On May 4, 2022, the podcast “99% Invisible,” premiered an episode titled Murder Most Fowl. The podcast focuses primarily on how everyday design affects our lives (the unofficial tagline being that “Good design is 99% invisible”). The piece itself began by mentioning how birding as a hobby really took off during the pandemic.

Of course, I know from my own experience here at the library that books about birds have always been popular, and not simply because the library sometimes plays host to a nesting pair of peregrine falcons in the spring. Evanstonians, quite simply, love their birds.

Unfortunately, our buildings can’t always say the same. Bird collisions with glass sometimes account for as many as 1 billion bird deaths in the U.S. per year. That’s a lot of birds, and, as it happens, it’s preventable. Yet if we’re looking at architectural trends, glass is in high demand. Many of the new buildings you see going up in wild spaces tend to incorporate a lot of transparent glass. This is particularly harmful when these buildings appear along birds’ already well-established migration routes. 

Robert Crown Community Center
The Robert Crown Community Center was built with textured glass to help prevent bird deaths. Credit: Patrick Hughes

As you might recall, one such glass building popped up in Evanston around 2020, premiering just before the pandemic shut it down again. The Robert Crown Community Center is as glassy as they come. As Woodhouse Tinucci Architects describes it on its website, “The building color is light as not to dominate the subtle yet powerful topography of the existing parkland. … Translucent clerestory glass at the top building perimeter allows for natural day lighting of all spaces.” 

All sounds like a ripe place to murder some birds to me, wouldn’t you agree?

Except not really. The glass on the Robert Crown Center is not, as you might think, wholly translucent. The Evanston Roundtable reported back in 2020 that “The exterior glass is treated with frits (or texture), which not only help prevent bird collisions but also reduce glare by diffusing the light coming in.”  

While I’m delighted that the center took these steps, such actions don’t spring out of nowhere. I asked former Evanston Public Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons how the decision was made. She told me, “We visited a number of community centers in Canada that combined libraries and park facilities and included a variety of external window installations.

“Capturing natural light all year, while calculating the angle of the sun to prevent visibility issues was reviewed. (When we first opened the Wrightwood Ashburn branch, staff needed sunglasses in the afternoon until we installed blinds in the clearstory windows. …) The impact upon birds was also considered. With the installation of blinds, bookshelves and furniture, visual cues showing flight obstructions were an added element.”

The result is that, next time you stop by the library in the Crown Center and listen to a storytime featuring a book like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, rest assured that you won’t have to follow it up with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive Its Head Into the Glass

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library.

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library. She has been writing for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

2 replies on “Bird alive! Architecture saving avian lives”

  1. So good to learn this. Thank you.
    Speaking of bird safety, what about all the blazing lights on our lakefront. I don’t go down to Lighthouse Beach at night because the Northwestern sports facility is so bright it’s hardly dark at the beach. Coming up Sheridan road at night Northwestern University looks like a cruise ship has docked in Evanston.
    While some of the buildings are beautiful they are incredible sources of light pollution. Excess nighttime light is very hard on birds especially during migration. Can Northwestern turn some off at night? Have minimal lights after a certain time, especially during spring and fall migrations.
    Maybe then we can all enjoy the night sky here again.
    They are lovely buildings but too bright.

  2. Thank you for this piece. I’d be curious to know whether there exists some kind of rating of architects and architectural firms in regards to their concern for saving birds’ lives.

    Mark Sheldon

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