Project statement

This project is based on a site with heavy industrial history. Part of the land is filled with slags and there is also pollutant area covered with concrete cap. We carefully transformed it into a bird-friendly sanctuary for seeing its merit in location and natural resources. The landform design respects the existing condition to minimize the engineering work as well as to secure the contaminated area. Existing trees are to be transplanted into the sanctuary area. Old debris of the dam, railway and a rusty boat is kept in design as a reminder of the culture. And the design tried to introduction various activities for the neighborhood while keeping certain portion of the park free of human disturbance. Bird cameras and sound recorders are installed in the sanctuary area, using visualization and interaction design to educate visitors.

Project narrative

Our project, “A High-Tech Bird Sanctuary for Phillipsdale”, falls in the category of plans for reclamation of brownfield sites.

The site for our project, the Phillipsdale Historic Village, is in the Blackstone Valley, East Providence, Rhode Island. The Blackstone Valley was regarded as the "Silicon Valley" of the Industrial Revolution era. During that time, companies like Rumford Chemical Works, Richmond Paper Company, and Washburn Wire Company thrived on this land and left a legacy of innovation and industry that heavily shaped the culture and economy of East Providence. Many physical industrial remnants still exist on the site including the Omega Pond dam, a rusty shipping barge platform as well as an old railway bridge. These artifacts have high aesthetic and culture values linking the site to its industrial past.

Aside from these structures, there exist other marks of the history: capped polluted areas, destroyed ecosystems, artificial landfills made of slag and construction debris. After the site was totally abandoned in 2004, it has been dominated by dirt bikes, late-night parties, and homeless populations, leaving more trash, and creating unpleasant noises constantly.

On the other hand, the site is surrounded by the Seekonk River and the Ten-Mile River, providing grand riverfront views and it has great potential for diverse habitats. During our few times of visiting, we have spotted many birds including swans, ducks and even Bald Eagles on site. The site is within the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route and is surrounded by patches of nearby woodland. If combined with these adjacent woodlands, it has potential to provide valuable nesting and feeding habitat for migratory birds. Common species around this area are American Black Duck, Mute Swan, Common Grackle, American Robin, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager. Birds play an important part in this ecosystem. They help disperse seeds, pollinate flowering plants, control insect populations, provide nutrients for other creatures through excrement, and provide critical apex predators. Birds have high experiential value in appearance and through their songs. By connecting existing green spaces both on and near our site, supplementing the existing vegetation with valuable native plants, we aim to protect existing species as well as to attract rare species like the Cerulean Warbler, Purple Finch, Bufflehead, Marsh Wren, and others noted in bird habitat planning documents like Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plan, published by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

We developed six key design principles for our project:


This principle is based on the fact that our site has potential to be a rich bird habitat. . We want to design a series of different regional habitat types and artificial nests for them according to each species’ preference, as well as a high-tech bird research center for educational purposes.


This principle is about using high tech devices like bird cameras and sound monitors on the site. By setting up these devices and a research center, we can provide scientific study and educational moments as well as job opportunities.


There are different noises happening on the site right now: annoying sounds like the noise from Roger Williams Avenue, people constantly riding motorcycle on the site; nice sounds like the noise from the little waterfall at the dam, the wave of Seekonk river pounding the riverbank, the wind moving leaves around, rain drops on the ground, and tweeting birds. We are going to design a series of vegetation barriers to block the unpleasant sounds and increase the desirable ones. We will also be recording sounds of the birds for research purposes.

TAKING OVER FROM THE FACTORY is about memorializing the history by keeping old industrial remnants and reusing the artifacts and materials in our design.

SOFTENING THE BOUNDARY is to make people feel welcomed by removing hard fences and replacing them with living materials, open views, and accessible walkways.

The site is divided into eight ecological communities according to its elevation, its relationship with water and its design purpose such as providing activities for visitors or habitats for birds. We studied the plant species and spatial structures of the natural communities in Southern New England to come up with the typologies. Some special species like Milkweed, Pitch Pine, Cattail is chosen to provide nesting materials and food for birds.

In the plan, noticing the height difference between the site and Roger Williams Avenue, we designed a rain garden between the street and the gathering space of the park. This provides a soft boundary to purifying the storm water before it flows into the omega pond. A lawn and a fountain plaza are in the center of east side of the site. The old railway is turned into a linear gathering space paved with a deck.

The bird sanctuary takes up a large portion of the site. And there are only a few paths stretch into the deciduous forest, leaving most space untouched to provide a safe space for birds. Artificial bird nests, bird cameras and sound monitors are installed mainly in bird rich areas both for educational and research purposes. The high-tech bird education and research center is located at the southern part of the sanctuary. Huge windows and wooden terrace are built to provide the best view towards the fresh marsh habitat we introduced in Omega Pond. We introduced many small islands, which are not accessible to visitors so that there are more undisturbed spaces for birds to nest and feed compared to a more active shoreline.

On the North-Western part is an orchard for activities like fruit picking. Together with an organic fruit factory (producing soap, juice, and fragrance) and an outdoor farmers market, the orchard provides seasonal, hands-on activities for all kinds of visitors and job opportunities for the community. A seasonal flower bed just South of the orchard to help attract valuable pollinators.

The rest of the west portion of the site is salt marsh habitat for birds, including a wet meadow, a coastal plain pond shore, and salt marshes.

In the landform design, we tried to respect the original form as much as possible in order to maintain low engineering work, to minimize disturbance to habitat, and to not disrupt the capped contaminated areas. More soils are added to the capped area to avoid future disturbance. As for planting, most of the trees that were existing in the future orchard area are the same native species designed for the deciduous forest, so a transplanting plan is feasible. Considering the trees has already adopted to the site, the survival rate should be higher. It takes five years for fruit trees to mature and five times longer for the barren land to finish the secondary succession to become a mature deciduous forest. During those years, cleaning out invasive species, dead trees, and adding additional native plants will be required for maintenance.

In the future we hope our site will become a valuable link in the regional greenspace to give refuge to local and migratory birds, as well as a valuable public space and creator of jobs to revitalize the ecology and economy of Phillipsdale.