Flight Path


This project comes from Marina Nicollier, a recent graduate of Rice University’s M. Arch program. The project was developed in Charles Waldheim’s studio at Rice University in the spring of ’08, and focuses on new methods of industrial manufacturing in a diverse cultural and environmental climate.

The project brief was to imagine the future use of a maquiladora car manufacturing facility outside of Monterrery Mexico. Students could make individual decisions about what that future use might be, but given the current state of automobile industry most students chose a scenario where car manufacture was either completely or partially replaced with a secondary function.

Marina proposed that the car manufacturing facility, faced with impending economic crisis (this global market hadn’t hit yet), offset its sinking revenue with a butterfly haven. Monterrey, she discovered, sits almost directly in the yearly migratory path of the monarch butterfly and she’s hoping that with a little attraction, shade, water and food, butterflies and the pursuant lepidopterists and enthusiasts will make a stop at her facility.




The main attracting device for the Monarchs is a pixelated roof-garden planted with a variety of seasonals and perennials amid a landscape of sloped, butterfly-wing-shaped landing platforms.


The arrangement of plantings and platforms can be manipulated seasonally and other amenities can be added to the platforms such as water and a canopy.

While the butterflies don’t directly assist with the manufacture of motor vehicles in Monterrey they do, or will, demonstrate a direct “value-add” to the company which may in fact allow them to continue production, keep jobs and help the local economy. All of which we might point out is probably ironically bad for the butterflies, but the insect kingdom will outlive us all anyway. All in all this project demonstrates exactly the kind of reciprocity that we seek in all architectural projects. This is designing with the animal, with the environment, with the things on hand and demonstrates real world responsible design.

site componentssection_f1panelsmigration routessymbiosismoneyshot

[all images courtesy of Marina Nicollier]
  1. I think it is a good project and generally a pretty awesome concept. The main drawback I see is with what Ned called the added value of it (to the existing project). I’m assuming that he didn’t pull that out of thin air—if I remember, part of the project assignment alluded to creating something that is at least somewhat economically productive. I’m just not entirely set on how much something like this would add to a factory that sees millions of dollars of materials moving through it every day. However, as a contrary to that, I’ve had a professor or two at Rice indicate that there is a fairly significant group of birdwatchers nationwide who travel to Houston for a weekend to rent a car and drive to some of the nature preserves N and NE of the city, and then head home—all in the hopes of seeking a handful of species unique to the region. So, a leading migratory butterfly facility may be able to have this power, too.

    1. Thanks for the comment Matt. I think the point is that regardless of how much money the added amenity brings to a given project, it is will always remain a potential alternative revenue source. That is to say, when the going gets tough, some money is better than none. And for argument’s sake the initial investment in this project appears to be fairly low making the odd for an investor’s ROI look like a pretty good bet. But, good point!

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