The Orionis Planetarium and Observatory is a cultural space in the northern French city of Douai, nestled between the neighboring Scarpe River, the Arkeos Archaeological Museum, and a nearby housing estate. Studio Snøhetta worked on the project. The team was tasked with blending the building into the existing environment and creating an accessible and inspiring space for visitors.
“We wanted to offer an unusual meeting place for the people of Douai. Our project’s architectural and urban concept draws inspiration from the elliptical movement of the stars. Being continuous, fluid, and eternal are concepts that we have rethought in the project, not only in terms of form but also in terms of the experience that visitors will have in the planetarium, using all the senses,” explains Kjetil Tredal Thorsen, co-founder of Snøhetta .
The outer part of the planetarium is in tune with the surrounding area through the use of the same materials as those of nearby buildings. In particular, the color of the panels on the main façade and the wood paneling are inspired by the Arkeos Museum. The colors of poplar wood, rust, and a light gray shade prevail in the project’s palette.
The concept of continuous movement sets the vector for the creation of the interior space. It is organized in such a way that the visitor moves along a predetermined route from the entrance, passing through the gift shop and exhibition space to the immersive hall, and then returns to the first floor to the exit.
The open spaces are divided into the surrounding landscape and an elliptical courtyard. The landscaping is designed with biodiversity in mind, and all plants are planted to integrate the parking spaces and front yard. The roof is planted with wild grass, creating a natural and organic visual element. The glazed patio is visible from all interior spaces and provides a link to the natural landscape outside. In order to limit the carbon footprint and ensure minimal environmental impact, the construction used mostly locally produced materials. For example, in the garden, there is a path that is paved with natural blue stone from neighboring Belgium.
When working on the project, the Snøhetta team used a number of techniques that helped make the project sustainable. The floor of the exhibition hall is heated by geothermal energy, which also heats the building in winter and cools it in summer. Special sensors are installed to ensure natural ventilation. A green roof also helps regulate building temperatures and rainwater runoff.
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