Culture & Livability

Combatting Climate Change, One Birdhouse at a Time

Young participants in the Next City-hosted “Toss” Workshop use strips of fabric and tarp, chicken wire, and plastic bags, all previously destined for the landfill, to build birdhouses.

One scary consequence of global climate change is the likelihood that cities around the world will see an increase in cases of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. For those of us who aren’t in a position to enact sweeping global reforms, one way to mitigate the threat is to encourage the urban settlement of birds — the evolutionary predators who form Mother Nature’s front line of defense for this nascent global health crisis.

Drawing from the urban American practice of throwing pairs of shoes over powerlines, architects Carey Clouse and Zach Lamb (they work together as the design team Crookedworks) have devised a birdhouse that responds to climate change not only in its existence, but also in its form. Their design, called a “Toss unit,” relies on found materials from street corners and overflowing dumpsters, thus reducing waste and encouraging the reuse of resource-intensive plastics, polymers and metals.

Next City invited Clouse and Lamb to Philadelphia last week not only to install their birdhouses in our Storefront for Urban Innovation, but also to teach Philadelphians how to make their own birdhouses suitable for city power lines.

From a WHYY report on the Crookedworks installation at our storefront:

The birdhouses are a small addition to an ongoing conversation of how cities can co-opt nature to overcome urban problems, like using sidewalk trees and porous concrete to control stormwater, or transforming parts of New York City into wetlands to protect itself from hurricane flooding.

“In urban areas we are constantly renegotiating our relationships with other species. It’s usually fairly contentious — rats and mice and things like that,” said Lamb. “We’re trying to complicate that relationship a little bit and say there are ecological services they provide.”

Participants in Saturday’s workshop spent the afternoon hard at work, building birdhouses from materials the architects had collected along Girard Avenue and from dumpsters behind the city’s big-box stores.

Clouse and Lamb invited participants to contribute to the exhibition by hanging their creations side by side, and many agreed to partake in the project’s next phase — hanging a Toss unit in a nearby tree limb or wire, and monitoring how birds respond. (Part of the experiment involves seeing if city departments take down these funky habitats or allow them to stay hanging.)

Check out some photos from the opening reception and the workshop below, and be sure to stop by the Storefront before these miniature houses are “tossed” on April 5. Email Liz@nextcity.org for more information and Storefront hours.

Gallery: Crookedworks Workshop

Tags: culture, philadelphia, livability, climate change, design, storefront for urban innovation, tactical urbanism, girard avenue, whyy, carey clouse