Bird’s eye view: PETA, Audubon raise avian death concerns over Hollywood project

The Star was proposed in the fall, would redefine Hollywood skyline

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and rendering of The Star (Marathon Communications, Ingrid Newkirk, iStock)
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk and rendering of The Star (Marathon Communications, Ingrid Newkirk, iStock)

In September, a developer and the Chinese firm MAD Architects unveiled plans for what would be one of L.A.’s flashiest new projects in years: A 22-story, egg-shaped glass and steel office tower, called The Star, that would effectively redefine part of the mostly low-rise Hollywood skyline.

Now it’s facing some potentially well-funded pushback. On July 8, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Los Angeles Audubon Society submitted a joint public comment on the proposal raising concerns over bird deaths because of the structure’s design.

“Birds cannot see clear and reflective glass, and will careen into windows at high speeds,” Regina Lazarus, a legal fellow at PETA, wrote to the City of L.A. planning department. “The Star Project raises particular concern in light of the conceptual rendering’s inclusion of greenspace on the building’s exterior that is reflected on the glass, and trees in the building’s interior that are visible through the glass structure.”

A City Planning staff member in charge of the project referred questions to a media representative, who declined to comment. MAD Architects and Edgar Khalatian, a land use attorney representing the developers, did not immediately respond to interview requests.

The concern from the two powerful animal-focused groups came as the City of L.A. is preparing an Environmental Impact Report on the would-be signature project. The department’s 94-page initial environmental study, published last month, determined that The Star “may result in significant impacts on the environment,” thus prompting the more thorough EIR.

That initial study, PETA says, looked at the project’s potential impact on nesting birds but “overlooked birds flying into the building.” It’s a big problem: PETA cited one 2017 report, published in the journal Biological Conservation, that estimated nearly one billion birds die every year in North America from building collisions.

“Migratory species are especially vulnerable, in part because they are attracted to, and disoriented by, large lighted buildings during their nocturnal migration,” Lazarus’ letter continued. Los Angeles, she added, ranks among the continent’s most dangerous cities because of its position along a major spring migratory route.

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A representative for PETA, asked by TRD if the group was opposing the project, responded that at this point it was requesting the assessment and “urging the City to ensure that inevitable bird collisions are … addressed in the EIR.”

Bird advocates also pointed to other recent L.A. avian-friendly construction moves: In 2020, the L.A. Clippers added a “fritted finish” — lines that are visible to birds but not humans — to the glass of the team’s new arena in Inglewood, the Intuit Dome, which is expected to be completed in 2024. In a release, Los Angeles Audubon Society president Travis Longcore also pointed to a city proposal for a bird-friendly glass requirement on residential construction in certain hillside and canyon areas.

“Tall buildings such as The Star should be held to a similar standard,” he added.

A groundbreaking is still likely years away, but if it gets built The Star would rank among the boldest and most architecturally unique office buildings in L.A. Plans for the glass-skinned, dome-shaped building include multiple levels of open-air “sky gardens” — a potentially inviting space for migrating birds — as well as a landscaped roof with a restaurant and a funicular that travels up and down the sides of the building.

The $500 million, 520,000-square-foot project is located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, a mostly low- and mid-rise commercial area of Hollywood. The developer, a family-owned entity led by the Chinese-born investor Maggie Gong Miracle, bought the multiple-parcel site in 2017 for $64 million from Siren Studios, according to property records.

MAD Architects is based in Beijing and has major projects in China and around the world, including museums, concert halls and a train station. The firm also has an office in L.A. and designed the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Exposition Park, which is slated to open next year.

“The Star is both a testament and addition to the city’s iconic architecture,” Ma Yansong of MAD Architects previously said in a statement. Ma added that the design was “inspired by the curvilinear forms of the Griffith Observatory, Capitol Records Building, Hollywood Bowl and the Cinerama Dome.”

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