It’s pretty rare to pioneer the use of something, and have it actually work. This is one of those stories, attested to by the first-hand experience of two inveterate bird lovers and technophiles with impeccable credentials. Three years ago we completed a project on their Petaluma farm property that included the first West Coast application of Ornilux “Mikado” anti-bird strike glazing – here’s why that is significant.
According to the Audubon Society, a billion birds a year are killed by collisions with windows in the US alone. A small portion of that billion have been victims of the picture window in my clients’ farmhouse retreat on the Petaluma River. So, when we rebuilt an old farm utility building and added a second story with large view windows on four walls (see photos) there was much angst about the hazard to the many birds that frequent this extensive marsh north of San Francisco Bay. We found a promising solution, a unique glazing product imported from a German glass manufacturer, Arnold Glas.
Here’s how it works. A coated pattern on the glass is highly selective for ultraviolet light, which birds’ eyes see and human eyes don’t. The photo shows the pattern (see below for why we can see it in some circumstances), which looks to me like a thicket of brambles, but which the company calls a “Mikado” pattern for reasons that don’t translate well to the North American experience. The inventor of this technology thinks the pattern is like spiders’ webs, and in fact he was inspired by webs because of the phenomenon whereby webs, which have evolved to have high ultraviolet light reflectivity, can be seen by birds well enough to avoid them in high-speed flight. How do we know this invisible thing on the glass works? Because it’s been tested by researchers (see this recent fascinating article in the New York Times). Also because the owners have observed no bird remains or telltale piles of feathers, just 200 feet from the infamous killer picture window in the main house. The great thing about this glass is that you literally see no trace of the pattern looking out the windows. You can only see the pattern in the image of a reflected sky, especially if you stand below or off to the side. The reason for that seems to be that the coating’s effect on reflections spills slightly into the visible light spectrum, especially from oblique points of view. But, take it from me, even seasoned architects have failed to notice this coating until the oblique-viewing effect on sky reflections was pointed out.
Cost? Based on what our custom windows and doors would have cost with conventional energy-conservation dual glazing, the bird glass units increased the cost of the windows around 15% – that despite some adverse economic factors. We had to import the window glass from Germany because it is manufactured nowhere else. The U.S. representative for Arnold handled taking the order, and their execution was flawless, from conveying the dimensions exactly right, to delivering on schedule through customs to our window and door builder. Nothing broken, everything fit.
What’s not to like? There’s a natural human tendency to avoid new things, even if the science is there. Eventually the testimonials will mount, the product will become even better and more affordable, and adoption will happen. For now, clients might be skeptical, and the glass has to be imported and installed in custom windows because mass manufacturers are not going to disrupt their production lines for a glazing type from an outside source – that is, until an architect with a really big project requires it. And did I say that it uses reflected ultraviolet light? That spectrum is in short supply when the sun isn’t shining, so this isn’t going to prevent migrating flocks from striking highrise buildings at night. I wonder if someone is interested in shining blacklight on these windows as an experiment to extend their effectiveness to all hours of the day? [scroll down to add a comment!]