By Paul Bisceglio
Here’s one thing you don’t want to see on your romantic stroll along the High Line in the sunset: a pile of dead birds.
“It’s a fantastic park, but it does pose some form of hazard, because it will draw birds in and bring them into these areas that are exposed to a lot of glass,” said architect Guy Maxwell, the focus of Part Two of WNYC’s “A Clear And Present Danger: How Glass Kills Birds,” which aired on Thursday.
Glass-walled buildings reflect surrounding sky, clouds and trees, Maxwell explained, which tricks birds into thinking their flight path is clear. They fly straight into the windows at full speed.
The numerous glass buildings that surround the High Line — including the Standard Hotel, designed by Maxwell’s partner at Manhattan’s Ennead Architects, Todd Schliemann — illustrates the growing volume of glass buildings throughout the city. This modern architectural trend brightens offices and makes for stunning exteriors, but it comes with a cost: according to WNYC, millions of birds across North America crash into glass windows every year.
Maxwell wants to do something to change this. He has devoted himself to designing bird-friendly buildings for Ennead. “The notion that a building that we’ve built is causing harm is really troubling to me,” he told WNYC.
Maxwell’s challenge is coming up with a product that effectively breaks up reflection and is also aesthetically pleasing. Glass won’t sell if it looks bad, so simple bars over windows are out. One possibility is German-made Ornilux Mikado glass, which Maxwell is currently experimenting with at New York’s Vassar College. A chaotic pattern of lines is painted in the glass with a substance that reflects ultraviolet light — something birds see far better than humans do.
WNYC noted that little funding exists for researching safer glass designs, so it may be a while before NYC has a “miracle glass” that keeps birds safe from our ever-climbing skyline. Until we do, look out above.
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