Montreal’s city-owned Insectarium emerged from a 13-month hibernation last year, transformed into an intentionally disorienting building complex that aims to usher visitors from the human realm into the world of cockroaches, fireflies, butterflies and other insects.
Operation Metamorphosis, as the rebuild that cost 38.4 million Canadian dollars was dubbed, began in 2014 when the city of Montreal hired a large squad of architects to help redefine the tourist attraction and get turnstiles flipping faster for visitors from across Canada and other countries, which typically come mostly from the United States.
The 1.4 million-square-foot space now includes features conceived by a group headed by design architect Wilfried Kuehn of Berlin-based Kuehn Malvezzi as well as Montreal-based Pelletier de Fontenay and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte Architects, Dupras Ledoux and NCX. The design welcomes visitors into a greenhouse-like structure — but soon ushers them into an otherworldly labyrinth of six alcoves mimicking the world of insects.
One room features flickering panels that offer a fly’s-eye view of the world, another has a vibrating floor to demonstrate how a grasshopper experiences life, and another room contains tight squeezes to convey the way cockroaches force themselves through small crevices. Other rooms feature ultraviolet light to showcase how a bee sees, and, as some insects can walk on ceilings, visitors are beckoned into a surrounding where they can mimic that gravity-defying experience.
The new building is 40% larger than its predecessor, a 1990-built structure that was the dream of local entomologist Georges Brossard who, in the mid-1980s, persuaded veteran Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau to create a space to show off his insect collection. Pierre Bourque, who headed the nearby Botanical Gardens, embraced Brossard’s project and continued championing it when he later served as mayor between 1994 and 2001.
The Insectarium and its 3,000 insects form part of the Space for Life, Canada’s largest natural science museum network, along with the Biodome, Biosphere, Botanical Gardens and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, most of which sit near the Olympic Stadium and Saputo Stadium between Pie IX and Viau in Montreal’s East End.
Before the renovation, about 850,000 annual visitors dropped into the Botanical Gardens and the Insectarium, as both were accessible on the same ticket. But visitors are now required to buy two tickets and management aims to retain the same number of visits to the Botanical Garden and add another 300,000 sales for the Insectarium. Since reopening last April, the Insectarium is on pace to reach that visitor total and generate 2.5 million Canadian dollars of added revenue per year, a city of Montreal official told CoStar News.
But the mission goes beyond just cashing in on foot traffic.
“My dearest wish is that the metamorphosis of the Insectarium will also bring about a metamorphosis in the public’s relationship with insects,” said Maxim Larrivée, director of the Insectarium, in a statement. “Still too often ignored and underestimated, insects are essential to the balance of our ecosystems. A profound change in the role and importance of insects in our societies is needed.”
B U I L D I N G D A T A
Building Name: Montreal Insectarium
Building Size: 1.4 million square feet
Owner: City of Montreal
Location: 4581 Rue Sherbrooke E, Montreal
Renovation Completed: 2022
Renovation Costs: 38.4 million CAD $
Landscape Architect: atelier le balto, Berlin
Building Architect: Kuehn Malvezzi, Pelletier de Fontenay, Jodoin Lamarre Pratte architects, Dupras Ledoux and NCX
Key Tenant: Insectarium
Of Note: 175 species of living insects, 3,000 plants of 150 different varieties, a total of 160 species of butterflies can be seen flying freely in the Grand Vivarium
Client: Space for Life, Montreal
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