Hwang earns coveted 'Emerging Voices' award

Bat Tower in Griffis Sculpture Park is one of many projects by Joyce Hwang that provide habitat for bats and other misunderstood creatures. Photo: Joyce Hwang.

Published April 2, 2014

Joyce Hwang, associate professor of architecture whose eco-sculptures provide habitat for bats and birds, and call attention to misunderstood or ignored ecological conditions, has received a 2014 Emerging Voices award from the Architectural League of New York.

“By creating structures that support bat (and other urban wildlife) habitation, we can invoke curiosity in our ecosystem and increase awareness of the presence of animals.”
Joyce Hwang , Associate Professor
UB School of Architecture and Urban Planning

Hwang, who also leads the architectural practice Ants of the Prairie, was selected along with seven other practitioners and firms based in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The award, a coveted recognition in the field, honors her “distinct design voice” and “potential to influence the disciplines of architecture, landscape design and urbanism.”

Since 1982, the juried series has featured architects and designers from throughout North America who have gone on to have widely influential practices. Past award-winners include Toshiko Mori, Teddy Cruz and Steven Holl.

According to the Architectural League, Hwang’s practice is “dedicated to developing creative approaches in confronting the pleasures and horrors of our contemporary ecologies.”

Much of Hwang’s work focuses on bats, a critical but largely misunderstood part of the ecosystem. Often considered “pests,” bats are also under siege by white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal infection, as well as habitat loss.

“In urban environments, we have a tendency to view most forms of urban wildlife as undesirable. Buildings and other structures are typically designed and constructed in ways to prevent animal inhabitation,” says Hwang. “By creating structures that support bat (and other urban wildlife) habitation, we can invoke curiosity in our ecosystem and increase awareness of the presence of animals.”

Recent works by Hwang include Bat Cloud, a cluster of stainless steel mesh pods suspended from trees in Buffalo’s Tifft Nature Preserve. Bats can roost and feed in the pods, which are filled with soil and native plants. From below, the shimmering installation resembles a cluster of roosting bats. In 2010, Hwang built Bat Tower in Griffis Sculpture Park, in East Otto, N.Y. The 12-foot-tall twisting pillar of plywood features nooks and crannies perfectly sized for bats.

To bring scientific and ecological precision to her habitats, Hwang collaborates with Katharina Dittmar, UB associate professor of biological sciences.

Omar Khan, associate professor and chair of architecture at UB, says the award is a significant recognition for Hwang in the context of the department’s focus on ecologically sensitive design.

“The UB Department of Architecture has a strong focus on ecological issues as they pertain to the built environment,” Khan says. “Hwang’s research and creative work bring attention to ways in which animals and humans can have a more mutualist relationship in the making of shelter. This award is a recognition of her unique voice and work in this socially and environmentally engaged area of design.”

Hwang’s current projects include Habitat Wall, a sculptural habitat for birds and bats. She will install a second iteration of Bat Cloud in Rotterdam, Netherlands, for the 2014 International Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam.

As part of the Emerging Voices lecture series, Hwang will present her work on March 13 in New York City at a talk scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Scholastic Auditorium at 557 Broadway.