Completed in 2010, the Aqua skyscraper in Chicago has been applauded for its revolutionary design and aesthetic appeal, but what is of particular interest to bird conservation groups is the fact that the building is bird-safe. Garnering the approval of PETA and the American Bird Conservancy, the 86-floor building is designed in such a way as to minimize the risk of birds colliding into its windows – a major cause of bird deaths and injury in metropolitan areas. This is achieved, in part, by the undulating concrete terraces which, along with ceramic in the glass, break reflections off the windows. The building is reportedly being reviewed for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
Although the New York City Audubon Society in 2007 published a set of guidelines related to designing bird-safe buildings, research has revealed that these are seldom taken into account even when designing environmentally friendly buildings. Even LEED, which is fast becoming a sought after certification for green buildings, only awards one point for the bird-safe factor of a building and does not make it a stipulated requirement. Toronto and Chicago are among the cities promoting bird-safe building design, but as yet there is no nationally recognized certification or requirement for this.
With more and more birds being forced to adapt to city living as their rural territory is encroached on by development, environmentalists are tallying up the casualties, estimating that throughout North America up to 100 million birds are killed every year as a direct result of colliding with high-rise buildings, and even more than that number are injured. Moreover, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, some architects attempt to make the most of natural light by installing larger windows, thereby creating even more of a hazard to birds. Some progress has been made in producing window glass or glass coatings to reduce the risk, such as the German-made Ornilux, but for any meaningful change to come about architects need to seriously take the welfare of birds into account when designing new buildings.