When Canadian Architects KANVA formed a vision for the Montreal Biodôme, they eagerly partnered with Sollertia, a firm that specializes in textile architecture. The collaboration stands out as innovative and environmentally-friendly.
First, Sollertia developed a malleable and lightweight material to meet the requirements of the project. It included a specific aesthetic and function. The resulting textile was used to construct state-of-the-art interior walls for the biodome that met those goals.
“Textile architecture is an underutilized architectural innovation in Canada, and it still isn’t taught in schools despite being an important contribution to the construction process,” said Claude Le Bel, founder and president of Sollertia. “Architectural textile membranes are high-performance construction materials, comparable to traditional materials, yet with a totally different design language.”
Specifically, textile architecture results in structural components that resemble natural materials. The resulting walls provide reliable acoustics while the transparent finish allows natural light to filter through and bounce around for an intriguing effect.
Additionally, the material is used as ceilings, walls, exterior facades, protective roofing and more. The incredibly lightweight nature of the material means it requires substantially fewer construction materials for support. Therefore, it reduces the overall carbon footprint of the project. This is true even for huge surfaces, allowing cost and resource savings to add up.
Furthermore, the material can be used inside or outside to facilitate passive solar effort for energy efficiency. Membranes withstand the variations of Canadian climate by offering exceptional strength and durability.
“Technical textile membranes can be engineered for permanent, temporary, or even nomadic structures,” said Nathalie Lortie, director, design and innovation at Sollertia. “They are customizable to provide coverage over expansive surface areas, in a variety of geometric forms, and that unlocks the door to unprecedented freedom of architectural expression.”
In the case of the Montreal Biodome, Sollertia’s material serves to meet the architect’s vision for flowing, contoured walls. In addition, the characteristics allowed it to cover up steel supports and ducting systems. The ventilation outlets were installed directly into the material sheeting.
“We were faced with several challenges simultaneously on this project, including the very complex organic shape of the walls, the many obstacles of the original building to be integrated or bypassed, the various adjustment systems developed and the strategy of the installation sequences,” Le Bel said. “In the end, it was a tremendous success that validates our firm’s experience and expertise, and part of its legacy will be that it is one of the first major applications of interior tensile fabric in Montreal.”
Moreover, the project at the Montreal Biodome Science Museum married the development of new materials with innovative architecture. The design required an acute awareness of precise manufacturing specifications in order to accommodate multiple functions, including ventilation systems, doorways, sprinklers and electrical outlets while fabricating the material. As a result, the finished product measures approximately half a kilometer in length and rises nearly four stories in height.
“The success of a lightweight fabric structure project such as this one requires a symbiotic relationship between architecture and engineering in order to obtain the desired aesthetics, stability, durability and lightness as a whole,” Lortie said. “The tensile fabric walls of the Biodome are a great example of the type of project we’re passionate about, and involving ourselves with projects that are carriers of messages that awaken human consciousness and promote environmental awareness.”
Images via Olivier Le Bel and James Brittain