Many people dream of flying like birds. Fewer dream of living like birds—cramming into tiny beak-made nests, sometimes in colonies of thousands, doesn’t sound like ideal housing arrangements.
But that’s not unlike life in the city, and plenty of people put up with that. So when one architect decided to tackle the problem of affordable housing in a recent contest, he took inspiration from the birds—and won a $5,000 prize. Theodore Anderson tells the story in Virginia Magazine:
As a child, Michael Perry went birding with his mother every weekend. “I didn’t have a choice,” he says, “but it did give me a love of birds.” Those outings provided the inspiration for his recent award-winning architectural design.
Perry (Arch ’11), who is senior designer at Prophet Brand Strategy in New York City, often sees buildings of different heights situated next to each other as he walks around the city. The exposed wall of the taller building is rarely used, Perry says. “It’s used for billboard signs, if anything. So I thought, ‘Why not try to occupy that space with something more useful?’”
For Perry, that “something more useful” is an apartment that attaches to the side of an existing building—just like the nest of a Cliff Swallow. The rust-throated birds gather mud and, using their beaks, sculpt it into gourd-shaped nests. They attach these nests to the sides of cliffs or, more frequently, human structures in large colonies. It’s quite a sight: Hundreds or thousands of mud nests can be found under a bridge or off the side of a building, with tiny bird heads peering out to admire the view.
Perry imagines tiny human heads peering from his two-floor Cliff Swallow Apartments. And in his contest entry, he explains why his apartment design won’t only save space, but also do social good:
The program of the units can adapt to current demands on affordable housing. For example the unit can increase the size of an existing apartment to accommodate a growing family, or the care of an aging relative. This allows families to grow in place, as opposed to being forced out of their current accommodations and possibly out of the city completely. By infusing affordable housing into established and highly desirable areas, the Cliff Swallow Apartment creates a more diverse and vibrant community.
The voting public agreed: Perry’s design took first place in the social impact category of the Future of Architecture Residential Design Contest and Showcase from the American Institute of Architects and Houzz in May.
The Cliff Swallow Apartment design is only a concept, so you’re unlikely to see it on the city streets anytime soon. But here’s to wishful thinking that we could one day realize the dream of flying—err, living—like the birds.