If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
—Edward N. Lorenz, meteorology professor at MIT, formulated the term Butterfly Effect in 1972
This week I will be part of a group exhibition at the Cambridge Arts Gallery called Untold Possibilities. The show focuses our attention on climate disruption and its implications for nature and society.
This is my first time as an exhibiting artist, I have always been on the other side of exhibitions—working with curators and collaborating with artists as I design the exhibition catalogs and brochures. My project is called Cool Roofs.
Meet Helene, the artist behind the butterfly drawing. Who said fighting climate change can’t be beautiful?!
Cool Roofs is a remarkably simple concept: cover flat roofs in our city with a white roofing material or white ENERGY STAR® paint and use the roofs as canvases for enormous butterfly murals created by the K-12 students from the Cambridge community. The project was inspired by “the butterfly effect,” a phrase coined by MIT meteorology professor Edward N. Lorenz to describe his discovery that tiny changes in initial conditions can lead to dramatically different outcome on a larger scale. Lorenz was talking about weather, but the butterfly effect applies to this public initiative as well. The small act of changing the color of our roofs from black to white decreases the urban heat island effect by lowering temperatures through the reflection of sunlight.
Keith Oleson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado (1) states that if every roof in large cities around the world were white it would decrease the urban heat island effect by 33%. I was struck by the simplicity of this solution.
As a graphic designer my task is to communicate ideas and concepts in a clear and concise way. Looking at the theory of the Butterfly Effect as a model for climate change, I envisioned the white roofs as blank canvases for artwork. The butterfly is a symbol of endurance, change, hope, life, and transformation because of its impressive process of metamorphosis. This cool roofs project extends the community-building initiatives of the mural arts movement in Cambridge with a green twist, creating cool art for a hot climate.
To learn more, go to:
Creation and Installation
Firestone donated 700 square feet of white energy star roofing material so that we could cover the entire gallery space with it. The installation went smoothly, laying flat to the floor with no air pockets or ripples.
Exhibition graphics are mounted to the wall.
The gallery’s four walls are a gradation of light to dark blue, then dark to light yellow.
Helene, a second-grade student at the Tobin Montessori School created the butterfly artwork.
I recreated the butterfly onto the gallery floor with acrylic paints, this butterfly went from a crayon sketch on 8.5 x 11” paper to over six feet wide.
By way of satellite and Google Maps the butterfly artwork can be viewed as an online exhibition.
(1) “Effects of white roofs on urban temperature in a global climate model” by Keith Oleson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.