April 5, 2021

Message in a Birdhouse – University of Oregon

Over the past year our lives have changed significantly. We have withdrawn from one another physically and found new ways to connect socially, mostly through video. Our physical presence in each other’s lives has been reduced and although we have found ways to persevere, it has taken a mental and emotional toll on our wellbeing. Message in a Birdhouse is an event that sought to provide a different kind of social outlet for the University of Oregon community by inviting students to receive a birdhouse assembly kit to decorate that would be featured in a physical display on campus.

Originally conceived as a workshop that would be held outdoors, due to health risks and limitations the event transformed into the creation of kits that were prefabricated and could be distributed for students to pick up, build, and decorate in their own time and maybe with their own group of friends. Coupled with the physical display of these birdhouses, the University of Oregon Freedom by Design group created a website and invited the community to share their experiences, challenges, and accomplishments that they have faced, providing a platform to show that as a community we are not isolated, but we are all experiencing these challenges together.

The birdhouse assembly included an initial fabrication process by the FBD team, who designed and manufactured two different birdhouse designs. Those that participated in the event were able to choose one of the two templates and were given a set of instructions and components for their creation. The birdhouse pieces were designed to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and simply bound with wood glue in order to be accessible for everyone, no hand tools required. The birdhouse, once built, is a blank canvas for any personalization the participant wanted to add to it. We had received a variety of different decorations for these, including paint, paper assemblage, drawings and verbiage, and other physical decorations added to the birdhouse. These birdhouses were showcased in a common path of travel on the University of Oregon campus for a week with signage that led to the website and the messages that we received.

For the message, students had the opportunity to write a personal memo that went hand in hand with their birdhouse. It was a form of expression and freedom of speech, serving as a platform to share one’s thoughts, realizations, and overall journey during their time of isolation. These messages were compiled in a database on the website and could be accessed by a QR code that was featured on the signage and on the instructions that were distributed with the kits. The participants had the opportunity to share their message anonymously and each message was connected to an image of the birdhouse if that was submitted. The intent behind this was to give the individual a safe place to share their experiences with COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, political turmoil, and other unprecedented experiences faced in 2020 and 2021.

The project’s goal was to provide a physical show of solidarity and hope within the community and to provide an opportunity for students to share their experiences and understand that we are all in this together even if we can’t always see that. The idea of using a birdhouse represents our own human abstractions of a home as well as our freedom to come and go to our safe places as we please, although that has been challenged this past year. The birdhouse also serves as an extension of the built environment in nature and how our designs, while they can be metaphorical, also serve a practical function.


Check out the website: https://sites.google.com/view/messageinabirdhouse/instructions?authuser=1


Written by: Joshua Fox, University of Oregon, Freedom by Design Director