Ants of the Prairie | Bat Cloud
BAT CLOUD is a project that aims to bring awareness and greater public visibility to bats as a critical part of our ecosystem. Bats serve as pollinators and ‘natural’ pesticides, assisting in the control of mosquito and other insect populations. Yet despite their ecological significance, bats are often overlooked or seen as pests in urban environments and subsequently exterminated. Further, since 2006, bats in the northeastern part of the United States have been dying in great numbers due to White Nose Syndrome.
Installed in Tifft Nature Preserve, a park-like wooded setting developed on a former landfill in the industrial zone of Buffalo New York, BAT CLOUD is a hanging canopy of vessels that is designed and constructed to support bat habitation. From afar, the piece appears like a shimmering cloud, hovering in the trees. Closer up, viewers from below would be able to see plants hanging from each vessel. At dusk, onlookers would hopefully be able to catch sight of bats or other wildlife emerging from the habitation vessels.
Human attitudes toward urban wildlife are highly conflicted. Birds, for example, are considered to be ‘pests’ in the context of parked cars and building ledges; but they are treasured in aviaries or wildlife preserves. Bats, a target of urban exterminators, are depicted as rabid vampires who unwelcomingly invade old attics; however, in the context of farming and gardening, they are highly desirable as natural predators of plant-eating insects.
Unlike birds, which are often admired as beautiful and graceful creatures, bats are popularly considered to be vicious and monstrous. This is not a surprise, given the tendencies of the media. Bats are often depicted in horror films such as Dracula or alongside ghosts, witches, and black cats. This rift in representation is further enhanced by our lack of ability to tangibly sense bats. They elusively emerge at night and chatter at frequencies inaudible to the human ear. One could argue that our inability to see or hear them not only contributes to a lack of appreciation, but more poignantly contributes to a fear of the unknown.
Humans have a tendency to dismiss that which it cannot see or sense. Bats go about their lives relatively unnoticed by humans, and as such, they fall victim to our tendency toward forgetfulness. Although they are critical components of our ecosystem, functioning actively as pollinators and natural predators, their efforts often remain invisible to the human population at large. This sense of invisibility is hardly resisted by the artifacts we construct for bats. Typical off-the-shelf bat houses (if even implemented at all) tend to either further camouflage the presence of bats or they relegate them to a role of utilitarian function. Many bat houses are designed to blend into backyard environments, sometimes mimicking the decorative trim of a house or painted to match the color of a nearby tree bark. Other bat houses tend to project an attitude of banal economy. While simplified DIY bat house plans are indeed helpful in jump-starting individual efforts to construct more bat houses, their visible presence does little to fuel public interest. In both cases, invisibility is perpetuated. First, through constructing an aesthetic of disappearance, bat houses are pushed to the margins of human conscience. Second, by projecting little or low effort into the design and construction of bat houses, we subconsciously also project an aesthetic of indifference – that is, one which relegates bat house construction to yet another item on the to-do list of environmental stewardship.
BAT CLOUD is an installation that aims to combat the aesthetics of disappearance and indifference. Its disposition is that of an urban ‘spectacle,’ tapping into strategies of publicity. The project is comprised of a hanging canopy of vessels, which from afar appears like a large shimmering cloud, hovering in the trees. Its form appears to change and shift as one moves around it on the adjacent walking path. At dusk, onlookers would hopefully be able to catch sight of bats or other wildlife emerging from within.
BAT CLOUD is located in an industrial zone near the waterfront of South Buffalo, NY, in Tifft Nature Preserve, a wooded environment developed on top of a former landfill. Since it was capped in the 1970s Tifft has become an increasingly popular destination for Western New Yorkers in search of a ‘natural’ setting in the city. As the first architectural installation at Tifft, BAT CLOUD is a bold presence in the landscape, and has been effective in instigating curiosity and interest among visitors. Yet, despite its status as a visual beacon, the structure is also nuanced in its detailing. Habitation vessels are designed to allow bats to enter by crawling up a ‘landing pad’ into the uppermost cavities, which are insulated with layers of thermal blanketing and foam insulation. The vessels are formed by folded stainless steel mesh, providing ‘footholds’ for the bats to hang and climb. The lower volume of each vessel is filled with soil and vegetation, which would be opportunistically fertilized by bat guano, dropping from the spaces above. Inserted inside the vessels are sensors and data collectors, which will be monitored and analyzed by a collaborating biologist to check on temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions.
Despite its ‘completion,’ we consider BAT CLOUD not as an end product, but rather as a beginning. It is among the first of a series of projects that propose ways of integrating wildlife habitats into our built environments, to bring visibility to critical ecological conditions that are not yet part of the public’s collective consciousness.Location: South Buffalo, New York, USA Designer: Ants of the Prairie
Project Director: Joyce Hwang
Project Design and Fabrication Manager: Sze Wan Li
Concept Collaborator: Mikaila Waters
Fabrication Assistants: Robert Yoos, Molly Hogle, Duane Warren, Shawn Lewis
Installation Assistants: Matthieu Bain, Joshua Gardner, Shawn Lewis, Sze Wan Li, Sergio López-Piñeiro, Noellan Niespodzinski, Mark Nowaczyk, Alex Poklinkowski, Joseph Swerdlin, Duane Warren, Robert Yoos
Consultants: Mark Bajorek (structures), Katharina Dittmar (Biology)
Tifft/Buffalo Musuem of Science coordinators: Lauren Makeyenko, David Spiering
Bat Cloud is part of the University at Buffalo Humanities Institute’s “Fluid Culture” Event Series
Fluid Culture organizers: Colleen Culleton, Justin Read
Thanks to the UB School of Architecture and Planning for support