Published February 14, 2014
Associate professor of architecture Joyce Hwang, 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, a most coveted recognition in the field.
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, for 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. Practically 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, NY. 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 built environment. Hwang’s research and creative work brings attention to ways in which animals and humans can have a more mutualist relationship in the making of shelter. This reward is a recognition of her unique voice and work in this socially engaged area of design."
Currently under way for Hwang is Habitat Wall, a sculptural habitat for birds and bats. Hwang will also 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 in New York City on Thursday, March, 13, 2014 (7 pm, Scholastic Auditorium, 557 Broadway).