Artists Build a 'Shanty Town' for Evicted Urban Birds

spatzenfavela sparrow favela birdhouse© Alfred Jansen + Martin Langhorst
. A 'Spatzenfavela' by German artists Claudia Wegworth and Kalaman.

Birds are resourceful creatures when it comes to finding places to nest or roost: In Portland, a migratory population of up to 14,000 swifts stops off every year in an old chimney at a local school. In Birmingham, the rare black redstart has happily colonized industrial sites abandoned by people.

What doesn't always suit birds, though, is urban renewal -- even of the ostensibly environmentally friendly kind.

Energy-Efficient Design Problematic For Birds
The latest wave of energy-efficient construction and restoration in Europe has led to a "radical decline in bird and bat species that used to breed in holes and gaps in our buildings," says artist Claudia Wegworth, explaining that the smooth fa├žades and seamlessly flush surfaces currently in favor are uninhabitable for bird species such as swifts and swallows.

spatzenfavela sparrow favela birdhouse© Alfred Jansen + Martin Langhorst
. Another Spatzenfavela design.

As a result, Wegworth says, "birds being are evicted from our cities." Poor human residents displaced by waves of gentrification have often sought refuge in unplanned developments -- shanty towns, favelas, or gecekondus -- made of materials at hand, an idea Wegworth and a colleague named Kalaman have adapted to provide new homes for urban birds.

Birdhouse Complex Made From Scrap Wood And Trash
Their "Spatzenfavela" ("favela" for sparrows), recently featured at the plan12 Architecture Biennale in Cologne, is a colorful complex of birdhouses cobbled together from untreated local wood and other scrap parts, then painted with solvent-free paint.

"Our 'Spatzenfavela' is meant to be both a piece of art that draws attention to a serious subject and a real nestbox that works for bird species who love to breed in colonies like our house sparrows," Wegworth says, adding that the artists consulted with a biologist to make sure the boxes met the birds' needs in terms of space and other nesting requirements.

spatzenfavela sparrow favela birdhouse© Alfred Jansen + Martin Langhorst
. A Spatzenfavela on display at the plan12 Architecture Biennale.

"Our hope now is that we will find a place for it somewhere in town to encourage our sparrows to come back," Wegworth says. "We also try to encourage other people to join us and to use their creativity to build more places like this."

Bird "favelas" can be of any shape or appearance, but to ensure they are of a suitable size and appropriate material to protect hatchlings during cold and wet weather, the artists have created construction plans and other information to distribute to the public.

Innovative Birdhouses And Bat Roosts
The "Nest in Peace" exhibit Wegworth and Kalaman organized at the plan12 Architecture Biennale also featured easy ways for architects and builders to integrate animals' needs into their projects, as well as various birdhouses and bat roosts created by other artists and designers.

"We dream of a big guerrilla action where people install spaces like this for bats and birds all over the cities," Wegworth says. "[They could be] near derelict land, or parks -- wherever enough food for the birds is nearby."

Artists Build a 'Shanty Town' for Evicted Urban Birds
The 'Spatzenfavela' ('favela' for sparrows) provides a home for birds that have lost their city nests and roosts due to urban renewal.

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