Meditations at the Biosphère on an eclipse morning

Downtown Montréal, a few rays and the Biosphère, the most recent Space for Life museum.
Credit: Bernard Brault
Le centre-ville de Montréal, quelques rayons et la Biosphère, le plus récent musée d’Espace pour la vie.
  • Le centre-ville de Montréal, quelques rayons et la Biosphère, le plus récent musée d’Espace pour la vie.
  • La Biosphère lors de l’éclipse du 10 juin 2021.
  • Visiteurs découvrant le tout nouvel Écolab de la Biosphère.
  • L’exposition MTL+ présente la vision de firmes d’architectes primées qui se sont projetées dans 50 ans en réinventant de grandes infrastructures montréalaises.
  • Visiteuses dans l’exposition Habitats 2067.
Meditations at the Biosphère on an eclipse morning

On June 10, 2021, I was armed with little cardboard glasses to observe the solar eclipse. Set up in front of the Biosphère, I was doubly blown away! It was the break of day. Brand new to the Space for Life family, I realized on this beautiful late springtime morning that there was more than just one alignment of stars in the Montréal sky. Before carrying on with your reading, you should know that my retinas were not affected!

Marveling and swinging into action

Confronted with the astronomic spectacle, it came to me how very small we are on this fragile planet. Nothing new for you, dear readers of this blog, but what I realized that eclipse morning was that the glasses offered by the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan were oddly like the ones that the Biosphère provides to visitors. Those Biospherian specs don’t protect against infrared or ultraviolet rays; they allow you to see the world as a precious place that we must never stop marveling at. That vision has to guide human beings if they want a better experience of nature.

June 10, 2021: A community morning in Montreal.

June 10, 2021: A community morning in Montreal.
Credit : Nicolas Doucet

It’s from the viewpoint of the environmental sciences – an ensemble of disciplines that brings together both applied sciences and social sciences – that the Biosphère addresses the challenges of the Anthropocene. At the same time, human inventiveness, and creativity, underlie all the museum’s activities.

The glasses I imagine wearing at the Biosphère aren’t made of cardboard. They look like Richard Buckminster Fuller’s, serious (but funky) little ’60s glasses, glasses that change our attitude towards planetary limits, glasses that allow for a new alliance with nature. Fuller was the designer of the geodesic dome that houses the museum and a precursor of contemporary environmental thinking.

Richard Buckminster Fuller on tour, circa 1972.

Richard Buckminster Fuller on tour, circa 1972.
Credit : Dan Lindsay

The spirit of the place

The building is a monument to human creativity in service of a better future. By a happy coincidence, it’s also one of the most recognizable architectural icons in Montréal.

Although Fuller was interested in the ways of equitably managing the planet’s limited resources, it was society that was his focus. He considered specialization to be the enemy of “Synergetics” – a system of his involving holistic thinking. To deal with it, he suggested adopting a new cultural paradigm based on the development of curiosity and a generalist spirit.

This was visionary in the days after the Second World War, but we know today that it’s by way of a multidisciplinary approach that we can best reflect on and build the world of tomorrow. The self-taught inventor said that the best way to predict the future is to design it. And I’m on board!

Looking to the future… for over 25 years!

The Biosphère is just like Fuller himself. Half a century later, this dome is still very modern. No museum in the world looks like it, and beware of imitations! Since 1995 it’s demonstrated just how much human beings and nature are part of the same whole. Its programming fosters awareness of the challenges and solutions connected with global change.

Starting with its design, Fuller saw the site as a place where it would be possible to reflect on our future in the Universe. Just like a telescope allowing us to see the heavenly bodies, he’d imagined a sort of observatory on Spaceship Earth whose goal would be to improve our knowledge of social and ecosystemic dynamics – the two of them being closely interrelated.

With its unique intangible heritage – a quarter-century’s worth of environmental education – the museum’s living collection is the visitors, with whom a strong tradition of dialogue has been established. And it’s from dialogue that reflection, engagement…and action flow!

I was not alone on that eclipse morning, but if I’d been observing everything with a child, I would have explained to him where we stand. It was Fuller who said, “The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the Earth that revolves around the sun…. Everything else will follow.”

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