While its facade immediately grabs the attention, it's what lies on the inside of the Monarch Sanctuary that is truly spectacular. The eight storey commercial building in Nolita, New York will house office space for local business, but will also serve as a breeding ground and sanctuary for the monarch butterfly.

Monarch Sanctuary wall

Designed by non-profit architectural practice Terreform One, the building accounts for the decline in monarch butterfly population over the past few decades, the building will serve as a habitat for the insects, with the facade, roof and atrium providing correct conditions for them to thrive within.

The project is essentially a larger Lepidoptera terrarium, that will house the correct plantations for wild butterflies to thrive, including milkweed and nectar flowers on the roof, rear facade and terrace. In-house butterflies will live within an atrium and double-skinned facade, located on the street side of the building, that will nurture the resident population. These insects won’t be cut off from the outside population, which will encourage breeding and therefore increase local butterfly numbers.

monarch sanctuary street view

The building’s location will raise plenty of awareness in regards to the dangers of Monarch extinction. In the heart of Nolita and between the Soho and Bowery neighbourhoods and facing Petrosino Square, the building will catch the eye from the street, but hopes to educate those who regularly frequent the building and visitors about the conservation work being done to save the insects.

The diagrid double-skin facade consists of infilled glass on the outside, with thick ‘pillow’s of EFTE foil making up the inner layer. The EFTE’s hydrogel bubbles help maintain the correct climate for the butterflies, with algae used to purify the air and wastewater of the building. Solar panelling powers the site.

monarch sanctuary drawing

LED screens provide real time telecasts of the insects in the vertical meadow, that runs through the middle of the building, to those at street level. Butterfly-shaped drones take readings of the immediate microclimate to ensure conditions are at their peak for the monarchs. Interior partitions are constructed from mycelium, and additional planting at the ceiling enhances the interior atmosphere and building biome. 

Paving the way for more buildings of its kind, the Monarch Sanctuary is living proof that commercial dwellings can double as environmentally conscious entities. For more information on the building, head to terreform.org.