From New York to Dubai, glass-covered towers are all the rage. But architects’ affinity for “disappearing” buildings comes at a cost: birds. These avian animals evolved in a world without highly reflective materials, where seeing a tree or expanse of sky meant there was a tree and sky—not a fatally hard surface in disguise. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reflective glass buildings cause roughly 750 million bird deaths every year. And Guy Maxwell, a partner at Ennead Architects, wants to save them.
Maxwell is leading a team of researchers and bird-lovers from the likes of the New Jersey Audubon Society, U.S. Green Building Council, and Bird Safe Glass Foundation to create two research labs evaluating the kinds of glass and lighting conditions that attract and deter birds. Overseen by ornithologist Christine Sheppard, the labs feature testing tunnels outfitted with different kinds of glass. When birds are released into the space, researchers record how they interact with the reflective surfaces. The team has already discovered that birds won’t try to fly through glass painted with vertical lines less than four inches apart.
The goal is to amass a library of bird-friendly glass treatments that can be incorporated by large-scale manufacturers to make buildings less deadly for their feathered neighbors. Maxwell and his team believe that harnessing this kind of knowledge could soon save millions of avian lives each year.