Monarch Sanctuary: Integrated
Biodiversity in Double Skin Facade

Butterfly Project Video

Credits: Principal Investigator,
Mitchell Joachim.
Project Management, Vivian Kuan.
Advisors: Nina Edwards Anker, Lisa
Architects / Designers: Christian
Hubert, Nicholas Gervasi, Maria
Aiolova, Anna Bokov, Kristina
Goncharov, Yucel Guven, Zhan Xu,
Larissa Belcic, Shahira Hammad,
Deniz Onder, James Leonard, Zack
Saunders, Xinye Lin, Sabrina
Naumovski, Theo Dimitrasopoulos,
Jules Pepitone, Dan Baker, Daniel S.
Castaño, Aidan Nelson, Aleksandr
Plotkin, Kristian Knorr, Sophie
Falkeis, Rita Wang, Michael
Consultants: Bednark, Anouk
Wipprecht, Simone Rothman.
Sponsors: BASF, Intel, RNR
Foundation, Future Air.
Client: Kenmare Square LLC. Jackie
Jangana, and Andrew Kriss.

The Monarch Sanctuary
(Lepidoptera terrarium) will be eight
stories of new commercial
construction in Nolita, NYC.
Programmatically, the building
space will mostly contain retail and
office life. Yet central to its purpose
is a semi-porous breeding ground,
waystation, and sanctuary for the
monarch butterfly (Danaus
plexippus). It is a pioneering building
– one that aims to be ecologically
generous, weaving butterfly
conservation strategies into its design
through the integration of open
monarch habitat in its facades, roof,
and atrium. Not just a building
envelope, the edifice is a new biome
of coexistence for people, plants,
and butterflies.

The monarch butterfly of North
America is an at risk species. The U.
S. Fish and Wildlife Service is
currently assessing whether the
monarch needs to be granted
“endangered species” status, while
the monarch population erodes due
to the combined forces of
agricultural pesticides and habitat
loss. Monarchs are a delicate
presence in New York City, migrating
each year from Mexico and Florida
to the city’s precious green spaces to
lay their eggs on the milkweed plant.

This project will vitally serve as a
large-scale Lepidoptera terrarium
. A
permeable vertical meadow, the
Monarch Sanctuary is a double-skin
facade integrated with an open
garden that serves as a crucial way
station and habitat for the at-risk
It will bolster the Monarch’s
presence in the city through two
strategies: open plantings of
milkweed and nectar flowers on the
roof, rear facade, and terrace will
provide breeding ground and
stopover habitat for wild monarchs,
while semi-enclosed colonies in the
atrium and street side double-skin
facade will
foster monarch
growth. The insects will
have fluid open access to join the
wild population, enhancing overall
species population numbers.

Our connection to the community of
NYC is essential. The prime location
will attract attention and educate the
public on Monarch extinction. It has
a total area of 30,000 square feet
and is to be located in the heart of
Nolita, between Soho and the
burgeoning art district along the
Bowery, and a few blocks west of the
New Museum. The site is just around
the corner from the Storefront for Art
and Architecture and currently exists
as two plots occupied by small
residential buildings, which will be
combined into a single property.
Although it is a relatively small
commercial building by New York
standards, the building will present a
striking public face and a powerful
argument in favor of a diversity of life
forms in the city. It will face Petrosino
Square, a small triangular paved
public park, named after a fallen
NYPD lieutenant. The façade of the
Monarch Sanctuary building will add
a lush vertical surface to the edge of
the square.

The double-skin street facade, with a
diagrid structure infilled glass at the
outer layer and with “pillows” of ETFE
foil at the inner layer, encloses a
careful climate - controlled space, 3’
deep and 7 stories tall. This “vertical
meadow,” the terrarium proper, serves
as an incubator and safe haven for
Monarchs in all seasons. It contains
suspended milkweed vines and
flowering plants to nourish the
butterflies at each stage of their life
cycle. Hydrogel bubbles on the ETFE
help maintain optimal humidity
levels, and sacs of algae help purify
the air and the building wastewater.
Solar panels on the roof provide
renewable energy to assist in the
powering the facilities. Butterflies
can come and go as they need from
inside the building skin system and

Other features of the project are
equally in service of the insects. LED
screens at the street level provide
magnified live views of the
caterpillars and butterflies in the
vertical meadow, which also
connects to a multi-story atrium
adjacent to the circulation core.
Interior partitions are constructed
from mycelium, and additional
planting at the ceiling enhances the
interior atmosphere and building
biome. Hovering around the building,
a few butterfly-shaped drones take
readings and maps of the immediate
microclimate. They return every few
minutes to recharge, and their
combined real-time data works to
maintain the butterfly health.

The building is intended to serve as
an object lesson in enhancing the
urban environment with green
technologies, including plant life
and other creatures, in designing for
other species, and in conveying
images of new possibilities for the
urban environment. This project
alone will not save the Monarch but
it will crucially raise awareness about
our much-loved insect residents.

Nature - Cooper Hewitt Design
Triennial Exhibition Team:
Terreform ONE, Mitchell Joachim,
Vivian Kuan.
Nicholas Gervasi, Xinye Lin, Theo
Dimitrasopoulos, Jules Pepitone,
Anna Bokov, Dan Baker, and Bednark

Monarch Sanctuary™ Patent
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Nonprofit Organization for Philanthropic Architecture, Urban + Ecological Design.