Nest Modual Design Challenge

The Año Nuevo Island project was a collaborative 3 month project to create ceramic nest modules for endangered sea birds. The Cassin’s Auklet creates nests in burrows on the islands off the coast of California. Their habitat is threatened by erosion, heavy elephant seals overrunning the island, Western Seagulls, and climate change.

  • Nesting area must be completely dark
  • Nest must not exceed 72˚F
  • Module must not exceed 35 lbs
  • Biologists must be able to extract bird
  • Water cannot pool in nesting area
  • Module must withstand heavy winds
  • Nesting area must be level

    This process was inherently collaborative, as designers, ceramicists, and biologists worked together to solve for the design constraints. In order to fully understand the challenges, we worked directly with marine biologists from the site and their volunteers. This helped us gain understanding in how the modules would realistically be deployed. Ceramic experts and installation artists assisted us in scoping the project, and understanding the material.

    Various methods were employed in explorating and executing different designs. Laser cutters, cardboard folding guides, plaster molds, hand building techniques, and the slab rollers helped us tackle different aspects of the challenge.


      In my final design I primarily tackled the issue of heat, biologist’s access to the eggs, and size. Using the laser cut dies for ridges, I lined the roof of my nest module with hollow tubes that act as an insulator and also give shade to parts of the roof during all stages of the sun’s cycle.

      To tackle the issue of having two entrances, one for the bird and one for the biologist, I simply combined the two by created an elbow shaped tunnel that is removable, allowing the biologist to gain access when desired.

      This module is about the size of a 6 month old baby, it’s small, easy to transport and most of all light. When you need to get nests to an island and your only form of transportation is an inflatable boat, size counts.


        We took our final fired modules to the island for installation and testing. This including transporting them from the studio to Año Nuevo State Park, inflating a zodiac boat, loading all the modules onto the boat and carrying them to their site once at the island. It’s an exciting, and exhausting trip, but to see our designs placed in the real world where our client, the Cassin’s Auklet, will hopefully adopt them and call them home is invigorating and nerve wracking.


          I’m happy to say after a season of being on the island our nest modules were successful! A new generation of Cassin’s Auklet chicks have been born.