Designing – For the Birds

Designing – For the Birds

By: Jill Mendoza Yes, living the green life can get complicated, even when selecting windowpanes. Glass windows allow for lots of natural light, which in turn saves electricity.  That is certainly a strategy we used in our own LEED CI Certified building completed nearly ten years ago.  Although most of us are familiar with the many benefits of natural light within the built environment, we may not think much about it when we hear the thunk of a bird hitting a window. Hearing this noise is startling at first and then it’s sad. But what we don’t realize is just how widespread the problem is. In North America alone, buildings account for hundreds of millions of bird deaths annually.  Noted in this months Architectural Record, “A running estimate of North American’s collision-killed birds, posted online by another nonprofit organization, Toronto’s Fatal Light Awareness Program, ticks along at roughly 30 bird deaths per second.  After habitat destruction, collisions with buildings are the single biggest killer of birds.” Thanks to a few dedicated minds in Modern Architecture a search for bird friendly design is making a difference in reversing these stats. Design professionals and others familiar with this issue know that sustainability goes beyond saving energy.  It also means considering how buildings affect the environment, including whether it kills birds. Today there are several different design strategies used to make buildings and glazing more bird-safe. One thing that seems to work is a “frit.” A frit is a length of pencil-thin ceramic embedded in or on glass. The pattern deters birds, but only if it’s set in rows no wider than two inches apart horizontally or four inches apart vertically.  This 2”by4” rule is derived from research showing that most birds won’t try to fly through horizontal spaces less than 2 inches high or vertical spaces less than 4 inches wide.  But frits have issues. Vertical lines, for a lot people, makes them feel like they’re in prison or behind bars! One project highlighted in the Architectural Record article was that of the Integrated Science Center (ISC) at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York design by the New York Architectural firm Ennead. Here they used something called Ornilux Mikado glass, which is made in Germany. A chaotic pattern of lines is painted inside the glass — “mikado” is the German name for the game of pickup sticks. (see the adjacent photos; the photo in the middle is what the birds see, the bottom photo is what we see) Not a miracle, really, just physics and biology. The pattern is painted in a substance that reflects ultraviolet light. Birds see UV light well — we don’t. The glass typically costs at least 50 percent more than regular glass but if you consider the cost of the harm done without these strategies you don’t have to be a bird lover to feel some sense of responsibility. Check out these other bird friendly designs & let us know, would you consider a building designed for the birds to have more value? http://www.javitscenter.com/about/renovation/overview/ http://london.usembassy.gov/new_embassy.html

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