Add Birds to the Green Building Equation
The problem of bird strikes on glass received a rare level of attention last week due to a controversy surrounding the $1 billion, glass-clad Minnesota Vikings stadium, currently under construction. Officials from the NFL team and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority said the organization would not spend an additional $1.1 million on bird-safe glass, despite concerns from the Minnesota Audubon Society that the stadium’s 200,000 square feet of glass could be a “death trap” for migrating birds.
According to a number of recent studies, between 400 million and 1 billion birds are killed annually in the United States from building impacts. In the Twin Cities, migratory birds from more than 125 species have died due to window impacts since 2007, according to the Audubon Society.
While the Vikings facility will follow “Lights Out” guidelines to protect birds at the stadium, officials said the budget would not allow for the additional expenditure of bird-safe glass. (Frustrating many in the debate is that the team’s refusal to expand the budget to prevent bird strikes comes just weeks after the team’s decision to expand the budget by $1.3 million for 1,200 additional televisions—on top of the 800 already included in the design—and for six more escalators.)
It’s not that the designers of the building are eschewing environmental concerns. In fact, the opposite is the case. The stadium, which is expected to achieve LEED certification, is designed to take advantage of its transparent roof and walls to allow sunlight and natural heat into the facility, maximizing energy performance. “We think clear is the new retractable,” Bryan Trubey, spokesperson for architectural firm HKS, said during the initial design presentation in 2013. “The design reflects the true story of the Minnesota community with its international style driven by climatic response and energy conservation.”
The concerns over bird safety at the Vikings stadium shed greater light on the emerging conundrum of building green with glass—how to take advantage of the energy and environmental performance of glass while protecting birds.
A new LEED credit addresses bird-safe design measures, and several jurisdictions have instituted building requirements for bird-safe design criteria. (Interestingly, Minnesota was one of the jurisdictions that instituted bird-safe building rules for bonded buildings. However, the Vikings stadium, despite its public funding, was approved prior to the adoption of the bird-safe rules, and thus not obligated to comply.)
The glass industry offers numerous solutions that help prevent bird strikes—from more simple solutions such as fritting on glass to more complex bird-safe products, like glasses that appear clear to the human eye, but feature patterns visible to birds. The key is communicating the importance of using the available tools to architects and incorporating solutions into the design phase of the project—before it’s budgeted.
—Katy Devlin, Editor, Glass Magazine
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