LA's Natural History Museum Addition Not For The Birds

LA's Natural History Museum Addition Not For The Birds

Natural History Museum's Otis Booth Pavilion (Art Gray)

Natural History Museum’s Otis Booth Pavilion (Art Gray)

While it’s received a warm reception, not everyone is excited about the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s new Otis Booth Pavilion.  The problem with the 67-foot-tall glass cube, said geographer Travis Longcore, is that it presents a fatal obstacle to the birds that the museum’s new gardens are meant to attract. As Longcore, who is an associate professor at USC as well as science director of The Urban Wildlands Group, explains, birds don’t understand architecture the way humans do. We avoid glass by attending to architectural cues, including doorways and lintels. Birds mistake glass for open air or the habitat it reflects, and often try to fly through it.

The De Young in San Francisco is an example of bird-friendly architecture (Michael Layefsky)

The pavilion is part of a broader problem in Los Angeles, Longcore said.  The city is behind the times when it comes to bird-friendly architecture. San Francisco, by contrast, adopted standards for bird safety in 2011. Oakland added bird safety measures to its building permit requirements this June.  Proponents of bird-friendly legislation hope that changes to design practices will substantially reduce bird deaths from building collisions, which today are estimated at between 100 million and 1 billion annually.

What does a bird-friendly building look like? According to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which assists local groups in drafting legislation, bird-friendly design focuses on two elements in particular: glass and artificial lighting. Limiting the amount of exposed glass or fronting glass with grilles, external shades, or balconies and balustrades can significantly reduce bird impacts. Shielding outdoor lighting and reducing the amount of artificial light escaping from the interior will attract fewer birds.  Many of these interventions do double duty as energy-saving measures, Christine Sheppard writes in a report for the ABC. LEED pilot credit 55 incentivizes the inclusion of bird-friendly features in green construction.

Morphosis’s San Francisco Federal Building, completed in 2007, is an  example of how a focus on sustainability can manifest in bird-friendly design.  The narrow glass tower is encased in a metal sunscreen, with automated panels that open and close to regulate the temperature within the non-air-conditioned interior. On the lighting front, Morphosis’s lighting strategy allows for the automatic adjustment of interior artificial light according to natural sunlight levels, and directs interior lights to be turned off when workers are not present.

Morphosis’ San Francisco Federal Building (Morphosis)