Bird Friendly Buildings

The New York Times building uses fritted glass clad with rods, which make its facade more visible to birds. Photo by Anthony Quintano/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

Architects Are Starting To Pay Attention

Marilyn Freeman – As naturalists and birders, we are all too aware of the avian carnage created by tall glass buildings during migration and especially in large cities that are on flyways such as New York and Chicago. In Canada, window collisions kill 16 to 42 million birds a year. In the United States, collisions kill up to one billion birds per year.

Before the 1960s, much of the large sheet glass used in buildings was made via a process of casting and polishing. The glass often contained bubbles or other imperfections that obscured its clarity and was therefore more bird friendly. In the 1960s, float glass became widely available. This glass was completely smooth and much more reflective. As time went on, builders installed double-paned glass, which, while better for energy conservation, made the glass even more reflective. In other words, this “advance” in technology had a very big effect on birds.

More recently, architects have started to pay attention to all the killing. The amount of glass has begun to be reduced and the rest replaced with “fritted glass”. This glass has a pattern baked in that is composed of ceramic dots that are barely perceptible to humans but evident to birds. Fritted glass also has the benefit of reducing solar gain thus keeping buildings cooler.

Last year an assistant professor in building technology at the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture produced an open-source book of 50 glass patterns that are bird friendly. The professor, Azadeh Omidfar Sawyer, wanted this resource to be readily available to architects.

Of course, many of our new structures are made by builders, not architects. Fortunately, some builders have been experimenting with UV-printed patterns, invisible to humans and evident to birds. In some areas, this type of bird friendly glass is being complemented by living roofs and walls that incorporate niches for nest building. Screens or grates that cut solar gain are also being employed.

Architects tend to be a creative bunch. Builders a little less so, but if these bird friendly modifications get talked about widely enough there will be change and some of the killing can be abated.

In Peterborough, Unity Design Studio, formerly Lett Architects, are using bird-friendly glass where they have large expanses of glazing. Two current local projects using it are the new Fire Station #2 and the Canadian Canoe Museum.

For photos of what bird friendly glass looks like, check out this website:

With help from The Guardian

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