snøhetta brings 'orionis' planetarium and observatory to northern france

snøhetta brings 'orionis' planetarium and observatory to northern france

orionis: a curving planetarium for douai, france


Snøhetta takes to northern France with the design of Orionis, a spiraling planetarium and observatory in Douai. Inspired by the graceful and continuous movement of stars, this cultural destination aims to connect various elements, including the adjacent Scarpe river, the Arkéos archaeological museum, and a nearby residential complex. Snøhetta’s design features a unified building with curves that elegantly envelop the projection room and observatory domes, creating an accessible and inspiring space for visitors.


Developed in collaboration with CET Ingénierie, Impact Conseil et Ingénierie, Cicanord, Studio Dap, and Atelier Silva Landscaping, the project was initiated in late 2019 and has now opened its doors to the public as of May 13th, 2023.

orionis snøhetta franceimages © Jad Sylla @jfsylla



the timeless and fluid ellipse


For the architects at Snøhetta, the concept of continuous movement has been the driving force behind the Orionis project, influencing every aspect of its design. This notion is evident in the reception area, exhibition spaces, amphitheater, and even the building’s domes. To visually convey this concept, Snøhetta has incorporated a slightly inclined ramp, which is visible from the outside through the partly translucent facade of the building. The continuous movement concept serves as a guiding principle throughout the entire visitor experience.


We wanted to propose an extraordinary meeting place and a new destination for the inhabitants of Douai,’ explains Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, co-founder of Snøhetta.The architectural and urban concept of our project takes its inspiration from the elliptical movement of the stars. Being continuous, fluid and perpetual are notions that we have reinterpreted in the project, not only in terms of the shape but also in the experience that visitors will have of the planetarium, all senses employed.’

orionis snøhetta france



snøhetta learns from the area


In addition to embodying a sense of timelessness, Snøhetta’s Orionis aims to respond to the surrounding landscape and the meandering Scarpe river. The design aims to establish a physical and visual link between the planetarium and the natural environment. By aligning with the neighboring Arkéos Museum, the project not only shares landscaped areas but also establishes shared parking lots, further enhancing the connectivity between these two cultural entities.


Snøhetta has carefully considered the impact on the local neighborhood and ensured that the two domes serve as visual signals without imposing on the surrounding area. The goal was to reveal the building’s program and function through its distinctive shapes, catching the attention of passersby.

orionis snøhetta france



Orionis has been meticulously designed by Snøhetta to cater to the needs of its diverse users while maintaining a sense of coherence and continuity with the overall theme. The visitor circuit flows from the entrance, through a gift shop and exhibition space, leading to the planetarium’s immersive room. The gentle ramp then guides the audience back to the ground floor, leading them towards the exit. To ensure smooth circulation, specific areas, such as the observatory and offices on the first floor, have dedicated access points, preventing intersecting flows and enhancing the overall visitor experience.

orionis snøhetta france



the building’s material palette


The exterior envelope of the Orionis planetarium draws inspiration from the surrounding region and the materials used in nearby structures, such as the Arkéos Museum and brick houses of Douai, France. Three main colors define the project: 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 steel panels on the main façade, reminiscent of those in front of the curtain walls at the Arkéos Museum, along with the wood siding, contribute to a cohesive design.


A green roof on the lower level introduces a natural element that helps to integrate the project into the existing site landscape. The light gray PVC membrane covering the screening room dome reduces its visual impact while accentuating the path of the winding ramp that wraps around the building’s facade.




the team’s sustainability goals


Sustainability played a vital role in the design of Orionis. Geothermal energy supplies the heating for the showroom’s floor, providing warmth in winter and cooling in summer. Intelligent natural ventilation is facilitated by sensors installed on multiple openings. Sunshades and the green roof contribute to responsible temperature regulation and rainwater management. Locally sourced materials were preferred during construction to minimize the project’s carbon footprint and ensure a low environmental impact construction site. Orionis stands as a testament to Snøhetta’s commitment to sustainability and responsible architecture.

orionis snøhetta france



The Planetarium is one of the first projects to be completely conceived, managed and built by Snøhetta’s studio in Paris,’ says ​Oliver Page, Managing Director of Snøhetta’s studio in Paris.We are extremely excited to showcase the Snøhetta approach for delivering high-quality cultural and educational buildings in France.‘​

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