March 19th 2015

a conservatory of hope

Comments: 10 Topics: ,

Last year, I received a call from the office of the Mayor of Montgomery, Alabama. I was told the mayor wanted to talk to me about designing a new building at the City Zoo. Knowing full well that zoo structures are certainly not among our specialties, I readied myself for this meeting with a polite thank-you-but-you’ve-got-the-wrong-person stance.
pavilion-watercolorWhen I arrived at the meeting, I was surprised to see a fellow not normally associated with the zoo. Dickie Blondheim and his exuberant wife, Joy, are the founders and heads of The Joy to Life Foundation, a dynamic organization promoting hope and awareness in the field of breast cancer. Dickie explained to me that he had an idea one day while taking a shower: a butterfly sanctuary which could serve as a beacon of hope for breast cancer survivors. He imagined a parallel between the dramatic life cycle of a butterfly and the experience of bravely battling an insidious illness like cancer. Needless to say, the vivid imagery that started spinning in my head stopped my thanks-but-no-thanks speech dead on my lips.

We immediately set out to help turn his shower-inspired dream into a reality. In addition to housing the complicated ecosystem that was required to house delicate butterflies, my main goal was to take the visitor on an emotional journey. This would be an architectural experience that could parallel the feelings one must go through after a diagnosis with cancer, but one that could also offer bright hope and flight out of that darkness.

In the resulting design, the journey into the building requires a subtle sloped descent into a partially submerged underground section. This subterranean area serves, not only as a foyer to the pavilion, but also as an educational area and theater. After leaving this area, one enters into the glassy pavilion, spiraling on an upwardly ramped path that eventually culminates in a cupolaed sacred structure in the epicenter. This continuous walk from darkness into light was crucial in the message of the building; a veritable built pilgrimage from despair to hope.

The Genesis Pavilion (as it was aptly named) is currently in the process of seeking funds. You can learn more about their noble aspiration here. Dickie and Joy, no small visionaries themselves, are already seeing this initial pavilion as the first of many. They see these glowing beacons, filled with fluttering, delicate lives scattered across the country, offering much needed optimism and grace to all those touched by breast cancer.

I sincerely hope their bighearted dream takes flight.






Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley


  1. lucke girl says:

    What a lovely idea! Uplifting to all who enter.

    But why just breast cancer? My brother is a six year survivor of pancreatic cancer!

  2. Courtney Czarnecki says:

    Thank you for telling us about this important project, Greg. I challenge every reader of this blog to donate $25. now. It’ll take two minutes and you’ll never miss it. Lovely endeavor……

  3. Derilyn Lavender Lee says:

    Beautiful,beautiful idea and I can see it in my mind already and look forward to walking through the actual building. I will gladly donate to see this happen!

  4. patricia f allen says:

    What a lovely building and a fabulous tribute.
    Can’t wait to see this.

  5. Dee Coleman says:

    Greg, I can’t wait to see this amazing project come to fruition! With you, Joy and Dickie in charge, it will for sure be a success.
    Thank you!

  6. paige says:

    I’m a 11 yr cancer survivor with a recent reoccurance. Butterflies have always been my message from God that he is in control and has a plan!Thank you for this…I would love to be involved!

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