnership won an international competition for the project in 2014 with a concept to fuse architecture and nature.
Following a eigth-year design and construction period, the Insectarium receives its grand opening on 13 April when the public comes face-to-face with hundreds of species of insects. The new Insectarium replaces the city’s former Insectarium building from 1990, and features detailed displays for preserved insects and habitats for live species to thrive. An immersive sensory labyrinth experience sits at the heart of the project, as well as a butterfly garden, creative workshop and production areas.
Opening at a crucial moment for rethinking relationships between human and non-human biology, the new Montréal Insectarium represents a critical new approach for museums of natural history.
Architecture and nature
The design of the new Montréal Insectarium builds on detailed analysis of 400 years of museums, orangeries, greenhouses and other architectures for the categorization and display of the natural world. Acknowledging the destructive history of this conceptual separation between humans and other natural life, Kuehn Malvezzi’s design subverts museological norms and expectations.
Unlike museums designed to contain changing exhibitions and displays, the Insectarium’s curatorial concept and its museological expression are held in the very architecture of the building. The precisely choreographed route through the building dissolves the divides between the human and the natural with barrier-free displays and immersive sensory experiences.
The external architecture of the Insectarium is visible through three archetypal structures that communicate a light touch construction process with integration into the pre-existing landscape of the botanical garden. A walled Butterfly garden serves as a relaxing space of welcome. The garden slopes down to the base of a greenhouse which contains a central hall and living environments for live insects. Beyond the greenhouse, an enigmatic planted mound erupts from the surface. This cocoon-like dome holds the Insectarium's collection inside.
The Insectarium visitor’s experience begins and ends with a promenade through the Butterfly Garden. The garden blurs the divide between the building’s interior and exterior, while providing first encounters with insect life that will become transformed during the progression through the rest of the museum.
Upon passing through the entrance hall, the immersive experience of sensory metamorphosis begins. The Labyrinth takes visitors through a curved, descending path with sloping walls. The path is designed to destabilize our perception; to signal a departure from familiar spatial environments and the entrance to an underground labyrinth of six Perceptual Alcoves. The six rooms disorient human senses and mimic the sight, sound and movement of insects:
- One eye, many facets simulates the pixelated vision of a fly;
- Good vibes amplifies the room’s vibrations to reflect the sonics of a grasshopper;
- From blade to blade is a route of climbable sticks, requiring the balance of a gnat atop a leaf;
- Tight squeeze turns humans into cockroaches who must negotiate a tight squeeze;
- The world in UV replicates the ultraviolet vision of a bee;
- Ceiling walk turns the world upside down.
Having experienced sensory experimentation in the six rooms, visitors finally meet living insects in the Tête-à-tête Gallery. Six bespoke viewing boxes in the space allow visitors to block out the exterior world and provide a close-up view of insects in different vivaria. The niches facilitate concentrated and immersive contact with the different species of insect; a contact that has been reformulated by the immersive perceptual spaces.
The Insectarium’s collection is housed and displayed in a dramatic, ten-meter-high Domed Hall that erupts through the earth as a planted mound. On the minimal, shotcrete interior, a wall of 72 framed displays shows the museum’s extensive and unique collection of preserved insects unfolding across two horizontal bands. The first band is organized chromatically to display the extraordinary biodiversity and beauty of insects. The second band follows an encyclopedic logic to reveal the evolutionary success of insects through different themes, such as habitat and gender. The two levels have the combined effects of astonishing and educating the public.
Re-emerging from the earthen textures of the underground, visitors enter the Grand Vivarium. This spacious, light-filled greenhouse features a gradually inclining route that progresses through a range of microclimates supporting the life of varying plant and insect species. Many of the insects, such as butterflies and caterpillars move freely in the space and can be observed without barriers. Others, such as leaf-cutter ants, giant beetles, scorpions and giant centipedes are presented in glass vivaria integrated into the botanical landscape of the Grand Vivarium.
At the center of the building the Creative Workshop hosts presentations, discussions, conferences and learning activities for adults and children. The glass-walled space allows for views into the Grand Vivarium and the production area and beyond the Insectarium towards the botanical garden outside.
In order to make the building truly symbiotic with its inhabitants and visitors, the Insectarium incorporates several bioclimatic and sustainable development principles. The stepped shape of the greenhouse volume is naturally oriented towards the south and allows above ground greenhouse areas to benefit from maximum sunshine throughout the year. Advanced mechanical systems allow much of the heat generated in the greenhouses to be recovered and redistributed, heating the rest of the building.
The underground areas take advantage of the thermal mass of the earth to stabilize temperature variations and maximize the building’s insulation. A range of additional systems such as textile shades, motorized louvers geothermal wells, roof water recuperation and the use of local, sustainable, VOC-free materials support the building’s bioclimatic approach and make the Insectarium a truly sustainable building. A LEED Gold-certification is being sought.
ESPACE POUR LA VIE
Espace pour la vie is made up of the Biodôme, the Biosphère, the Insectarium, the Jardin botanique and the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan. These five prestigious institutions form Canada’s largest natural science museum complex. Together, they are launching a daring, creative urban movement, encouraging all of us to rethink the connection between humankind and nature and cultivate a new way of living.
Simona Malvezzi, Wilfried Kuehn and Johannes Kuehn founded Kuehn Malvezzi in Berlin in 2001. Public spaces and museums are a main focus of their practice. Kuehn Malvezzi completed the reorganization of numerous art collections such as the Belvedere in Vienna, the extension of the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the Modern Gallery at the Saarland Museum and the Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf. Most recently, they won the international competition for the reorganization and refurbishment of the Bâtiment d'Art Contemporain in Geneva.
Sustainability and building with an awareness of social contexts and nature is a further focal point in their work. Within in a complex inner-city site, the Oberhausen office building with integrated rooftop greenhouse combines the diverse functions of a public administrative building and sustainable food production to form a new urban nucleus. In the 14th district of Paris, Lot Petit - ZAC Saint-Vincent-de-Paul is a public housing ensemble situated in the urban fabric of a former hospital site. The interreligious House of One, to be built on the foundations of Berlin’s earliest church, is another current project manifesting a complex intercultural context.
Prizes and awards include the Canadian Architect Award, nominations for the Mies van der Rohe Award and finalists for the DAM Prize for Architecture in Germany. Their work has been shown among others at the Venice Biennial, Manifesta 7, the Chicago Architecture Biennial and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
PELLETIER DE FONTENAY
Established in 2010 by Hubert Pelletier and Yves de Fontenay, Pelletier de Fontenay is an architectural practice based in Montréal. The office has quickly gained a reputation for excellence in designing contemporary public buildings and is currently working on projects for museums, schools and libraries.
Pelletier de Fontenay has won two international competitions: the LOSBATES school near Prague and the Montréal Insectarium, a project in partnership with the Berlin agency Kuehn Malvezzi and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes. Locally, the firm won the Lab-École Shefford competition and the Sanaaq community center in downtown Montréal. The agency's work has also been highlighted by the awarding of major prizes, including the Architectural League prize, one of the most prestigious recognitions for emerging architects in North America.
The studio is particularly interested in the relationship between abstract concepts in architecture and their material embodiments. This approach, born of a double fascination for form and construction, is deepened by an involvement in teaching and research. Parallel to their practice, Pelletier de Fontenay pursues research projects in architecture including the Invariations project, an abstract creative exploration of the fundamental principles of architecture and Architectures de la Nature Captive, a project examining the relationship between the built and the living.
JODOIN LAMARRE PRATTE ARCHITECTES
Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes devotes its practice to serving the community by carrying out projects in the institutional fields of healthcare, transportation, education, research and culture. The firm works towards the conception of a human, sensitive, intelligent architecture that respects its environment, combining creativity, knowledge and innovation. It values the diversity and complementarity of the skills and expertise of the members of its large team and perpetuates a culture of collaboration, inclusion, integrity and thoroughness.
It is in this spirit that they work with their clients and partners to create sustainable buildings. Sustainability manifests itself holistically in all aspects of the building, whether it is flexibility of use, durability of systems, overall energy performance, ecological footprint of materials, quality of living environments, integration of the building with its environment, or resilience to climate change.
Recipient of more than 150 awards of excellence and distinctions in architecture, the firm has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to design and build projects of high architectural quality. Founded in 1958 by Bernard Jodoin, Denis Lamarre and Gérard Pratte, Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes is now a team of 140 architects, technologists, technicians, designers and other professionals under the direction of Alain Boudrias, Michel Broz, Catherine Demers, Martine Gévry, Sylvain Morrier and Nicolas Ranger.
atelier le balto
Created in Berlin in 2001, the team of atelier le balto is composed of four landscape-architects who also have an education in gardening: Véronique Faucheur, Nil Lachkareff, Marc Pouzol and Marc Vatinel.
Considering the art of gardens in the same way as painting or choreography, they insist on the fact that a garden is not a fixed image. In their works, if the architectural design is particularly present in winter, a certain exuberance expands throughout the summer. The further development of the garden by a professional gardener is then essential.
After having created their first garden for the Kunst Werke - Institute for contemporary Art in Berlin and then for the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, they have worked for many other places dedicated to art and culture. Among them: the Ludwig Forum in Aachen and the Villa Romana in Florence. In Berlin their latest creation is the Jewish Garden in the Gardens of the World. In cooperation with Kuehn Malvezzi, they designed the Vertical Garden of the Job-Center in Oberhausen. Currently under construction is, among others, the urban park Jubileumsparken in Gothenburg / Sweden. Recently, Akademie der Künste awarded atelier le balto the Kunstpreis Berlin 2022 in the ‘Baukunst’ section.
Team of professionals – architecture
Concept architects and museology: Kuehn Malvezzi, Berlin
Concept architects: Pelletier de Fontenay, Montréal
Concept architects, project managers and responsible for administration and site supervision: Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architectes, Montréal
Landscape architects: atelier le balto, Berlin
Electromechanical engineers: Dupras Ledoux, Montréal
Structural engineers: NCK, Montréal
Civil engineers: Génie+, Lévis
Sustainable development advisor (LEED certification) : CIMA+, Montréal
Indoor and outdoor signage: Kuehn Malvezzi avec Double Standards, Berlin
Execution and site supervision for museology: La bande à Paul, Montréal
Special consultant for greenhouses: Capital Greenhouse, Thetford-Mines
Tree preservation: Nadeau Foresterie Urbaine, Laval