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.


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,