As their contribution to Montreal’s 1967 World’s Fair Exposition the United States government commissioned architect, scientist, and well-known genius Buckminster Fuller to design a pavilion for the Canadian exhibition.
Fuller, who popularized, perfected, and named the Geodesic Dome, designed a 20-story-tall dome in the fashion of his hallmark design to represent the USA. Done in a full two-thirds sphere, rather than the typical half dome, the massive steel structure was seen and admired by over 5.6 million visitors who went into the dome to see exhibits from actual spaceships from the Apollo missions to American works of art. The dome’s steel skeleton was fitted with a clear acrylic covering, making the structure look like a massive, glittering jewel.
When the fair ended, the pavilion remained. The dome was originally meant to be bolted together, allowing the pavilion to be dismantled when the fair was finished, but budget constraints led workers to weld the dome together instead, securing the dome’s place in Montreal’s landscape.
The sphere would remain open to the public for nine years until an accident involving some routine welding maintenance caused the acrylic covering to catch fire, engulfing the entire sphere in a spectacular ball of fire with flames that burned for 30 minutes. When the flames subsided, there was no sign of the acrylic walls to be seen, but the steel trusses of the dome remained. After the fire, the dome was closed to the public for over fifteen years.
In June 1995, the dome rose from the ashes and was re-purposed as a museum devoted to environmental action. The reopened dome sported no acrylics on its exterior this time around, due to the costs of keeping the gigantic dome warm and cool, and probably to prevent future accidents. However, the dome was hit with another disaster in 1998 when an ice storm forced the biosphere to close for five months.
The biosphere reopened, and still houses the museum. Through the fire and Canadian ice storms, the Biosphere of Montreal remains, a sturdy and beautiful example of “Bucky’s” geodesic architecture.
Know Before You Go
By metro: Jean-Drapeau station (Yellow Line); two-minute walk.