Award-Winning Architects Inspire Student Birdhouse Design Competition

There’s a housing boom in North Dakota—for birds. Beginning architecture students at North Dakota State University have created birdhouses in the manner of award-winning architects as part of a design competition. Featuring environmentally friendly materials where possible, each house caters to a specific species—be it a tree swallow or a northern flicker. “One of the things [the students] really enjoy about [the project] is designing and building something that a creature can actually occupy,” says Joan Vorderbruggen, an assistant professor, Architecture & Landscape Architecture who oversees the project—now in its third year—along with her architect husband Darryl Booker.

On display until April 1st at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the houses also represent the design theories and methodologies of architects who have won the Pritzker Prize. The judges—a professional architect, an ornithologist, and a local artist—assessed the houses for excellence in two categories, including the house best suited for its intended avian resident, and the abode that best translated its architect’s philosophy. (A third category, “People’s Choice,” was voted on by the public.)

The project has helped drive home an important lesson: Architecture is inextricably linked to the environment. “[The students] were really inspired by how their work now and in the future can help critical bird habitat and critical ecosystems,” says Marshall Johnson, state outreach coordinator for Audubon North Dakota, who visited the students this past winter. “Everything they will build and design will have an impact on nature,” he says, “but it can have a positive impact.”

Below are a few of the winners.

Bird: Tree swallow (at left)
Architect: James Stirling
Student Designer: Alexandra Schrader
Awards: 1st Place, Birdhouse That Best Suits the Bird Species; Honorable Mention, Best Translation of the Pritzker architect's philosophy
Description: This birdhouse was selected as a winner for both categories in that its simplicity and integration of a natural piece of wood bark was seen as appealing from a bird’s standpoint, but also as an honest expression of material through the architect’s eyes. The inspirational architect, James Sterling, is known to use green as an accent in many of his designs.

Bird: Northern flicker (below)
Architect: Peter Zumthor
Student Designer: Chelsea Lenz
Award: 1st Place, Best Translation of the Pritzker Architect's Philosophy
Description: This birdhouse was based on architect Peter Zumthor’s Baths at Vals, Switzerland. There, Zumthor uses thin slabs of stone with slits of light that illuminate the spaces within. The student used the slits to instead provide ventilation and altered the interpretation using wood–a more bird-friendly material.

Bird: Bluebird (below)
Architect: Jean Nouvel
Student Designer: Logan Diehl
Award: Honorable Mention, Birdhouse that Best Suits the Bird Species
Description: Most components of this birdhouse can be put together and taken apart with the use of magnets that are mounted within the wood. It makes for easy cleaning and also creates design options in the variety of ways it can be assembled. Architect Jean Nouvel incorporates a strong sense of movement in his designs, reflected in the fluid lines of this house.

*This post was updated on 4/2/12 to reflect the correction of a name misspelling.

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