By: David Heymann, FAIA; Kuan-Ying Chiu; Whitney Moore; Tim Petersen

From the Jury:

The project deals with an existing condition, an existing issue, and they are providing a very proactive and smart solution, although it doesn’t necessarily fall under the typical scope of architecture. It’s really fun that they’re playing with the industrial long-span typology at the scale of chickens. It’s good to look at simple things. We’re so used to overindulgent technology rather than simplification, but as shown, sometimes you don’t need all that much.

The once plentiful Attwater Prairie Chicken is the most endangered bird subspecies in North America. Roughly 100 wild birds remain in a wildlife refuge on remnant Texas prairie. 

Attwater survival depends on the controlled release of birds bred off-site. These acclimate in on-site pens for two weeks prior to release. The pens must be transparent enough to allow socialization with free birds but require a double layer of screening to sufficiently protect against the Attwater’s many predators. Acclimation/release pens are relocated biennially to avoid ground-borne diseases. However, the existing pens — each held together with 10,000 zip ties — require far too many man-hours to relocate, limiting the number of birds released and stalling the conservation plan. 

Working with refuge staff, ornithologists, biologists, engineers, and material suppliers, the faculty/student team developed a unitized aluminum truss pen, sheathed in stainless steel wire fabric, that can be moved without demounting across the site’s soft soils using the refuge’s excavator. The new pen design will serve as the public icon of the refuge’s mission in a time of reduced financing. Funding is currently being raised to build and test a prototype of this new pen.

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