Custom-designed glass on 181 Mercer Street, NYU’s multi-purpose building under construction, will help prevent bird-window collisions – a serious threatens to native bird populations in the region, while reducing energy consumption.
The design aims to mitigate bird strikes, which frequently occur in buildings with clear or reflective glass. Research by NYC Audubon research curatorial group estimates that up to 230,000 birds die each year in New York City due to collisions with glass. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that the annual number of bird fatalities from collisions in the United States is close to one billion.
“That’s a huge number, especially when combined with all the other things that kill birds,” said Kaitlyn Parkins, a NYC Audubon conservation biologist whose work focuses on reducing collisions between birds. and windows.
181 Mercer is the flagship development of NYU Basic Plan, an expansion project originally called NYU 2031. Construction on the building begin in March 2017, and the building is set to open in the fall of 2022 due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its exterior is almost completely covered with sintered glass, a type of patterned glass created by applying ceramic frit to clear glass.
[Read more: Migrating birds imperiled by NYU buildings as spring approaches]
Christine Sheppard, Director of the ABC glass collisions program, said that neither humans nor birds can actually see glass. Humans, however, have learned the concept of an ‘invisible barrier that can also be a mirror’, while birds seem to take what they see literally – to them, reflections in glass are indeed indistinguishable from reality. .
This means that conventional glass on buildings of any size maybe a death trap. Large glass buildings, however, are usually responsible for the mass death events that attract the most attention. Last month, the buildings of the World Trade Center complex kill hundreds of songbirds after a night of intense migration.
“This is something that a lot of people aren’t quite aware of,” said Deborah Laurel, director of architectural firm Prendergast Laurel. “Because glass has become one of our favorite building materials, it’s just very worrying. “
Laurel, who works with groups like ABC and NYC Audubon to promote bird-safe architecture, said sintered glass can help prevent collisions by making glass more visible to birds.
However, not all frits are effective in preventing collisions – the design should have high enough contrast and narrow enough spacing that birds can see the marks, but don’t try to fly between them.
With that in mind, KieranTimberlake, the architectural firm responsible for the facade design of 181 Mercer, increased the amount of frit and revised the pattern of the glass. According to Richard Maimon, partner of KieranTimberlake, preventing bird strikes was a goal of the building’s exterior design plan and a key part of its sustainability strategy.
“The design of 181 Mercer is directly related to environmental responsibility,” Maimon wrote in a statement to WSN.
The company created the final design in direct consultation with experts from the ABC and the Bird-Safe Building Alliance, including Sheppard. She said the company is known to conceive with birds in mind.
“They did it right,” Sheppard said. “KieranTimberlake is one of the architectural firms that really paid attention to this.”
The glass frit demonstrates KieranTimberlake’s commitment to sustainability on 181 Mercer, which Maimon says was designed to support the NYU project Climate action plan.
“They’re very interested in conservation, ecological advancements and energy, and they’ve been from the start,” Laurel said.
In addition to reducing bird strikes, 181 Mercer sintered glass contributes to the building’s sustainable development strategy by reducing energy consumption. Because the frit reduces solar heat gain – the heat generated by sunlight entering the building – cooling systems do not need to work as hard, reducing energy use and costs.
Energy savings can also offset the upfront costs of sintered glass, a worry frequently expressed by those who are reluctant to implement a bird safe design. However, Maimon noted that the frit added to 181 Mercer to prevent bird strikes did not add significant cost. In general, Sheppard said, the cost of sintered glass is generally “relatively negligible” compared to overall construction expenses.
From a distance, the glass appears to be reflective. But within a few blocks, a subtle and distinctive pattern on the glass – Laurel described it as “a fine pinch of snow” – becomes visible. Although the “glass box“The design style of skyscrapers is often dangerous to birds,” Sheppard said, “buildings like the 181 Mercer show that bird-safe design doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on aesthetics.
“If someone wants to build a bird-friendly glass box, they can do it, because the things that make buildings bird-friendly are materials that people have always used on buildings,” Sheppard said.
The 181 Mercer’s bird-safe design predates New York City Local law 15, which in 2021 began requiring exterior glass on most new buildings to meet bird safety standards set by ABC research. The law was a major step towards creating bird-safe cities, but many buildings built or approved for construction before 2021 still pose dangers.
“There is certainly some progress that has been made, but we have a lot of buildings,” Laurel said. “We still have a lot of work to do. “
Buildings with large glass facades in front of lush vegetation or city parks are among the city’s most dangerous for birds, according to a 2009 study to study. Many NYU buildings fall into this category – the Kimmel Center for University Life and Bobst Library mirror Washington Square Park, and Warren Weaver Hall mirror the trees along Mercer Street. Campus buildings are not monitored for window collisions, but crowdsourcing data suggests they occur frequently.
For existing buildings that are unsafe for birds, experts recommend retrofitting bird-safe glass to mitigate the danger. Patterned adhesive films, usually in the form of scratches or dots, are typically used to repair existing windows. The main obstacles to implementation, Laurel said, are design preferences favoring large windows and insufficient public awareness of bird strikes.
“It will take a while for everyone to understand that we have to deal with whatever glass that is already installed, or at least the majority, to really start reducing the number of deaths,” Laurel said.
Renovations can be extremely effective – at the Jacob K. Javits Center on the West Side, for example, by replacing conventional glass with sintered glass reduced collisions of over 90% at a former bird death hotspot. With a new green roof, renovations transformed building a life-threatening habitat into potentially usable wildlife habitat.
Creating bird-safe buildings, like the renovated Javits Center and 181 Mercer, allows developers to surround buildings with habitats that benefit people as well as birds. Without the sintered glass, the birds drawn to the landscaping on and around the 181 Mercer would have been set in danger.
“It’s so important that you don’t create an ecological trap,” Parkins said.
Thanks to KieranTimberlake’s bird-friendly design, the building’s green spaces are safe for birds and humans. Helping the birds also benefits people, Parkins said – people won’t have to see dead birds in their school or workplace, and having more birds around has ecological and emotional benefits.
“I think there is an inherent value in saving birds, but you can look at it from a biodiversity perspective,” Parkins said.
Diversity of birds and birdsong has been bound to human well-being, and ecosystems with a greater diversity of species are more resilient extreme weather conditions and other natural disasters. As Sheppard said, “birds are good for people”.
Despite these advantages, bird-safe design remains rare. Although this is starting to spread, scientists are still without a lot of field data. Groups like driving ABC testing bird-safe glass designs, but Sheppard said those ratings aren’t designed to replicate real-world conditions.
Light and reflectivity conditions change throughout the day, making it difficult to accurately predict the effectiveness of a glass design. When architects design buildings like the 181 Mercer with birds in mind, they not only save birds, but also help researchers find out which designs work best in practice.
“The more of these installations we see, the more excited we get, because it means our research is being implemented on real buildings,” Laurel said.
While the before and after data on refurbished windows is the most scientifically valuable, it is difficult to collect, which means that data from new buildings is useful as well.
The bird-safe design is gaining popularity, but its adoption is not yet widespread. Unlike most new buildings, the design of the 181 Mercer seeks to balance function, aesthetics and durability, making it an example of bird-friendly architecture, according to Parkins.
“It sets a standard that other buildings, other architects can aspire to,” Parkins said.
A version of this story appeared in the electronic edition of October 18, 2021. Contact Alex Tey at [email protected]