Ashes to Monarchs

Advanced Design Studio | Fall 2017
Pilgrimage Hill Town and Burial Grounds | Sierra Madre Mountains, Mexico
The University of Texas at Austin
Professors: David Heymann and Hope Hasbruck
Design Partnership with Rachel Walburton, MLA candidate

As the lives of the dead are being celebrated across Mexico during Día de los Muertos, millions of monarch butterflies are completing a multi-generation migration from eastern North America to the 52-hectare Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the Sierra Madre mountains in the western state of Michoacan. While these butterflies have never made this journey before, they are guided by their DNA, following the path of their great-grandparents, who made the journey the year before. Their destination is the forest of Oyamel Firs in the Sierra Madre mountains.

To both Aztecs and Catholics, the butterfly represents the resurrected or returning spirit. Pilgrims embark on this journey carrying the ashes of loved ones to lay to rest below the butterflies. The ashes are placed in the forest as the spirits flutter overhead.

Following the Día de los Muertos celebrations, pilgrims begin their 100-mile journey west to the Reserve, staying in towns along the way. The final day of the journey begins in Anguangueo and proceeds up a steep valley. A beacon and hill town appear and disappear with the twists of the trail, guiding pilgrims to their destination: the butterflies. The plaza serves the temporal pilgrim community, providing food, accommodations and a place of worship. Above the plaza, the ashes are laid in scattering grounds or columbaria, depending on preference, in the forest of Oyamel Firs beneath the roosting butterflies.