Posted by: Sandy Steinman | June 23, 2013

Building Bird Friendly Buildings

media release from American Bird Conservancy

Massive Redevelopment Effort in Virginia’s Tysons May Set National Environmental Benchmark

Tysons tower rendering by R2L Architects, PLLC
Conceptual rendering of a planned buildings for Tysons Corner, VA.
Image courtesy of R2L: Architects, PLLC

(Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013) There is a perhaps little known but potentially significant component to the massive redevelopment effort taking place in Northern Virginia’s Tysons area — a provision that has the unusual potential to bring smiles to the faces of both developers and wildlife lovers.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission, following consultation with American Bird Conservancy, a leading U.S. bird conservation organization, has encouraged bird-friendly design to be included among the sustainability features of the design and construction for each project.

“This effort has the potential to become a national model that can be effective in many development scenarios. We hope that by encouraging developers to consider and ultimately implement bird-friendly designs, we can reduce the rate of increase of collision threats that already cause up to a billion bird deaths in the U.S. each year,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager for ABC.

“Birds rarely learn from a collision experience since it is most likely fatal. Most of us have had the jarring experience of accidentally walking into a closed patio door or storefront entrance. Imagine if we did that at 20-40 miles per hour,” Sheppard said.

According to Sacha Rosen, principal of R2L: Architects and the lead designer on the Spring Hill Station project in Tysons: “Current trends in urban planning – such as providing green roofs, roof terraces, urban agriculture, tree canopies, and low-impact-development stormwater control – are reclaiming and creating new bird habitats in previously industrial and bird-unfriendly areas. But by integrating such bird habitats into streetscapes, buildings and structures, these environmentally-sensitive strategies are to some degree exacerbating the collision danger to birds and therefore require us to pay more attention to bird-friendly design strategies to mitigate these risks, and to ensure that our increasingly green cities are good for both humans and birds.”

Since the adoption of the new Comprehensive Plan that guides the redevelopment of Tysons, four major development projects have been approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. They are: Scott’s Run Station adjacent to the McLean Metro station, which will include about 3.5 million square feet of office space and 1,400 apartments; Capital One’s headquarters also at the McLean Metro station, which will include approximately 3.1 million square feet of office space and 1,230 residential units; Spring Hill Station at the Greensboro Metro station, which will include 7 million square feet of office space and 2,000 residential units apartments; and Arbor Row, which will include approximately 2.5 million square feet of office space and 1,200 residential units.

The Tysons Corner Urban Design Guidelines identify urban design concepts and principles that provide guidance for the built environment in Tysons. The Guidelines provide recommendations on a number of building design elements, including bird friendly architecture. In regard to avian impacts, these guidelines say that developers should “include bird-friendly site and building designs that reduce mortality and provide habitat opportunities. These can include addressing glazing or reflection hazards and reducing lighting which attracts birds at night.” Each of the four projects referenced above has made commitments to explore bird-friendly strategies in the design of their buildings, and to either adopt bird-friendly design techniques or report on the barriers to doing so.

A new tool that is expected to play a key role in this effort is ABC’s Bird-Friendly Building Design, a unique publication that provides planners, architects, designers, bird advocates, local authorities, and the general public with a clear understanding of the nature and magnitude of the threat glass poses to birds, along with solutions to reduce the threat. This publication includes a review of the science behind available solutions, examples of how those solutions can be applied to new construction and existing buildings, and an explanation of what information is still needed. It is intended to make the case that buildings, especially sustainable buildings, should not kill birds and to spur individuals, businesses, communities, and governments to address this issue and make their buildings safer for birds.

The 58-page publication contains over 110 photographs and 10 illustrations and focuses on both the causes of collisions and the solutions, with a comprehensive appendix on the biological science behind the issue. It includes numerous examples of buildings with bird-friendly features, many by the world’s most celebrated architects. The fact that most were not designed with birds in mind supports both the contention that bird-friendly design does not limit architectural freedom and creativity and that for new construction, it does not imply added costs.

“Protecting and helping birds is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for the economy and the future of our environment. Birds are invaluable as controllers of insect pests that consume crops, decimate forests and transmit diseases such as West Nile Virus, and as pollinators of plants and seed distributors. They also generate billions of dollars in economic revenues through the pastimes of bird feeding and birdwatching,” said Sheppard.As part of the effort to make the incorporation of bird-friendly building designs a more mainstream component of new development, Dr. Sheppard has visited architectural firms across the country to provide an hour-long class on the concept, approved for continuing education credit by the American Institute of Architects. She led the team that developed a bird-friendly design credit for the Green Building Council’s LEED system. This enables architects, designers, developers, and building owners pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification to earn credit for incorporating design strategies that reduce bird collisions. The LEED green building rating system is the preeminent program for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings worldwide.

A recent federal government study reports that one in every six Americans – 48 million people – participates in birdwatching, spending an estimated $36 billion annually in pursuit of their pastime.

View American Bird Conservancy’s Bird-Friendly Building Design – see earlier link to purchase this publication.

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American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.


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