SHADE BAT HOUSE
This project was Graeme Nicholls' entry for an open competition to submit creative ideas for a Bat House for the London Wetlands Centre.
Bats are often perceived as ambiguous creatures; they give birth to live young and have the physical appearance of other mammals, yet they fly rather than walk. Also, they live in unusual places and are only seen at night. In multicultural folklore their origin is often described in the scenario of a battle between the birds and the animals, in which the bat begins life as a mouse who is considered too small for the side of the animals. The mouse pleads to be allowed to join the birds, at which point it gains the power of flight and the identity of Bat. The story usually features an act of heroism, treachery, or ill-advised behaviour by the bat, which ends the battle and results in the bat being banished into the night (McCracken, 1993).
This idea of the bat as an anomalous creature led us to develop our proposal for the competition as a series of ambiguous forms and structures- part landscape, part building, and part sculpture, but none clearly distinguishable. 'Shade' is realised through the formation of a walkway which winds a sharp, angular path through the existing trees along the ridge of the site. Hard granite edge strips line the edge of the gravel path to allow navigation of the site at night using both touch and sound- mimicking the way a bat navigates with a combination of these senses.
The path is designed to allow for navigation through the use of touch (underfoot) and hearing- the main walkway is gravel stones which allow visitors to listen to their own footsteps to guide their way, and listen to the footsteps of others. The rim at the side of the path is designed as a safety zone to inform the visitor they are walking off the main pathway. The rim rises to form stopping places along the journey and further forms the 'loft' habitation.
At various points along the route we have inserted synthesised 'caves', 'hollow trees', and 'lofts' where it is possible for man to observe bat. While each element mimics the environmental conditions of identified bat roosts, the forms are deliberately ambiguous such that it is not immediately obvious what each space is. A series of sculptural bat boxes are placed on the site in a series of overlapping grids, set out on intersecting axes of the walkway and south-east to provide optimal internal temperature. The grid density is determined by our research of both the frequency of bat species found on site and the suitability of each site condition to the species. For example, the area considered suitable to the Pipistrelle has many more bat boxes than other areas.
Observation of the bats is possible using a series of dormant web-cams and microphones inserted into the elements of landscape which are powered only by brought technology- laptops.
This project was produced in collaboration with Kirstyn Lindsay and Pritesh Bafna.
Location: London Wetlands Centre
Client: The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust