Global menu

Architecture inspired by astronomy

The Planétarium redefines the very essence of planetariums.
Photo: Espace pour la vie (Raymond Jalbert)
Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  •  Interior of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium - Courtyard
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium - Green roof
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
  • Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium under construction.
  •  Interior of the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium

Opened in 2013, the Planétarium is keeping with Montréal's orientations as a Cultural Metropolis, a Knowledge City and a UNESCO City of Design. It boasts highly creative architecture, incorporating advanced energy-efficiency concepts and an impressive environmental component.

The Planétarium's design was the result of an international architectural competition in which 61 architectural firms submitted a project.

With a view to excellence, this competition was launched by the executive committee of the City of Montréal in October 2008. The concepts put forward had to include some elements, including:

  • Two star theatres
  • A surface area of 8000 m2
  • A targeted LEED certification of: PLATINUM

The winning team, a joint venture between the Cardin Ramirez Julien + Aedifica firms, in association with SNC Lavalin, and Dupras Ledoux Fauteux et Associés Landscape Architects. This interdisciplinary team included specialists in Quebec LEED certification with a keen interest in building promoting renewable energy and sustainable development.

The architects’ inspiration

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.

A sustainable building

The Planétarium is designed to be enjoyed not only by current generations but by generations to come. It is concrete evidence of the Space for Life’s commitment to sustainable development, as the building fully complies with strict LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) environmental standards and earned the LEED® NC 1.0 – Platinum certification.

As an ecologically responsible building, the planetarium uses a plethora of resource management systems. Here are a few if the strategies implemented:

Reduced energy consumption

Ventilation throughout the building is natural, achieved via the movement of air. The envelope of the building itself is efficient because it offers a high level of thermal resistance. The effect of climatic variation is therefore reduced, meaning minimal energy consumption by equipment.

Reduced water consumption and drainage

Grey water is stored for use in the planetarium’s sanitary equipment, and low-flow toilets have been installed. Meanwhile, rainwater is collected in holding tanks and used for irrigation in a portion of landscaping work. The grounds contain drought-resistant plants, which require minimal watering.

This strategy reduces drainage into municipal sewers by 60% and consumption of potable water by 50%.

Optimized lighting

The building’s design makes optimal use of natural lighting, while the outside lighting complies with Dark Skies standards, which seek to reduce light pollution.

Dark Sky standards, which seek to reduce light pollution. Creating a green roof and landscaping

Plants grow on a large portion of the roof, allowing for the absorption and evapotranspiration of heat and therefore reducing thermal islands on the site. Visitors can stroll on and enjoy the roof in the warm weather.

The landscaping incorporates islands of greenery and trees.

Recycled and reused materials

Over 75% of the existing structures were recycled. The majority of the demolition concrete was used as filling material, while leftover amounts and reinforcement steel were sent to recycling centres. During construction, more than 95% of waste materials were saved from going to landfill through sound environmental management. Furthermore, 95% of the project’s permanent wood is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. The use of recycled materials was favoured at every stage, and the vast majority of materials were purchased locally.

Promoting public transport and hybrid vehicles

The planetarium is easy to access by public transport. A parking area for up to 30 bicycles can be used by employees and visitors alike. The employee parking lot offers electrical outlets for recharging hybrid vehicles. No spots were added to the underground car park.


The Planétarium project, designed by Cardin, Ramirez, Julien & Aedifica, SNC Lavalin et Dupras-Ledoux Ingénieurs, was made possible thanks to the collaboration of our partners:

  • Olympic Park
  • City of Montréal
  • Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie
  • Secrétariat à la Région Métropolitaine
  • Ministère de la Culture et des Communications
  • Canada Economic Development
  • Rio Tinto Alcan
  • Space for Life Foundation

Add this