Students at Washington University in St. Louis, led by visiting assistant professors Andrew Colopy and Ken Tracy, designed, fabricated and constructed the Riverlands Avian Observatory in partnership with the Audubon Society and US Army Corps of Engineers.
Within a bird sanctuary that provides 3,700 acres of protected habitat at a critical juncture along the Mississippi Migratory Flyway, Heron Pond is a constructed wetland, hydrologically managed by the Corps of Engineers. Stopover or home to more than 300 avian species, birders and school groups convene along the water's edge to experience this unique ecology.
Students began by reimagining the surrounding landscape, trail networks, vehicular access and vegetation, to minimize the disturbance to sensitive species. The approach also carefully choreographs a sequence of views to the observatory and surrounding landmarks keyed to informational graphics that help to educate visitors while crafting a memorable experience.
On the exterior, students studied the performance and culture use of camouflage. But, the intent is not to blend in, just the opposite. Birds aren't bothered by the building, just the activity and presence of people. So the structure stands out from the context to attract visitors, but hides the people within through shaded apertures that blend into the exterior patterning.
Inside, you'll find diagonal apertures that permit viewing by people of varying height. There's also a larger gathering space where Audubon and Corps staff can talk with school groups, and a special raised area offering more expansive views. The interior is surfaced with black perforated aluminum, which helps to muffle sound and keep the interior dim while hiding visitors from view.
The design also contends with a difficult issue: flooding. Durable materials and lifting the grade just above flood stage help mitigate modest floods while improving visual access to the pond. But in a major flood, where floating debris is a concern, the exterior panels are demountable and can be taken to higher ground.
PROJECT TEAM Nike Cao, Emily Chen, Wassef Dabboussi, Duan Duan, Can Fu, Jina Kim, Masha Konopleva, Chun Liu, Joe Lomas, Yiyang Min, David Orndorff, Yiming Pan, Glenn Park, Chris Quinlin, Yu Rong, James Struthers, Yilong Wang, Nash Waters, Hao Wu, Yao Xia, Yu Xin, Shuojin Yang, Haosheng Zhang, Han Zhu
Andrew Colopy & Ken Tracy, Instructors
Special Thanks to Robert Booth, Phil Shinn, Compi Distributors, the faculty and staff at Wash U School of Architecture, and the staff at the Rivers Project Office and Audubon Center at Riverlands
With support from the Audubon Center at Riverlands, US Army Corps of Engineers, the Sam Fox School of Design Graduate School of Architecture and the Gephardt Institute for Public Service.