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Exercise Response from Greg 

After looking at the brief on co-habitable architecture in relation to bats, I chose to focus on light & vision – although bats echolocate, they also ‘see’ (‘blind as a bat’ being somewhat of a misnomer).  I was looking to explore how our perception of a light or dark space may be different to that of a bat.  Superimposed upon this, I investigated the idea of ‘interface’:  It is often at habitat ‘interfaces’ where animals are most active and biodiversity most prolific.

I found a picture on the internet which happened to be in New York, but could easily be extrapolated to London.  In the foreground is an area of vegetation, and to the background, a mosaic of high-rise buildings.  Using two black & while A3 copies and colour marker-pens, I indicated on one copy, perception of light sources by humans, and on the other my suspicion of what the same would be to a bat.  Emerging from this, was a concept of perception of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ space for people and bats respectively, showing also how bats may ‘venture’ into shadows and corners in otherwise unfavourable environments.  The presence of street lights within the bats ‘safe’ zone was considered, as was the potential of green roofs to ameliorate the impact of lighting washing from the buildings.

For the second part of the exercise I considered structures / modifications that could be made to Fitzroy Square in order to better accommodate both people and bats.

The Square is bounded on all sides by tall Victorian buildings and is separated from the railings of a circular park by pedestrian hardstanding.  The small greenspace itself comprises grass sward and several fully mature London planes.  At the northern margin of this space, woody shrubs are more prevalent.

It was evident that this small oasis of vegetation may be suitable for bats, but light ingress from the surrounding area would make it less favourable.  And although the high light levels provided the ‘safe’ space for people as indicated above, it was recognised that, in London in particular, we are deprived of darkness as a sensory experience (light pollution is an issue about which both campaigning organisations and London local authorities are concerned).  Consequently, consideration was given to a mechanism which may bring bats and people together, enhancing the environment for both.

The solution emerged as a tall (15m+?), ‘Gaudi-esque’, circular building, that occupied part of the footprint of the pedestrian areas, and, through a concave upper structure, ‘cradled’ the greenspace.  It was to be of timber construction, incorporating ‘features’ normally associated with medieval barns, since this is a habitat that bats favour.  Such timber-based construction would also be of architectural interest, there being few similar modern incarnations of the same within the City (the Globe, being one other example).

The ideal was conceptualised by making a very simple model out of card.

The interior of the building would be narrow (by virtue of the physical constraints of the site), but continuous around its periphery.  It would be dark throughout, enabling ‘touchy-feely’ and meditation spaces to be created, but in places, light levels may be increased slightly (for example, to create a place where people could eat / drink – a ‘dusk’ café…?).  The lower spaces would extend continuously up to the ‘apex’, which (in section) would narrow  and contain features favoured by bats (baffled timber roosts, crevices, feeding perches, occasional entry slits etc).  So while the bats were occupying the upper reaches of the building, people would be occupying the areas at ground level.  The curved form of the building would allow the bats some isolation from anthropogenic activity, but permit them to fly down to ‘people’ level should they so wish, adding to the experience of the people (and the bats!) occupying the spaces.  A series of ledges would deflect bat excreta to the outside of the structure, thereby preventing unwanted ingredients to food served in the café.

Bats are documented to prefer south-facing parts of buildings – but bats do not read the books.  The continuous 360° structure of the building allows bats to choose where to be active along the varying, but continuous, gradient of temperature, airflow and humidity that would exist.  A sinuous form to the ‘apex’ would both provide architectural interest and provide for thermal diversity for the bats.

The retrofit of green roofs and walls to the surrounding buildings would provide for additional habitat, albeit outside the ‘envelope’ of the proposed structure.

As well as providing the dark interior, the ‘enveloping’ arrangement of the structure would significantly reduce the impact of light from surrounding buildings on the green space, increasing suitability for bats and making a rare ‘dark’ space for people (who would, of course, be delighted to watch the bats…).

Greg Carson

2 December 2011