Bat House Project
UPDATE: The Bat House Project website has been taken offline
There has been a recent surge of sculptural, artistic bat houses redefining our vision of what a bat house looks like. This has to be one of my favorite subjects to write about because it’s so exciting. For one, it’s an excellent example of how different professions can bring such different things to the table. Architects, landscape architects, engineers, scientists, planners and artists all come from different backgrounds with very different training and as a result, come up with very different solutions and ideas. The second reason I find this subject so exciting is the blend of form and function which creates something completely different and really redefines habitat aesthetics.
The first example of a sculptural bat house comes from the Bat House Project, which was a competition based in London in 2007. There was great participation in the competition with entries from 24 countries, including the U.K. Anyone was invited to participate and there were three categories, the first for design professionals, the second for students and general public and the last for school children. The project encouraged competitors to blend aesthetics with sustainable materials to create a structure that was function for bats, but was something the public could also engage in. “…consider the relationship between art, architecture and biodiversity in urban locations.” Learn more about the requirements in the Design Brief (PDF).
The winning overall design came from the second category, and was created by two undergraduate architecture students. It has now been installed at the London Wetland Centre, and is already occupied. You can follow the construction process of the structure on the Bat House Blog. Here is a quote about the winning design from the Bat House Project website.
Beautiful, poetic and unexpected, combining state-of-the-art technology with a rural and romantic aesthetic. . Resembles a picture in a frame and can work on all four sides. Can be used year round – good for Pipistrelles. Rock pile at base would retain humidity. Good range of internal sizes. The location is ideal – it successfully negotiates the relationship between the tree-covered bank, where bats can fly out into cover, and the lake where certain species will feed, and where the water will keep the lower space cool and humid. Relationship to the viewing points and the wider site is strong.
In each category there were three winners, many of which have strong architectural structure. You can view all of the winners on the Bat House Project website. What is really interesting is the Jury Report that discusses each project as well as a summary of initial feedback from the jury. Among some of the thoughts that I found interesting included one that thought some of the entries should have been more creative than simply scaled-down buildings because it’s for bats, not humans. Another recurring theme in the initial feedback as well as the final comments on the winning projects, was the importance of focusing on temperatures inside the structure as well as entry sizes and air flow. Indeed, even many of the winning designs had some of these problems. Designing a structure for bats isn’t as simple as may be thought.
A more recent sculptural bat house is a new addition to University at Buffalo in New York. Joyce Hwang, an architect and assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, collaborated with students at the school to create a 12′ tall tower. It truly is sculptural and will be appropriately featured next to a pond in the Griffis Sculpture Park, also in New York. It was created to bring awareness to white-nose syndrome, a rather mysterious disease affecting bats and estimated to have killed over a million in recent years. In her own words, “Since I was a graduate student, I have taken an interest in the constructive relationships between humans and animals, and how we can shape our environment in a beneficial way.”
Part of the inspiration for the tower was the bats natural habitat, caves. The final sculpture presents itself as a sort of vertical tower with similar crevices that may be found in a natural cave.
Bat Tower is filled with crevices and contains about 400 pieces of plywood, divided into five sections, each stacked one upon another. It’s all tied together with steel wire and screws so to withstand the outside elements. On the top of the structure are wood panels that are dark so to heat up the internal space during the day to keep it warm in the evening.
Around the base of the tower, they planted herbs such as chives and oregano in an attempt to attract the insects bats prey on. It has since been reported that bats have already taken up residence in the tower. In addition to Bat Tower, Joyce Hwang also has plans to design more structures including “Pest Wall” and “Pest Pavilion”, both of which could house bats.
Here’s an excellent video narrated by the designer that explains the details of Bat Tower.
The true benefit of the Bat Tower and the Bat House Project is the integration of functionality with creative interpretations. It seems the future of habitat design lies in this direction for several reasons, which the fully researched design of these projects demonstrate. Of foremost importance is that the design be suitable for the wildlife which both of these projects demonstrate and can be seen by the fact that these projects are already being inhabited. Nearly just as important are the aesthetics of the structures for several reasons. First of all, they raise awareness of the wildlife we live with; and because many people will find the structures interesting they’re more likely to investigate and pay attention. The second important reason is because it’s art. How difficult is it to convince neighbors to live next to a ‘wild’ landscape, or a university president to change the formal campus landscape? If various elements of habitat design can be done in a way that many people can find artistic and interesting, it’ll help integrate habitat with our existing urban fabric and that’s a valuable tool.
Architect creates ‘Bat Tower’:: UB Reporter
Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.