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Architecture students participate in "For the Birds" competition

Second-year NDSU architecture students are using their design skills for some high-flying clients during a design/construction competition called “For the Birds.”

Forty-six students designed a dwelling specifically for a particular type of bird through interpretation of an award-winning architect’s design philosophy.

The birdhouse projects will be featured at the Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo through April 7. The general public can vote for “People’s Choice for Best Overall Design.”

The students were randomly assigned their architect and one of eight birds native to North Dakota and Minnesota. They were then given three weeks to complete the project for their winged clients.

“In school, students are always designing projects that never get built,” said Joan Vorderbruggen, assistant professor of architecture. “This project is built to scale. The students get to realize their designs through the materials they are working with.”

Students were challenged to integrate the design philosophy of an architect or architecture team who has won the international Pritzker design award. Javan Arroyo of New Rockford, North Dakota, studied the work of Italian architect and designer Aldo Rossi.

“I wanted to find out why he did the things he did,” Arroyo said. “I wanted to discover the essence of his philosophy behind design.”

Arroyo discovered Rossi’s underlying theme was that architecture should be seamless with its background. He kept that in mind while designing a house for a white-breasted nuthatch.

The students then considered the bird’s favored environment, immediate nesting habitat, size, number of family members and patterns of use—all issues similar to designing a dwelling for human use.

The birdhouses were required to be fully usable by the bird, made of nontoxic materials and able to withstand local weather conditions.

Using Rossi’s philosophy, Arroyo designed a pine birdhouse that will fit in the crook of a tree branch. He sized it to the bird’s specifications and to discourage predators. He included storage space for seeds and textured the interior and exterior to make the house functional and appear natural.

Ultimately, the house looks like part of the tree.

“This project gets students thinking about the larger environment,” Vorderbruggen said. “What we do as architects impacts not just people, but wildlife and the environment as a whole.”

For more information on the Plains Art Museum, visit

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Last Updated: Wednesday, August 17, 2022 9:47:51 AM
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