ATLANTA(GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Architecture is an opportunity to explore the edges of possibility by pushing beyond what has already been done. When FFRK Architects of Salt Lake City, Utah was hired to design a new Butterfly Biosphere for a repeat client, Thanksgiving Point, they knew they were up for the challenge.

“This was an amazing creative opportunity,” says architect Justin Wallis, AIA, an associate with FFRK. “The design needed a dynamic topography of hills and pathways. Geofoam from Atlas Molded Products allowed us to create that topography.”

Thanksgiving Point is an interactive, non-profit farm, garden, and museum complex that cultivates family learning through natural wonder. The Butterfly Biosphere is 45,000-SF and consists of a discovery space; nature-themed indoor playscape; and the 10,000-SF living conservatory.

“We recreated a Costa Rican rain forest in Utah where we have 100-degree temperature swings,” says Wallis. Articulating a hyper-realistic, ADA accessible tropical jungle indoors is one opportunity Wallis and the team at FFRK will never forget.

Atlas Molded Products’ Geofoam blocks are made from molded polystyrene, a lightweight, cellular plastic material that is incredibly strong. Geofoam blocks range in compressive strength from 2.2 pounds per square inch (psi) at one percent deformation up to 18.6 psi. Stacking the blocks as the base material enabled an ADA accessible pathway over hills rising six feet above the floor as it meanders through the conservatory. Gripper plates between blocks secured them in place and rebar increased structural rigidity during the building process. Molded polystyrene from Atlas Molded Products makes an ideal building material where the design requires a unique, sculpted form that is lightweight and durable. It allows craftsmen to articulate very complexly detailed designs.

The stacked geofoam blocks are shaped into rock walls and coated in glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC), which uses high-strength glass fibers embedded in a concrete matrix. Sheets applied over the carved foam leaves a durable artistically rendered cement shell. The thin GFRC surface is painted in rich detail to reveal the hillside’s geomorphology. Filled with dirt, planted with tropical plants and trees, and managed by the Butterfly Biosphere’s team of specialists, and the exotic ecosystem comes to life.

“Using Geofoam allowed us to think three-dimensionally about what the experience could be,” finishes Wallis. “We created accessible paths that fluidly change elevations among realistic carved rock, landscaped mountains. We created an entire ecosystem exactly as we imagined, and the Geofoam never restricted us.”

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