Coding a Biophilic Core: Digital Design Tools for Toronto’s Avian Networks

Cameron Parkin


Cameron Parkin, University of Waterloo

Advisor: Maya Przybylski

Two- and three-dimensional mapping is used to analyze the movement of birds through the city, and to locate interventions to facilitate their passage.

Toronto’s downtown is rapidly densifying. One of the results is that residents have reduced access to biodiverse green spaces, which foster mental health and environmental responsibility. This project aims to move beyond ornamental lawns, exploring a dynamic strategy to creating complex urban habitats for flora and fauna.

The work explores computational methods of modelling networks and habitats that are borrowed from landscape ecology, graph theory, and parametric architecture. It involves simulating the two-dimensional and three-dimensional movement of birds through the city, and using this information to locate and inform a variety of interventions.

Rendering of artificial habitat fragments.

The work is divided into three parts, with each part exploring a progressively smaller piece of urban fabric. The first part maps avian habitat networks in Toronto’s downtown and central waterfront. Using layered GIS data and aerial imagery, it creates a “resistance map” showing where birds can most easily travel. High-resistence areas such as highways and tall buildings are lighter in colour, while areas that accommodate birds such as tree canopies and natural ground covers are darker. Simulated birds are deployed into the map at various point to reveal key movement corridors and significant barriers in the urban matrix. This allows a series of intervention types to be located within the network.

The second part explores how these interventions would affect bird movement in the three-dimensional fabric of CityPlace and Fort York. Guided by the initial model, habitat is added with green roofs and places for nesting and perching, and travel corridors are enhanced with street trees, shrubs, and bird-friendly glass frit. The resulting interventions are tested in a 3D model. A evolutionary algorithm allows hundreds of intervention combinations to be tried, to determine which are the most effective in generating connectivity through the area.

Artificial habitats include nesting boxes and planters for different types of vegetation, mounted on a timber scaffold.

The final part of the study composes an artificial habitat that attracts local bird species and acts as a biophilic amenity for residents in CityPlace’s Canoe Landing Park. The habitat is designed by analyzing, deconstructing, and replicating elements from natural areas such as forests, marshes and woodlands areas, then reassembling them using parametric modelling. The resulting assemblies are built on a scaffold of laminated timber ribs, and have specific attributes, such as nesting boxes and planters, that mimic key elements
of natural habitats.

Jury Comments

Rami Bebawi :: This goes beyond analyzing the problem and starts thinking of solutions.

Joe Lobko :: An imaginative exploration and analysis of the evolving life of birds in our densifying cities, proposing strategies for more effective understanding of behaviours and impacts while offering creative suggestions for the evolution of bird-friendly habitat.

Cindy Wilson :: This thesis takes a rigorous approach to a pertinent aspect of sustainability that is part of the health of urban environments. As cities continue to grow, how can we mutually benefit and exist with nature?