Prix du XXe siècle — 2020 Recipient | Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

Prix du XXe siècle — 2020 Recipient

Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory

Baird Sampson Neuert Architects

Niagara Falls,
Award Category: 
Prix du XXe siècle

The Niagara Parks Commission’s Butterfly Conservatory is an exemplary complex of glass buildings dedicated to the public display and rearing of live butterflies. Completed in 1994, it remains the largest and most northerly facility of its kind in North America. At the time of opening, it was celebrated in the Economist as a landmark international achievement. It quickly became a “must-see” attraction in Niagara Falls. 

The project was conceived as a year-round attraction to compliment the nearby Niagara Parks Botanical Garden. The building also expanded educational opportunities for students of the Niagara Parks Horticulture School.

Energy efficiency was an important consideration for the “integrated design” approach taken by the architecture and engineering team. The designers focused on issues of envelope performance and endeavoured to learn from the production greenhouse industry. The design of all building systems was considered holistically, including their potential manage natural air movement. Butterflies only fly in daylight, so natural lighting was at the forefront of systems integration efforts.

The care with which the Butterfly Conservatory was planned and designed has resulted in an exceptional history of operational success over 25+ years. Close to 8 million people have visited the facility. On a busy day, 2,000 visitors pass through its doors. Satisfaction for visitors and staff remains very high—and the building operates as intended.

Jury Comment(s): 

"This project exemplifies a holistic approach to architecture in its sensitivity to the site, its materiality, its architectural expression and its response through research and technology to the demands of its unusual program.  Anchored to its context and yet expressing a very Canadian aesthetic sensibility, the building is an enduring and quality example of environmentally sensitive architecture that foreshadowed the sustainability concerns of the 21stC.

Choosing the Butterfly Conservatory strongly illustrates the value of the Prix du XXe Siecle award.  It is a project that may not have been at the height of architectural fashion when it was completed in 1996, but with the benefit of hindsight, we see a building that has stood the test of time and was a forerunner in what we now understand as sustainable design.  The conservatory design is based on careful problem solving, the use of natural, durable and repairable materials and a poetic engagement with the landscape. These elements alone make this project stand out and offer guidance to contemporary architects."

Jury members

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Click for full version: 
Contemporary View (winter 2020) of the Display house and base of retaining walls viewed from the east

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Contemporary view of the Entry Court and surrounding butterfly gardens seen from the southern approach from the Botanical Garden

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Contemporary view of the Display house and roofscape above “Front of House” facilities seen from the south east

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Contemporary view of the waterfall built over front of house video orientation rooms at the south end of the Display House

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Original photograph of the main pathway in the Display house

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Contemporary View of a portion of production greenhouses containing caterpillar rearing facilities

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Contemporary view of the exit ramp area into the gift shop

PHOTO: Richard Seck

Original photograph of Production Greenhouses and Display House seen from the north east

PHOTO: Steven Evans