The Biodôme is once again welcoming curious kids and grownups after two years of renovation work. A get-together with Rami Bebawi, the architect in charge of this architectural renaissance and adventure for the senses.
On the phone, the architect from KANVA, a firm cofounded by Rami Bebawi and his partner, Tudor Radulescu, enthusiastically talks about a project he was thrilled to work on and that would have been impossible without the support of hundreds of collaborators throughout the past six years.
“It was work that involved learning and that required collaboration,” stresses Bebawi. “No one can claim to be the sole author of a transformation in which hundreds and hundreds of women and men devoted themselves to the project. This was a collective effort, exactly the approach we need to protect the planet.”
It’s difficult, according to the architect, to define the full extent of the project in just a few sentences. The mandate to be carried out was dazzling, to say the least: breathe new life into the Biodôme by breaking down barriers, particularly in certain spaces, while celebrating the original building.
“The Biodôme migration is a project of life, responsibility and humility,” Rami Bebawi emphasizes. “It must have meaning, while at the same time reflecting the biodiversity that surrounds us.”
Starting at the main lobby, the visitor is welcomed by an immense white wall, 15 meters high, that wends its way around the Biodôme for about half a kilometer. “It’s a majestic yet delicate wall, and a true technical accomplishment,” states the Montréal architect. “A shape and curves so distinctive that the team had to push the boundaries of the software it was working with to be able to pull off the design.”
One of the goals of this transformation was to give the public a sense of being close to nature and the animals present. “We want to touch visitors’ hearts by moving closer to living species and by creating the impression of walking through real natural settings,” says Rami Bebawi. By way of example he cites the beaver lodge, which can be visited and which was rebuilt throughout the work thanks to pieces of wood snapped off by the animal itself.
Among the remarkable new architectural features: the presence of a mezzanine, and footbridges from which the various ecosystems can be observed in different ways, and birds can be admired as though from up in the canopy.
A multisensory itinerary
The architect also mentions the conviction that all the senses should be stimulated as visitors stroll through the premises. Even before seeing the animals, who remain the big stars of the show, the visitor is struck by the heat, humidity, cold, sounds, smells ‒ a sort of natural staging that enhances the experience. For instance, you negotiate an icy corridor 15 meters long (an engineering challenge!) as well as a wall of ice before venturing into the polar habitat of the penguins.
Rami Bebawi hopes that a Biodôme visit, by bringing humans and nature closer together, will also make the public think, and lead it to act as a result. “At the very end of the journey,” he concludes, “our hope is to inspire a change of behavior in visitors.”