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For the birds

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Designers and architects with fresh sustainability challenges: how to prevent collisions with birds attracted by light and reflections from glass surfaces.

In Minneapolis, Minn., deep in construction of a futuristic-looking new Vikings football stadium downtown, the public is now voicing fears that birds will suffer fatal collisions with completion of the massive glass structure in 2016. With the migratory corridor along the Mississippi river, say bird advocates, many birds will become confused and fly into the glass.

A sustainability design that takes wildlife concerns into account was also part of a “ThinkTank: Lightness” project directed by Prof. Marie O’Mahony at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) in Toronto. Students in textiles, architecture and graphic design are invited to participate in a multi-disciplinary project relating to sustainability.

In the first part of this year’s course, students pursued a theme of “lightness,” using a biomimicry approach to extract design from nature-in this case, from feathers. The goal was to create solar shading designs for two buildings in Toronto: TIFF Bell Lightbox or World on Yonge. David Butterworth, a partner with Toronto-based Kirkor Architects, introduced the students to the structures, and Bruce Wright, AIA, former editor of Fabric Architecture magazine, gave a presentation on new developments in fabrics and graphics for solar shades in architecture.

An additional opportunity for directing the graphic design element came from a presentation by the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), an organization established to highlight the problem of migrating birds flying into glass surfaces on buildings. Introducing a graphic element at tree level and below has been shown to help prevent bird fatalities.

TIFF Bell Lightbox is home to the annual Toronto International Film Festival, and the rest of the year to movies, exhibitions, restaurants, retail and condominiums. One group of students, deciding to focus on the “lightbox” portion of the building, focused on a dynamic structure using polycarbonate that could expand and contract in response to changing light and diffuse glare from artificial light to protect migrating birds. A second group came up with two designs: For the lower portion, the team proposed a dynamic cube system using Vectran® fabric and a Crestron automated control system that could rotate to provide changing graphics, solar shade and deter bird collisions; the high-rise part of the plan used a pixelated graphic that could be derived from the latest moving showing, printing it onto SuperVue® film to act as a solar shade.

The World on Yonge (one of the longest streets in the world) is a mixed-use retail, office and residential building. A third student group decided to wrap the structure in an eye-catching Earth graphic, using a lightweight printable mesh, Screen Nature from Mermet S.A.S., as the solar protective fabric. The fourth team chose to specify graphene for the windows as well as a series of umbrellas to provide shade for residents on the roof area. Strong and flexible, graphene is highly conductive and can absorb light, but because the material is so thin, it does not block vision. The solar shade in this case could harness energy from the sun, with the spacing of its hexagon pattern designed to mitigate against bird impacts.

So far, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) has decided that installing “fritted” glass (which is covered in dots to divert birds) would be too expensive, would delay stadium construction, and would detract from the “airy, glassy feel” of the enclosed stadium. (The glass is scheduled to start to go up in March.) The MSFA is working with St. Paul-based 3M Co. on a film product that could be applied to the glass to steer birds away; tests will be monitored by the University of Minnesota. A final decision has not yet been made.

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