Bonnie Tsui is a contributing writer to CityLab. She writes frequently for The New York Times and is the author of American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods.
The company commissioned a team of artists to make miniature versions of the homes they rent.
If Airbnb knows anything, it's people's houses. Since 2008, they've helped 9 million guests rent 500,000 properties in 192 countries and more than 34,000 cities. Presumably, now they know birdhouses, too: for their first major advertising campaign, the company commissioned a team of artists to make 50 birdhouse versions of some of the particularly stunning or interesting private dwellings they list for rent. Then they put them all up in an ancient live oak tree in New Orleans's Audubon Park, an iconic urban oasis originally designed by John Charles Olmsted and home to hundreds of birds. They also made a little film about it.
The head artist on the project, Joshua Stricklin, spent this past week re-installing the birdhouses on Bird Island in New Orleans (they’ll be on view at the site until next week). My favorites include a classic Victorian in San Francisco:
A cabin in Oslo:
And a water tower room in London:
A team of artists (plus ornithologist Carolyn Atherton, curator of birds at the Audubon Zoo) translated the models into places where birds would actually want to live.
Stricklin, who often works in set and prop design, transformed his Los Angeles studio from a large-scale operation into a kind of toy shop. "It really was like Santa's workshop — we had these huge tables put together in an assembly line, and then we went through each of the houses," he says. "We asked ourselves, 'What bird scale do we want to go for?' Obviously, it’s important to have a variety of homes to offer the birds."
Atherton, the bird specialist, advised Stricklin and his team on doorway sizes for prospective guests, and on placement within the park’s “Tree of Life,” as the majestic oak is called. They also designed certain houses for specific-sized birds, and placed them in areas of the tree where the birds would normally nest.
"We put Spanish moss bedding in each house, and filled them up with birdseed," Stricklin says. "My kids were down in the studio every day, helping us make the little bird beds, painting the houses."
The team of artists worked 18 hours a day for 25 days to make the homes, but the work was so whimsical and fun that, according to Stricklin, "people would show up whistling the next day."
Watch the film, and you can see a birdhouse-eye view of a parakeet hopping up onto a couch and eating out of a little popcorn bucket while watching an actual tiny television. "Seeing the birds begin to land and interact with the spaces we designed," Stricklin says, "was probably the most fun thing I’ve ever done."