Take a walk outside and take a good look at the houses in your neighborhood. Go ahead, move it, and take the RFT with you, too. Now, what do all these houses have in common? They're all rectilinear -- boxy, squarish. The similarity is depressing, no?
Now head over to the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield's Faust Park. Check out that roof. Mmm, curves -- nice, huh? Come inside and check out the new temporary exhibit, Animals as Architects. It seems that Earth's critters are somehow much more original than we are when it comes to building homes. Beaver dams, spiderwebs and turtle shells are just a few of the animals homes that manage to leave a greater aesthetic impact than our straight-edged constructions.
The latest exhibit to take over the lobby of the Butterfly House, Architects is also the first such temporary exhibit at the museum that does not involve live animals and plants, as previous attractions www.eightlegs.org or the recent Ants in My Plants have. That's because Architects is a completely hands-on traveling show created by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
Kids of all ages can pull apart a mock wasp nest and a 5-foot termite mound in layers and look inside to see how they're constructed (and hunt for the hidden termite queen). You can look down into 3-D pocket-gopher and mole holes and check out their extensive tunnels, nests and food caches. Children can get down on the floor to work giant puzzles representing a gopher town and a beaver lodge. The opportunity to see what's inside all these animal homes makes the exhibit a sort of MTV Cribs for other species.
Visitors can also make crayon rubbings of raised representations of different types of spiderwebs (did you know that a spider can spin seven different varieties of silk for different tasks?) in the same way folks make headstone rubbings, then take their art home. There's a microscope station for viewing some of the tiniest homes animals construct and for peering at materials.
While you're there, you'll surely want to strip off your coat and enter the humid 82-degree conservatory, where about 1,500 beautifully colored butterflies zoom around. They only live for two to five weeks once they reach this life stage, but each week the Butterfly House receives 1,000 chrysalises in the mail from tropical butterfly farms to maintain the population. You can watch the wet butterflies slowly emerge from the cocoons that hang inside a vitrine, too.
"It's a great place to go because it brings your spirits up in the winter," says Butterfly House director Joe Norton. "It's sunny, it's bright, it's a tropical environment."
Now, what we really need is to bring the people from homebuilding firms such as T. R. Hughes and Taylor Morley to Animal Architects and show them the benefits of domed roofs, underground tunnels and trapdoors. It's time to think outside the box.