Montreal Biosphere

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The Montreal Biosphere, located on Saint Helen's Island in Montreal, Canada, is a museum dedicated to the environment. It was designed and created by visionary architect Richard Buckminster Fuller originally as the pavilion of the United States for the 1967 World Fair.

The Biosphere was the culmination of over twenty years of Fuller’s obsession with geodesic domes, a structure that emerged from his interests in material efficiency, structural integrity, and modularity. Fuller wished to demonstrate that it was possible to create a livable space using only one fifth of the materials normally used in conventional architecture.

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Photo credit: leo gonzales/Flickr

The enormous hemispherical structure soars sixty-three meters high and is so spacious that it comfortably housed the seven-story exhibition building including a forty-meter long escalator, the longest ever built at that time. The steel-framed sphere was covered with transparent acrylic panels. To control the indoor ambient temperature, Fuller designed an apparatus composed of mobile triangular panels that would move over the inner surface of the dome following the sun. Unfortunately the system never worked properly. Instead valves were installed in the center of the acrylic panels for the pavilion to ventilate. The United States pavilion became the most popular at the fair, and was visited by 11 million visitors in six months.

The pavilion was originally designed to be dismantled. However, to cut cost, the metal tubes were welded and not bolted as proposed by Fuller. This made the structure impossible to dismantle. So after the fair ended, the US government donated its pavilion to the City of Montréal. For several years, the Biosphere was used for recreational activities and as a public attraction. For some time it became an oasis of plants and birds.

In 1976, during repair works, the structure's acrylic sheet caught fire and was completely destroyed. The sheet was never replaced. After the fire, the dome was abandoned for fifteen years until the city decided to repurpose it as an environmental exhibition space dedicated to the water ecosystems of the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence River regions. The museum was opened in 1995.

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Photo credit: MMarsolais/Flickr

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Photo credit: stephengg/Flickr

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Photo credit: abdallahh/Flickr

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Photo credit: AILAFM/Flickr

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Photo credit: Alvaro Blanes/Flickr

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Photo credit: Garrett Ziegler/Flickr

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Photo credit: Garrett Ziegler/Flickr

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The Biosphere during the Expo in 1967. Photo credit: www.worldsfaircommunity.org

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The Biosphere during the Expo in 1967. Photo credit: www.worldsfaircommunity.org

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The fire of 1976. Photo credit: Archives Canada/spacing.ca

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Photo credit: Hamidreza/Wikimedia

Sources: www.ec.gc.ca / www.montrealenvironment.ca

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