NYC's Newest Glass Box Will Look Great On Instagram — Except for All the Dead Birds

As always, NYC architecture seems designed for avian massacre

Glass, reflective, mirrored room overlooking the NYC cityscape.
SL Green
Bird Brain

Big fancy glass building One Vanderbilt is getting another big fancy glass addition: a “glass box observatory to open high above New York,” per CNN. The glass box, called Summit One Vanderbilt, is supposed to consist of several smaller glass boxes: “Ascent,” a glass enclosed elevator 1,200 feet above the ground; “Levitation,” a collection of glass pods that jut out from the tower so people can feel like they’re suspended in the air; and “Air by Kenzo Digital,” an immersive art installation made up of a mirrored room boasting endless reflections.

Sounds great for Instagram, which, as we are all aware, is the main reason for any major design choice nowadays. But will New York City’s birds, who are mostly not on Instagram, be so lucky? Lately they’ve hit a rough — or, rather, glassy smooth — patch; just this week, a volunteer for NYC Audubon documented more than 200 birds that had died from colliding into the World Trade Center buildings. This came just a few days after Audubon staff and volunteers held watch on the night of September 11 to make sure that birds didn’t suffer fatalities due to the annual 9/11 light tribute, which can attract and disorient birds who may use up too much energy circling within the powerful twin light beams.

New York does not agree with many, including lots of migrating birds. There are death traps everywhere, such as glass surfaces, which the birds may fly straight into, as well as light pollution from buildings that don’t turn off their lights overnight, which may not only affect bird breeding habits, but can confuse them, result in them flying around in confusion until exhaustion, and ultimately lead to them zipping directly into glass surfaces. Different paths, same outcome: between 90,000 and 230,000 migrating birds are killed in the Concrete Jungle each year.

A local law requiring bird-friendly materials in new constructions, as well as alterations to existing buildings, went into effect on January 10, 2021. But this glass box of glass boxes still looks pretty reflective to me — and if I, as a human, am finding all this glass disorienting just from pictures on the internet, I can’t imagine that the avian brain will have a much easier time. Either that, or I’m a huge dodo (one of the most beautiful birds).

I reached out to One Vanderbilt to find out how their tower will avoid killing birds. While I await a response, mark your calendars for the opportunity to gaze upon the city from the heights of hubris for $39 a pop; Summit is opening on October 21.