Architecture for Birds

Continuing the Co-habitation Discussion

Home sweet home... the nest is in the yellow steel guard beam is the down town loft for the demanding chicks.

We discovered a bird’s nest wedged inside a cross beam hanging at the entrance of our condominium parking garage. It’s a brilliant example of nature’s opportunism, carving out homes in unlikely and unplanned locations throughout the city.

Our discovery feels like a hidden treasure. The steel beam has become a little secret moment of magic to watch. If we get this much pleasure from chirping chicks in a steel tube, why isn’t there more of this downtown?

Why isn’t there more integration? Cottages have their bird boxes and feeders, but not downtown. Why not integrated into the tower’s building envelope?

Nature is a Pest?

Today I heard on the radio discussions for culling the population of Canada Geese due to their rising population and the amounts of poop polluting the lake shores of people’s cottages. The debate is ugly. We’ve killed off the predators who would normally manage numbers, which has been accepted due to the practical “protect our children” survival instinct, but to kill off the harmless geese suddenly seems pretty barbaric.

Unfortunately, we know this conversation exists for all sorts of “pests”; raccoons, squirrels, pigeons, while having been culturally accepted for ants, flies, mice and termites.

Architecture for Nature

If nature is stakeholder for our design process, what would that look like? Architecture is an obvious starting point, as the process is the most destructive of natural habitat, and yet has the most obvious opportunity. The conversation is surprisingly non-existent.

Bird Safe Architecture

Audubon Minnesota is a group whose mission is to;

conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and their habitats, for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.

They have produced a brilliant document outlining Bird Safe Building Guidelines. It has some great practical advice, but the basic conclusion is pretty embarrassing. Stop attracting and confusing the poor birds by simply turning off the lights at night and many deaths could be avoided.

Opening cover from the document, click the image to read.

It’s that simple, and yet that hard to achieve.

Architecture for Birds

My favourite case study for design that embraces nature is William McDonough who asks his clients to envision how they want their building to be perceived by migratory birds. The question is still pretty avant garde to many, but the reality is surprisingly simple. By using native grasses across the rooves of factories and offices, McDonough + Partners have been responsible for the largest human made natural habitats in the world.

Click the image to read the case study from McDonough + Partners

The 901 Cherry Offices, originally for GAP, was designed with green rooves that transformed occupants into bird watchers, discovering a connection between themselves and nature which they had not realized was missing.

Click the image above to read the case study from McDonough + Partners

The Ford Rouge Industrial Complex, a symbol of Industrial Production, was transformed with an $18 million dollar rainwater treatment system that cleans 20 billion US Gallons a year via 10 acres of green roof. The green roof offers a nesting site for birds, an almost absurd twist to the fate of an automobile factory.

These are brilliant case studies, but old, and rare. Are there more case studies out there that I am missing? Is there an obscure term being used for the design of architecture that integrates nature as a stakeholder that I am missing?

The Backyard as a Place to Start

If this discussion is a little overwhelming, here is the good news. There are a number of blossoming organizations that have resources for the hobbyist gardner looking to provide a habitat for migratory and other organisms in danger.

These resources are only available due to dedicated volunteers such as Christina Sharma

Project CHIRP, in Toronto, has a range of resources and information for planting trees that produce flowers and fruit that attract and support birds in need. The result is a backyard that becomes a productive element in the broader ecosystem, and beautiful (possibly wonderfully noisy) birds to enjoy. It also reflects an altered mindset, that a garden is not just for human admiration, and that the human experience is increased by the inclusion of “nature”.

The next challenge is to develop an inclusive system that can be woven into the building system at the scale of towers and commercial architecture. How should we begin?

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2 Comments on “Architecture for Birds”

  1. This is a great post – to partially answer your question on animal integration, I fee that there needs to be community engagement, volunteerism and a great project (which I am very interested in developing) that redefines space and interaction with the particular urban species.

    Cornell Lab of Ornithology explores this relationship through advocating that serious science happens when you observe nature. Their Citizen Science approach brings strong community engagement.

    Check out:
    1. Celebrate Urban Birds: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/celebration

    2. Project Pigeon Watch: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pigeonwatch

  2. Carl Hastrich says:

    Thanks for the tips Carla. I especially like the “funky nests in funky places” on the site. Keep these tips coming, there’s so much to explore…


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