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Insectarium de Montréal

Kuehn Malvezzi / Pelletier de Fontenay / Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architects

Montréal, QC, Canada

April 2022


Justine Rahilly (Studio Coordinator)


atelier le balto (Lanscape architects), Dupras Ledoux (Electromechanical engineers), NCK (Structural Engineers)


Espace pour la vie


James Brittain


The design of the new Montréal Insectarium builds on detailed analysis of 400 years of museums, orangeries and greenhouses. Acknowledging the destructive history of this conceptual separation between humans and other natural life, the design subverts museological norms and expectations. The visitors first go through a walled pollinator garden that 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. 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 and lead us to the entrance to an underground network of six Perceptual Alcoves that disorient human senses and mimic the sight, sound, and movement of insects. Visitors then finally meet living insects in the Tête-à-tête Gallery. Six bespoke viewing boxes that provide a close-up view of insects in different vivaria. 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. 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.


The Metamorphosis of the Montréal Insectarium has been completed. Nestled alongside the Biodôme and botanical gardens in Espace pour la vie, the city's district of natural museums, 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 architects 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 seven-year design and construction period, the Insectarium received its grand opening on April 13, 2022, when the public came face-to-face with hundreds of species of insects. The new Insectarium replaced 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 pollinator 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.


In nature, the robustness and equilibrium of wild biomes come from their interconnections with other biomes and natural systems. While the goal is to make the captured piece of nature almost self-sufficient, creating this kind of artificial closed-loop biome always requires a lot of attention and support. In order to make the building truly symbiotic with its inhabitants and visitors, the Insectarium incorporates several bioclimatic and sustainable development principles. The first objective is to maximize the use of passive strategies. 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. The sawtooth geometry of the building roof allows for ventilation to happen naturally, every pitch having a series of automated operable windows that draws the hot air out in the summer. The large underground areas take advantage of the thermal mass of the earth to maximize the building’s insulation and naturally stabilize temperature variations. When passive strategies are not sufficient, mechanical ones are used to complete them. For example, advanced systems allow much of the heat generated in the greenhouses to be recovered and redistributed, heating the rest of the building. A range of additional systems such as misters, textile shades, motorized louvers, geothermal wells complete the array of potential tools. 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 has been achieved.

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