Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Apple's Windows

Vikings Poster

When I started working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I had to switch from a PC to a MacBook in order for my design files to be compatible with those of Cornell’s designer. It was a hard transition, and I hear going the reverse is even trickier, so I’ve long known that Apple users have problems with Windows. A news story this week explains how Apple employees can even be physically injured by windows.

The brand new building housing Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, designed by architect Norman Foster, is surrounded by 45-foot tall curved panels of “safety glass,” named not because it’s been designed in any way to prevent humans, birds, or anyone else from crashing into it, but because it crumbles when broken. The workspaces inside Apple’s building, called “pods,” are also made with a lot of glass.

In the same way that knowledgeable people warned the designers of the US Bank Vikings Stadium that it was going to kill lots of birds, Apple was warned by contractors that a building made almost entirely out of glass could pose health and safety risks to human beings. And sure enough, employees have been crashing into those transparent walls. Some news sources say that a few employees put post-it notes on the glass to make it more visible, but those keep being removed so they don’t detract from the building’s aesthetics. I personally think that injured people and hurt and dead birds detract from the overall aesthetics of any environment, but apparently corporations and some architects have more tunnel vision when it comes to the meaning of aesthetics.

This isn’t the first time Apple has had to deal with people crashing into glass, either. In 2011, an 83-year-old woman walked into the glass wall of an Apple store, breaking her nose. She sued the company, arguing it should have posted a warning on the glass. The suit was apparently settled without cost to Apple, according to a legal filing in early 2013. Again, the bottom line for corporations usually wins over living, breathing human beings, and much more so over birds. When birds collide with glass, they never get a legal filing at all. 

Dr. Daniel Klem has devoted his entire career to researching the issue of birds colliding with windows. He was first to realize and to publish his findings that somewhere around a billion birds are killed by windows every year in the United States alone. Many prominent, well-funded ornithologists and organizations pooh-poohed his findings until their own research verified his work.

People haven’t focused that much research into humans colliding with glass—we know it happens, and because normal people think that’s a bad thing, we usually take precautions to make sure glass is visible where people are likely to be coming and going. It’s depressing that we don’t take reasonable precautions to protect birds from collisions, but absolutely shocking that a huge corporation puts a silly concept of aesthetics above the safety of their own employees and customers. I hope that Apple’s human casualties finally open some architects’ and corporations’ eyes to the hazards of glass.