The Future for Migratory Birds in Chicago

“Minimally, from an ethical and moral perspective, any unintended and unnatural killing associated with human presence in the environment should be addressed and reduced if not eliminated.” – Daniel Klem, ornithologist and bird collision expert

We know the glass buildings are here to stay, at least for awhile. The key to protecting birds right now is to look at the choices we make in designing and building structures. It seems as if many architects and their clients have made bird protection a low priority, and this makes the passage of a bird-safe building ordinance necessary. Through research and interviews, I discovered examples of new structures putting bird populations at risk in Chicago.

◾ Last fall’s opening of Chicago’s new flagship Apple Store on the Chicago River is already taking a toll on the migratory bird population. Its all-glass façade offers striking views of the river, but it is precisely this design that is proving fatal to our birds. Scientists need more time to compile and extrapolate data, but the story of dead and injured birds made national and international news from National Public Radio to CNET.

Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago, is in the process of adding a 30,000 square foot garden retreat on the third-floor roof and a large skylight-covered Winter Garden, along with a glass structure surrounding the tower base featuring stores and a “natural urban oasis landscape design.” This will prove a deadly attraction for birds seeking food, water, and shelter during their long migratory routes.

◾ A 19,000 square foot McDonald’s opened in the River North neighborhood immediately north of Chicago’s Loop. Constructed of glass and steel, the one-story fast-food restaurant will feature apple trees that will protrude from the restaurant’s roof and create an enticing display for birds that will not see the glass surrounding the trees.

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Jeannie Gang’s Aqua Tower building in Chicago near Harbor Point. Photo by L.J. Bailey

Rather than viewing bird-safe design as an unwelcome constraint, some architects see this as an opportunity to develop unique structures. One architect is former MacArthur foundation fellow Jeannie Gang whose eighty-two story Aqua Tower has become a paragon for bird-friendly building design. I will say more about Jeannie Gang and her work in a future post.

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