These Birdhouses Are Probably Better Designed Than Your House

High-design perches land at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this summer.

brooklyn botanic garden birdhouses
Liz Ligon, Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is noisier than usual this summer, but nobody is complaining.

Take a gander down the formerly peaceful vistas of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and you’ll know why. Some 33 birdhouses are nestled along the tree-lined paths and floating atop quiet lily-pad ponds—designated sanctuaries for our favorite little warblers.

The exhibition, “For the Birds,” is on view at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden until October 23, and it’s a full-fledged fowl fête: ELLE DECOR A-Lister Nina Cooke John’s Oh Robin! is an abstract interpretation of the robin’s nest weaving that salutes the scrappiness and resourcefulness of the winged scavenger-builders; A-Listers Roman and Williams created the tiniest hotel they’ve ever designed—an intricate cedar mansion for purple martins, songbirds that depend on human-made birdhouses for survival. Not to mention the floating fishing platform Chen Chen & Kai Williams built for blue herons that frequent the Japanese hill-and-pond garden.

brooklyn botanic garden birdhouses
Roman and Williams contributed—what else?—a tiny bird hotel.
Liz Ligon, Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

“I like to think about birds not just as animals that are separate from us but as our neighbors and part of our community,” says Joyce Hwang, who says her wood-shingle-clad multifamily birdhouse is an extension of her work as an architect. “I’m designing a house for myself right now, and I’m trying to incorporate bird habitation spaces into the roof. This is actually what most people don’t want to do, but if you design things well, both can coexist.”

Among the impressive slate of architects, designers, and artists tapped for the exhibition are Steven Holl, Walter Hood, SO–IL, and Brookyn-based Olalekan Jeyifous, whose Birdega pays tribute to corner bodegas—what he calls a “New York institution.”

brooklyn botanic garden birdhouses
Joyce Hwang’s adorable contribution.
Liz Ligon, Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden

In addition to creating a lively avian arcadia, the exhibition seeks to bring awareness to the various threats birds face and to comment on the fragility of the natural world. “Due to climate change and suburban development, we’ve lost three billion birds across North America since 1970,” says Adrian Benepe, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “Literally and figuratively, birds are the canary in the coal mine. If birds start to die, it means nature is way out of balance. It’s for that reason we’ve been working to create a bird-friendly habitat by planting more native species and berry-producing plants, as parks in cities are the remaining places for birds to go.”

Visitors can tour the exhibit with an audio guide titled The Birdsong Project, which features songs coupled to each birdhouse—all music inspired by birds. The music collection is a work of various artists and curated by Randall Poster—known for his work alongside directors Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Todd Haynes—who first conceived this exhibition, wanting to enhance the music with a corresponding visual experience.

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