The 72 birds living at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh are now safer thanks to a glassy, four-month-long renovation which implemented bird-friendly glass from Vitro Architectural Glass.

The glass canopy features 19,600 square feet of laminated Starphire Ultra-Clear glass with an AviProtek bird-friendly Velour acid-etched finish by Walker Glass. It replaced the original single-strength annealed float glass that was installed during the habitat’s construction in 1952.

According to Emily Dritz, national architectural manager at Vitro, project challenges included choosing a solution that was safe for birds inside and outside the aviary.

“We reviewed several patterns. We ended up with the acid-etched finish because it keeps birds of prey from spotting the birds inside the aviary while also preventing both groups of birds from colliding with the glass,” she says.

Another major challenge was to manage the temperature of the aviary while allowing natural light and UV rays to pass through the glass for the health of the birds.

“We would typically manage heat transmission with a low-E glass, but that would limit the UV rays,” says Dritz.

The solution was a vent at the top of the habitat that can open to allow for the release of heat when necessary.

The full surface texture of the glass provides diffused light, leaving no open area of clear glass that could be a risk to the birds’ safety.

“It was too great of a risk to invite that opportunity,” says Dritz. “Starphire was chosen because it allows more visible light to pass through.”

The aviary decided to keep the existing steel of the original glass canopy, meaning the project team had to work with the constraint of a thin profile.

“It would have been cost-prohibitive if the steel was replaced,” says Dritz.

Vitro Architectural Glass sponsored the $1.2 million renovation. The company supplied 3,146 panes of laminated glass, which was fabricated by Dlubak Specialty Glass Corp. in Blairsville, Pa., and installed by Greenhouse RSI based in the Cincinnati area. Montgomery Smith Inc. in Burlington, Ky., an expert in greenhouse and conservatory preservation, design and engineering, was the historic conservatory consultant.

“The unique bird-friendly glass selection played a key role in transforming the space, both because it protects birds inside and outside the habitat and because the UV light penetration is so beneficial in supporting plant and animal life,” said Cheryl Tracy, executive director of the National Aviary, in a statement.

A video of the project can be viewed here.


  1. It would really be great if we could see a photo of this. Could you post one??

    Thank you!

    1. Alexis, I’ve added a link to a video of the project at the bottom of this article.

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