Everyone has an opinion on those magnificently large and some say rather strange sparrows that hold down Olympic Square designed by Myfanwy MacLeod. And yes, apparently they were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds 1963 horror film. As Kevin Griffin with the Vancouver Sun observes ” the shells have become significantly damaged, especially on the male bird. They are both used as ramps by skateboarders and bicycle riders, and people regularly climb over the two structures, which are 4.5 metres tall.” The tail of the male sparrow has been badly compromised and is no longer water proof, and the steel frames of the birds will be replaced with more durable aluminum. If the success of a public art project is the degree of tactile interaction that users have with it, the sparrows have been a big hit.
A Barcelona engineer who is on the committee for the rebuilding and reproofing of the famous promenade Las Ramblas came down to see The Birds public art work. He immediately referenced a favourite, the “El Gato de Botero” bronze which is now housed in Raval Park and is beloved by children and adults alike for his proportions and his rather hulking anatomy. The Gato is also climbed over and played with, but is made of much sturdier material. While polystyrene was used for the shell of the birds, the feet were cast in bronze and have had no damage.
Both birds will be taken down this fall and replaced in time for the-wait for it- 27th International Ornithological Congress next August. The City’s Public Art manager estimates the repairs at $425,000 which will be covered by a reserve fund for public art maintenance. Larger paving stones will also be installed below the male sparrow’s tail to reduce the likelihood of the public art continuing use as a skateboard and bike ramp.
As the artist states “People, especially kids, love to climb on stuff. You can’t stop people from being people. So you need to figure out how to make your work survive the realities of that.”