"Design With Life" explores socio-ecologic design innovation by alumnus-led firm

Projects, atmosphere + clean, Monarch Sanctuary. Planted geometric walls create interstitial butterfly habitat.

Monarch Sanctuary by Terreform ONE is an eight-story biome of coexistence for people, flora and butterflights. It is among a series of projects in biotech architecture featured in Mitchell Joachim's latest book, Design with Life.

Published September 26, 2019


In the challenging context of accelerating climate dynamics, the core discipline of architectural design is evolving and embracing new forms of action.

In the forthcoming book Design with Life: Biotech Architecture and Resilient Cities (Actar Publishers, 2019), alumnus Mitchell Joachim (BPS ‘94) and Maria Aiolova chronicle projects developed by their nonprofit organization, Terreform ONE. The work collectively defines new directions in socio-ecological design and intersections of synthetic biology, architecture and urban systems.

The research-driven Terreform ONE has established a distinctive design tactic that investigates projects through the regenerative use of natural materials, science, and the emergent field of socio-ecological design. The design approach uses actual living matter to create new functional elements and spaces. Design actions integrate social justice with far-reaching applications in digital manufacturing and maker culture.

Stemming from work initially developed at Terreform ONE and other prominent organizations in the field, Design with Life disseminates ecologically intelligent design in various speculative urban contexts. It also unpacks projects and histories by other major theoreticians in many comparable disciplines. 

An architecture that aims to be ecologically generous, weaving butterfly conservation strategies into its design through the integration of monarch habitat in its façades, roof, and atrium. Not just a building envelope, the edifice is a new biome of coexistence for people, plants, and butterflies. Rendering of "Monarch Sanctuary" from Design with Life

Among the projects featured in the book is the eight-story "Monarch Sanctuary," a commercial building proposed for Nolita, NYC. The project will serve as a semi-porous breeding ground, waystation, and sanctuary for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). In "Monarch Sanctuary," building envelope becomes a biome of coexistence for people, flora, and butterflies. A statement in socio-ecological design, the project integrates monarch habitat throughout its façade, roof, and atrium.

The double-skin street façade features a diagrid structure infilled with glass at the outer layer and “pillows” of a high-tech thermoplastic polymer at the inner layer which enclose a careful climate-controlled space three feet deep.

This “vertical meadow,” the terrarium proper, serves as an incubator and safe haven for Monarchs in all seasons. Suspended milkweed vines and flowering plants nourish the butterflies at each stage of their life cycle. Hydrogel bubbles maintain optimal humidity levels, and sacs of algae purify the air and wastewater. 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.

A building section perspective of Monarch Santuary shows the paths traveled by butterflies from a nearby park into the habitat.

A building section perspective of "Monarch Sanctuary" maps the trajectory of butterflies from Petrosino Park across the street through the double-skin facade vertical meadow finally up to the pollinator rooftop garden. Rendering from Design with Life.  

[Monarch Sanctuary] will present a striking public face and a powerful argument in favor of a diversity of life forms in the city.

         - Excerpt from Design with Life, by Mitchell Joachim and Maria Aiolova of Terreform ONE

Terreform ONE is a research-based architecture and urban design consulting group that endeavors to combat the extinction of planetary species through pioneering acts of design. Their projects illuminate the environmental possibilities of habitats, cities and landscapes across the globe. Operating as an interdisciplinary lab of specialists, Terreform ONE cultivates resilience through innovations in building, transportation, infrastructure, water, food, waste treatment, air quality, and energy. The group's collaborative process includes speculating about the ways in which emerging technologies will impact future urban generations and local biodiversity.