Ants of the Prairie

Bat Tower, Griffis Sculpture Park, East Otto, New York.
Joyce Hwang

The Architectural League’s 32nd annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the future direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms delivered a lecture in Manhattan in March as part of the distinction.

Ants of the Prairie

New York

Ants of the Prairie is a Buffalo-based research and architecture practice “dedicated to developing creative approaches in confronting the pleasures and horrors of our contemporary ecologies.” Founded in 2004 by Joyce Hwang, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Buffalo, the firm creates visually striking structures designed to improve the natural world—and our connection to it as well.

Working with different collaborators—including students, researchers, architects, and biologists—much of Ants’ recent work has been dedicated to improving conditions for bats. If you are wondering why anyone would want to help bats, then this project is as much for you as it is for them.

Hwang’s Bat Tower, for example, a 12-foot-tall twisting sculpture she created in Griffis Sculpture Park, is partially intended to change the way we understand bats; or what she says are too-often viewed as “urban pests.”

Intensified Reflections is part of the “City of Dreams” miniature golf course that was built as part of the NYC Figment Festival in 2008 (left). Bat Tower interior, looking down from inhabitation zone (right).
Sergio López-Piñeiro; Albert Chao

“In an attempt to bring visibility to bats, Bat Tower challenges notions of the typical off-the-shelf bat house,” explained Hwang. “Rather than innocuously fading into the background, the tower stands as a prominently visible outdoor sculpture.”

But the impressive tower, with its triangular plywood slats that bend back-and-forth, is more than a piece of art; it is a “vertical cave” that provides shelter and habitation for bats, which are threatened by both natural disease and human “pest control.”

Working with students at the University of Buffalo, Hwang also created “Bat Cloud” in the city’s Tifft Nature Reserve. The cloud is a “hanging canopy of vessels that is designed and constructed to support bat habitation.” From a distance, the vessels appear as a cloud, or perhaps part of an enchanted forest from a Tim Burton film. Either way, each vessel’s plants and soil provide shelter for local bats.


Bat Cloud, Tifft Nature Preserve, Buffalo, New York (top). Plan (above).
Sze Wan Li; Joyce Hwang

Looking forward, Hwang is working on a second iteration of Bat Cloud for the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam this spring. And through future projects like Habitat Wall and Pest Wall, she hopes to continue using design to improve conditions for wildlife and our connection to the natural world.

The latter project, for example, will provide shelter for bats and other wildlife within an urban environment. Hwang says the project aims to “question our embattled notions of the word ‘pest’ by intensifying the visibility and awareness of typically ‘undesired’ animals that are critical to our urban ecosystems.”

Ultimately, the architect is interested in pursuing “projects that are about inclusion of multiple species in the built environment.”

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