Snøhetta completes new planetarium and observatory in France

new planetarium and observatory

Situated on a remarkable site, between the adjacent Scarpe river, the archaeological museum Arkéos and a nearby residential complex, the project aims to harmoniously connect these elements and create an accessible and inspiring space for visitors.

Snøhetta’s design is a unified building with curves that wrap around the two domes of the projection room and the observatory. The Planetarium is one of the first projects to be completely conceived, managed and built by Snøhetta’s studio in Paris. We are extremely excited to showcase the Snøhetta approach for delivering high-quality cultural and educational buildings in France. ​

​​Ellipse – a timeless and fluid concept
​​The concept of continuous movement has inspired the project throughout, defining everything from the reception area, the exhibition spaces, the amphitheater, and the domes of the building. The building is linked by a slightly inclined ramp, visible from the outside through the building’s partly translucent façade.

Integrated into the local environment
​The notion of timelessness is also found in the continuous movement of the Scarpe river and the surrounding landscape that weaves a physical and visual link to the planetarium. It is designed to integrate seamlessly with the Arkéos Museum and shares landscaped areas and parking lots intended to connect these two cultural entities. ​​The two domes aim to be a visual signal that can be seen from afar while not impacting the local neighborhood.

Linking landscape to its surroundings
​The design of the outdoor spaces has two distinct characters; the surrounding landscape and an elliptical interior courtyard. Both help to create a coherent and contextualized cultural destination that takes advantage of the outstanding features of the site while integrating seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.
​The landscape is designed to promote biodiversity and integrates the materials present on the site. The garden has a continuous pathway that connects various outdoor spaces and the building. The path is paved with natural bluestone from Belgium, providing an additional layer of texture and visual expression. Also, plants and trees are strategically placed to integrate the parking spaces and the forecourt.

​The roof is planted with wild grass, creating a natural and organic visual element that is highly visible inside the building. ​​Once inside the building, the planted and glazed patio is visible from all interior spaces and works as a calm outdoor space, providing a connection to the natural landscape outside.

Users at the heart of the project ​
The visitor circuit flows smoothly from the entrance, through the gift shop and exhibition space, all the way to the immersive room. Then, the ramp gently brings the audience back down to the ground floor and towards the exit. ​​Specific areas have dedicated access to ensure that the flows do not intersect, such as the observatory area and offices on the first floor.

Materiality a key element
​The planetarium’s exterior envelope is inspired by the surrounding region and the materials used in nearby buildings such as the Arkéos Museum and brick houses. The project is composed of three main colors: the evolving wood color of the poplar, the rust color of the steel brise-soleils, and the light gray PVC membrane that covers the dome of the projection room.
The roof of the lower level near the neighboring parcels is vegetated, adding a natural element that helps integrate the project into the existing site landscape. The screening room dome is covered with a light gray PVC membrane, reducing its visual impact and enhancing the path of the ramp that winds around the façade.

Sustainability ambitions
​​​Sustainability played an important role in the design of the project. The heating for the showroom’s floor is supplied by geothermal energy, and it provides heating for the building during the winter and cooling during the summer. Additionally, sensors are installed on multiple openings to allow for intelligent natural ventilation.

Finally, the sunshades and the green roof also contribute to a responsible regulation of the building’s temperature and rainwater. Locally sourced materials were preferred to limit the carbon footprint and allow for a low environmental impact construction site.

  • Location: Douai, France ​ ​
  • ​​​Architect: Snøhetta
  • Building engineer: CET Ingénierie ​
  • ​Environnemental engineer: Impact Conseil et Ingénierie ​
  • OPC: Cicanord ​
  • Acoustic engineer: Studio Dap ​
  • Landscape: Atelier Silva Landscaping and Snøhetta
  • Client: Douasis Agglomeration ​
  • Size: 2000 m2
  • ​Competion: May 2023
  • Photographs: Jad Sylla, Courtesy of Snøhetta