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The architects’ inspiration

The cones are like mega-telescopes, metaphors for our relationship with the sky
Photo: Raymond Jalbert
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  • Green roof of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  • Interior of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

Rarely has there been an opportunity to design a planetarium in Quebec, especially on a site so rich in history! The particularity of the project, its uniqueness, immediately attracted the attention of the winning firm. While initially, the concept of a planetarium invited a futuristic perspective, on further reflection, the creators changed their approach:

“For most of us, our first conscious encounter with the sky was outside an urban centre in the heart of nature whether in a forest at the edge of a clearing or one night by a quiet lake. We saw that the sky [was] a huge tableau representing the infinite greatness of the heavens, populated with innumerable stars. [...] For this reason our proposal provides privileged contact with nature through views of the sky, views of new plantings and views of the newly exposed ground. It is important for us to link the experience of the sky to an encounter with nature.”  (Cardin Ramirez Julien)

So the building's cones became metaphors for this relationship with the sky, sort of mega-telescopes housing the two star theatres at the heart of the project. To merge the experience of astronomy with that of nature, special attention was paid to the “naturalization” of the internal and external environments:

  • The main entrance opens onto a walkway that straddles the courtyard, a small natural haven sheltering a grove of trees;
  • Wood, a natural element par excellence was featured, bringing warmth and poetry to the structure while underlining the theme, as can be seen in the wooden slats so reminiscent of the rings of Saturn;
  • The green roof invites us to an unusual exploration from its three access points.

Integrating the planetarium into the existing concrete site presented several challenges. However, taking advantage of the natural traffic nearby, the structure developed like a buckle in the slab, rising to form the cones and roof, then flattening to melt back into its element of origin. Thus integrated, the building becomes a focal point that participates fully in the human activity on the site. It truly creates a space for life.

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