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Protective Wing

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The project Chiang Mai Bird Sanctuary (CBS) meets the needs of birds and humans alike – thereby expanding the scope of sustainable construction to include a feathered dimension. Designed by Architectkidd, a design practice based in Bangkok, Thailand, the project received Gold prize in the 2014 regional Holcim Awards for Asia Pacific.

The integrated approach to bird conservation by Jariyawadee Lekawatana Principal architect of Achitectkidd and Singh Intrachooto, Head of the Creative Center for Eco-design, Scraplab at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, together with Chak Cherdsatirkul owner of Kaomai Wanna Resort, Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, simulates the natural habitat and includes a small hotel and bird viewing tower.


The focus of both the hotel premises and the natural area was twofold – the birds, wild as well as those confiscated from traffickers and people who are bird enthusiasts. The designers started with converting ten of the existing tobacco barns on the hotel site into permanent aviaries for the injured birds who could no longer survive in the wild. Visitors could observe these birds up close. One of the tobacco barns was converted into an auditorium and others into libraries. Lekawatana explains: “As an architect, we usually work for people, but here our clients are the birds. The measures we are implementing on the hotel grounds must suit both the birds and the people – but the park focuses primarily on the needs of birds. The hotel which is constructed on what was earlier a tobacco barn had some tobacco barns vacant and in need for renovation. These were used as the rehabilitation centre/museum and other built facilities in the project. The confined spaces of the construction provide an intimate experience for both human and bird visitors – positioning architecture as a form of openness/protection, a method of disguise/communication and as an expressive/introverted body.”

The Structures

At the heart of the natural site is the Bird Rehab Facility, for which the three model homes have been converted. A clinic is planned here, as well as separate areas for small birds, birds of prey, and waterfowl. Other structures consist of 16m-high birdwatching tower, the old police station converted into the main information center and viewing platforms & meditation pods for Buddhist monks. All the built structures are located on the six-meter-wide strip of the existing road – so that not one more square meter of natural land is touched. The pavement is also punctured in places, so that nature can gradually reclaim more area.

A “Bird Hut” shelter fabricated by the architects serves as a prototype for the larger structures to be built on the bird sanctuary site. It is built using palm oil seed husks, a plentiful agricultural waste in the region. The natural fibers offer thermal and acoustic insulation, and the dense surface creates hidden spaces for birds as well as their food sources to inhabit. The 2.5m conical hut includes a metal structure that supports the natural palm fiber surface. Visitors to the bird hut can use the structure as a bird-watching shelter by prying apart the fibers to create a viewing window.

Organic Material

Thai palm oil plantations waste – leaves, stems, nut shells, and so on, left to rot, tainted the groundwater and produced the greenhouse gas methane. The waste cannot be used as a fuel because the moisture content is too high. Palm fiber lends itself as a building skin at the bird sanctuary because new plants can grow on this material and small birds can hide in the building envelope, safe from predators. Clad in this ecological covering, the buildings blend nicely into the environment. “The material lasts a long time – we don’t know exactly how long because no one has much experience with it yet. But the material is so cheap that there would be no problem to replace the building skin every so often. Important for us is to show that palm fiber can be an ideal material for energy-efficient and environment friendly architecture.” says, Intrachooto.

As part of their ongoing research on the project, Architectkidd has explored dyeing techniques as an alternative to coloring agent for building materials. Dyed in indigo blue, the result is a rich variation in blue tones due to the varied absorption of the dye into the natural fibers.

“Chiang Mai Bird Sanctuary literally establishes the link between political activism and building practice, combining architectural qualities with conservation, education, research and eco-tourism in a complete and convincing way.” Holcim Awards Jury.

Place & Progress

Buildings of bricks and palm highlights local landscape in new ways. Each tower and pavilion transforms over time, integrating natural materials within the natural bird habitat, resulting in gentle and ecologically-rich architecture.

“Ecology Skin” integrates natural fibers into building enclosures. Palm fiber is used because of its volume and availability, insulating and moistureretention capability, and compatibility with nature. This fiber skin protects buildings from heat, allows seeds to take roots and grow, and in turn supports food regeneration for all birds in the area. Basically, this architectural skin utilizes natural fiber to serve four functions: thermal insulation, acoustic barrier, food supply, and animal habitat. It can be replicated in other buildings where biodiversity and energy efficiency are desired, properties that are vital for urban environments.

People & Planet

Bird smuggling kills biodiversity. Rescuing these birds means putting them in cages for one to five years as evidence during criminal trials. Most birds won’t survive the trauma. CBS aims to familiarize people with the charm of nature’s magnificent flying creatures and nurture the coexistence of humans and birds for future generations.

Population growth and urban sprawl have encroached on flat terrains, leaving birds and other animals without habitat. CBS is designed to serve local communities and the bird population by reclaiming failed land parcels and reusing existing structures. In addition, palm fiber wastes are used for building enclosures since more than five million tons of palm fiber is discarded annually in Thailand. Its high insulation capacity, compatibility with nature, and moisture retention property make palm fiber ideal for energy-efficiency and eco-friendly architecture.


The animal sanctuary serves a growing niche of eco-tourism. Combining the existing green hotel, CBS could attract high-spending travelers who yearn for eco-friendly vacations. The bird hospice and library are integrated to offer an unparalleled learning facility, giving injured birds a permanent home and becoming an important attraction for visitors. Additionally, CBS could earn funding from research on wild bird rehabilitation with continual government and private sector sponsorship.

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