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UB professor's 'Pest Wall' design attracting notice from far and wide

A University at Buffalo architecture instructor has gained widespread attention designing accommodations for an unlikely audience -- pests.

Joyce Hwang will spend five weeks this spring at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., the nation's oldest artists colony, where she will conclude a semester-long sabbatical devoted to "Pest Wall" -- an outdoor wall that houses bats and other pests. Hwang is assembling a team of students to work on the project, which she hopes to construct in Buffalo this summer.

It will be the second prototype in a series of structures that draws attention to the importance of creatures such as insects and bats, by creating a place for them. Hwang's first pest project, "Bat Tower," was a twisted, 12-foot-tall bat house that she and students erected beside a pond at Griffis Sculpture Park last summer at Ashford Hollow.

"The types of animals that people think of as being pests actually can be beneficial to have in an urban setting," said Hwang, an assistant professor. "Bats, for example, eat mosquitoes. Oftentimes, if the animals are not well understood, there's a fear of the unknown. And that's unfortunate, because a lot of animals are critical to the ecosystem."

Hwang delivered a talk on the subject in 2009 at "Animals and Animality Across the Humanities and Social Sciences," a conference at Queen's University in Ontario. Bat Tower has been featured in a range of publications online and in print, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Good and Azure magazine.

Bat Tower features five triangular segments stacked atop each other, each with walls of finished plywood panels arranged in a ribbed, accordion-like pattern.

Some of Hwang's initial concepts for Pest Wall share a similar quality, with pieces of carved plywood -- some shaped like lightning bolts -- cascading down the sides of buildings in tightly spaced layers.

Other renderings show a nest of plywood frames -- all rectangular, but of different sizes -- pressed together to form an accordionlike wall.

The goal is to create openings that are comfortable for bats and maybe squirrels, but too small for larger, urban predators like raccoons.

Ideally, Hwang said, Pest Wall would be attached to an existing structure. Hwang has played with the idea of installing thermal cameras that would enable human residents to see their outdoor neighbors.

Hwang plans to finalize her drawings by May and begin construction soon after.

Once Pest Wall is complete, she will go to work on her next pest architecture project: "Pest Pavilion," a free-standing, urban structure whose roof and walls would make a good home for bats.

e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com

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