More than 800 free-flying tropical and native butterflies dart about the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden, Rochester, N.Y. Part of the Strong National Museum of Play’s $37 million expansion, the garden’s unique roof spans are reminiscent of butterflies’ graceful wings, making the facility itself an attraction.

Architecture firm Macon Chaintreuil Jensen & Stark, Rochester, specified more than 4,000 square feet (372 m2) of PTFE-tensile-fabric membrane for the butterfly garden, the first and only year-round indoor butterfly sanctuary in upstate New York. The roof stretches 30-feet (9-m) high and 50-feet (15-m) in diameter. The fabric membrane offers more than unique architecture, however. It reduces the heat-island effect and allows natural light into a space where visitors wind their way through tropical foliage and two water features, including a cascading waterfall.

Because of the translucent daylighting characteristics, significant cost savings are realized on supplemental interior lighting. Glass walls create the illusion of being outdoors using a system developed in Europe that attaches more than 130 glass panels to the structural-steel columns while keeping them nearly invisible to the naked eye. Each glass panel is custom designed and no two are identical.

  • Credit: BIRDAIR INC.

More than 600 cubic yards (459 m3) of concrete were poured down to bedrock to support the structure. Underground ductwork handles heating-and-cooling needs to maintain a proper environment for the butterflies. An adjacent greenhouse contains plants to keep nectar sources replenished.


Other green features throughout the museum include high-efficiency irrigation technology that limits the use of potable water. Aerators, low-flow lavatories and flush valves reduce water use by 20 percent. Mechanical systems decrease energy costs by 20 percent and achieve a level of energy performance that exceeds the New York State Energy Conservation Code.

During construction, the museum developed a waste-management plan that diverted 50 percent of construction, demolition and land-clearing debris from landfill disposal. An IAQmanagement plan for construction and preoccupancy phases prevented IAQ problems. To further education about the building’s green attributes, an exhibit and educational-outreach program teach school-age children and their families about the building’s sustainable elements.

The Strong National Museum of Play is the second-largest children’s museum in the nation. Its new butterfly garden offers patrons the opportunity to interact closely with nature in a facility whose purpose and appearance inspire the imagination.

Strong National Museum of Play

One Manhattan Square, Rochester, NY 14607

(585) 263-2700 /

Roofing Membrane: 4,000 sqare feet (372m2) of PTFE tensile fabric from Birdair Inc., Amherst, NY,