Batwoman Begins

Professor Hwang aims to keep bats healthy and safe

On October 23, 2012

  • Joyce Hwang, associate professor of architecture, has found a way to combine her love of wildlife with her passion for architecture by constructing habitats for bats and giving them a home. Alexa Strudler /// The Spectrum


Joyce Hwang doesn't mind living with bats.

Hwang, an assistant professor in the department of architecture, has made it her life's mission to design and build a socially acceptable home for bats. Hwang hopes one day, sharing a wall with a bat won't be considered a crazy idea.

Hwang emphasizes the importance of appreciating wildlife because every animal does something. She thinks bats are one of the most underappreciated animals, even though they contribute so much to nature.

"People just think of them as scary and you don't want to see them in your house," Hwang said. "But they are dying out."

White nose syndrome is the main disease that has been killing bats. It is named for the white fungus that appears from an unknown cause on the nose of hibernating bats, which wakes them up and causes them to tire out and starve to death, according to

Bats are able to squeeze through spaces as small as half an inch wide, which is why they are often in the attics of people who don't necessarily want them there, according to Hwang. She said they are just looking for a warm home.

"It's not popular in the U.S. right now because people don't accept the fact that you could have wildlife living in the cavity of your wall," Hwang said. "It's seen as disgusting in most places, but I think if you think about it holistically and realize there is no place for them to live outside, the only place they will go is inside."

Hwang hopes her projects become a stepping stone for this process to start in America. She started her first project, the Bat Tower, in 2010. The Bat Tower stands 12 feet tall in Buffalo's Griffis Sculpture Park.

After receiving a $10,000 grant from the New York State Council for the Arts, Hwang went straight to work constructing the tower. The interior is grooved and designed so bats can climb throughout the structure comfortably. With soil and plants at the base, it attracts all sorts of insects for the bats to consume.

"The idea is to make something that could also make [bats] visible, or make their presence visible," Hwang said. "I want to make a sculpture for people to look at and think, 'Wow what is that thing?' And when they find out it's for bats, hopefully it will spark their interest and spread awareness."

Her second project, Bat Cloud, started in Sept. 2011 and was funded with help from the School of Architecture and Planning. The handcrafted individual bat sanctuaries which she promotes cost $2,000 each.

Each contraption is constructed by bending together pieces of steel mesh mixed with insulation foam, aluminum and plastic. The mesh interior provides a space for the bats to cling to, hang on and climb around on. They take around four hours to construct.

These two-foot tall, one-foot wide "clouds" each weigh 25 to 30 lbs. and hang from a steel cable in Tiff Nature Preserve in Buffalo.

Rather than seeing these projects as individual and exclusive, Hwang considers them experiments and prototypes for her ultimate goal: incorporating her structures into the designs of buildings.

She aims to construct exterior walls to enable wildlife to live in the structure if the animals need to.

"If you think about a house or most buildings in the city, and if a bird is building a nest on a ledge, people don't usually like that," Hwang said. "What you end up with is bird crap everywhere. That's why people are worried about the look and presence of birds and other animals on buildings. A problem with this mentality is that if they can't hang out on the outside of the building, they end up getting into the building."

She has been attempting to design an internal structure disguised in the external walls of a building that would make the wildlife sanctuary seem natural and even invisible.

One problem Hwang addresses is the noise a bat may make while crawling around the structure. While it will mostly depend on the material the building is made out of, thickness and design also play a role in ensuring the bats aren't heard.

Currently, there are structures that get attached to existing buildings, but in Hwang's opinion, they look like pizza boxes. They are two pieces of wood stuck together that a bat can land on and live in.

"I'm always asking myself, 'How can you make a house or a building where you provide the same function, where it looks more natural and part of the design of the house?'" Hwang said.

Some companies have already started designing materials for cohabitation between bats or small birds and humans. Schwegler, a company in Europe, has been producing nest boxes and other types of nesting aids for birds, bats, insects and many other creatures for over 50 years, according to

Schwegler produces hollow, cement bricks that can be used in the construction of buildings so bats have a place to live that won't bother the people of the area.

Hwang loves her work with bats because it enables her to combine her loves of design, architecture and wildlife. She hopes her work with bats will enable them to stay healthy for a long time.



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