Almost every urban Texan has experienced the arrival of hordes of birds to our cities, especially in the fall and spring. As it turns out, most of Texas is at the focal point of the Central Flyway, a bird migratory route that follows the Great Plains from Canada to Mexico. Texas is one of the nation’s most bird-diverse states: About two-thirds, or 540, of the United States’ species can be found soaring through Lone Star skies. Not only do birds keep our cities’ natural equilibrium in check, they also grace us with their harmonious songs, relaxing our minds and re-establishing our connection to nature.
One person who finds peace and unexpected protest in birdsong is Suzanne Mathews, director of Lucifer Lighting. In April, she teamed up with Randall Poster, the Grammy-award winning music supervisor and driving force behind the musical benefit project “For the Birds: The Birdsong Project,” to host a fundraising gala for San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park Conservancy. “Party in the Park: Birdsong Brackenridge” brought together architects and cultural luminaries from around the world to support the historic Brackenridge Park and its diverse bird population. A concept central to the Birdsong Project is that we might more effectively protect our bird populations through pathos rather than through political discussions. Poster believes that by drawing attention to the way the human mind reacts to birdsongs, we can raise awareness of declining bird populations in urban settings, possibly arresting the trend.
As part of the event, Mathews invited several notable architects to imagine a birdhouse. They included Marlon Blackwell, FAIA; Judy Pesek of Gensler; Angela Brooks, FAIA, and Larry Scarpa, FAIA, of Brooks + Scarpa; Craig Dykers, FAIA, and Elaine Molinar, AIA, of Snøhetta; Michael Imber, FAIA; Everett L. Fly; Roberto de Leon, FAIA, of de Leon & Primmer; Ted Flato, FAIA, of Lake|Flato; Tom Kundig, FAIA, of Olson Kundig; and David Jameson, FAIA. The project challenged architects to think holistically about development for the local ecosystem and how we can create artificial structures for birds so that we might continue to hear their songs for many years to come.
While at first glance the birdhouses seem to be made purely as whimsy, they ultimately demand a greater and more urgent reflection and response. The architects’ designs vary dramatically from one to the next, each signaling a unique response to our developing world. Some designers opted to mimic natural structures; others sought a modern form. Every birdhouse acts as a living laboratory in which to test and understand how we might continue to live in harmony with the natural world, finding ways for the birds to feel as at home in an urban environment as they do in more natural settings.
San Antonio is a large city teeming with wildlife and has a long-standing narrative of serving as a place of confluence and migration. Brackenridge Park thus provided the perfect stage on which to witness the unscripted play of our avian friends interacting with their new homes. The Birdsong Brackenridge birdhouses are on display on the grounds of the McNay Art Museum through November and will later be returned to Brackenridge Park for permanent use by the birds.
Stephanie Aranda, Assoc. AIA, graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from Drexel University in 2021. She is currently working as a designer in San Antonio.