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Photograph: Courtesy Terreform One

A mind-blowing butterfly sanctuary may be coming to Nolita

By
Howard Halle
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A lot of buildings in NYC offer amenities, ranging from fitness centers and pools to cigar bars and tree houses, but there's a proposal out there for an office and retail complex in Nolita that would give you butterflies—literally. Instead of the usual windows, occupants would look out at a "lepidoptera terrarium": A sanctuary for Monarch butterflies that would cover most of the building's eight-story exterior.

Photograph: Courtesy Terreform One

Designed by nonprofit architecture and urban design research group Terreform ONE, the plan calls for the creation of a "vertical meadow" that would cover the facade as a "diagrid structure" sandwiched between glass and a layer of EFTE foil (a lightweight polymer membrane) that would enclose a climate-controlled space measuring three-feet deep. It would be filled with suspended milkweed vines and flowering plants to sustain the butterflies and caterpillars from which they grow. (LED screens at the street level would provide magnified real time views of this mini ecosystem.) And if that's not bonkers enough for you, there would also be butterfly-shaped drones hovering around the place to monitor the butterflies' well-being. The whole shebang would be solar powered.

Photograph: Courtesy Terreform One

This being New York, there are complications standing in the way of making this admittedly meshugge project a reality. The prospective site is located on Cleveland Place, across from Petrosino Square on the boundary between Soho and Little Italy. It's a landmarked area though, and since the building currently occupying the spot dates to 1840, it would mean amending current zoning to get the scheme going. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

Photograph: Courtesy Terreform One

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