+ Case Study: High Line

When the High Line (a now defunct elevated railway on Manhattan's west side) extended down to and through Westbeth artists housing on Bethune Street before its removal several years ago, the superintendents of the building had a well rehearsed response to tenant complaints about bats - beating the bats to death with a broom (there are no documented cases of bat-delivered rabies in NY, and few if any in the US). This bat population was never formally studied (as is the case with most urban animal populations, a scientific blind spot) so there is no real information on the species involved or the size of the population. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the bats only abandoned Westbeth when the High Line disappeared. In the rest of the city we know that bats continue to appear, as noted by the New York Times (5.16.04):

Of the 10 or so species that live in New York State, four or five are thought to brave city life, creating crowded colonies in warm spaces under apartment roofs. Traces of three species (the Big Brown, Little Brown and Red) were found during last year's BioBlitz, a survey of Central Park's wildlife by the Explorers Club. But beyond that, except for a few anecdotal sightings and deliveries of dead bats to the American Museum of Natural History, there is only guesswork, no estimate even of the population's size.

These elusive inhabitants have survived, and cohabitated with us in Manhattan despite our best efforts to the contrary. We would like to change this relationship, acknowledge them, invite them and moreover celebrate these fascinating creatures and cohabitants.

A composite view of the high line in New York. High line photo montages: All images courtesy of Jonathan Flaum. (c) Jonathan Flaum 2001 http://www.thehighline.org/

Bats in Space

A series of bat detectors spatially arrayed along the High Line to provide audible tracings of bat flights in the night sky. The sensation of hearing bats fly by is one of seeing in the dark, as barely visible shadows suddenly become discernible then fall back into the obscurity, reappearing further down.

This proposal acknowledges the commitment to quiet on the High Line but argues that providing natural sounds constitutes quiet. Please review some of the bat sounds collected with the frequency shifting technology of bat detectors: http://xdesign.nyu.edu/wiki/index.php/Bat_Sounds

Bat detectors are robust and simple circuits with a long history of robust use and electronic optimization, but the phenomena of spatially arrays has rarely been used, and never set up permanently. In 2002 I installed a 5 station version installed in 2 urban context in the Netherlands with a local bat organization, and demonstrated the effect that was nothing short of astounding--think of black fireworks.

Sound pollution and the architecture of reciprocity

Following the commitment to the principal of reciprocity in civil society an additional feature of Bats in Space will study ultrasonic sound pollution. These high frequency sounds are particularly suitable to active and passive noise cancellation, and are often generated by mechanical systems and contemporary technology (refrigeration pumps; air-conditioning units etc). We may be able to offer increase ?visibility? to the bat inhabitants in this zone at relatively low cost in the immediate vicinity of the High Line.

Bats in Place: The High Line Bat Building

BATS in PLACE proposes the inclusion of bat accommodation in the High Line project. Specifically we propose the explicit design of places for bats to inhabit?but not just habitable, we propose the provision of luxury accommodation to provide sufficient lifestyle advantage for the bats such that they tolerate proximity with and interaction with humans. This bat housing will be designed with an interface which will allow the close viewing of the bats roosting, and will script specific interactions:

A light switch: The primordial domestic convenience technology the human/bat interface will have light switches that allow people to illuminate the bats for viewing, and likewise will allow bats to illuminate people for viewing; bat operable light switches on the bat side; human operable light switches on the other side.

What people can do:

What bats can do:

If a person turns on the light the bats can turn it off, and vice versa.

Bat illumination in captivity is usually done with Infrared light which seems to be well tolerated. However this interaction can demonstrate bat preferences which have previously been unexamined.

A robotic bat: Bat communication in roosts is done via complex array of purring or humming vibrations, many of which are audible to the humans. The robotic bat can deliver a series of batlike utterances to enable people to experiment with bat communication.

What people can do:

What bats can do:

The thesis of this project?as in other ooz interfaces?is that language and meaning arise from interaction attempts. The lexicon of bat communication is vast and probably as dynamic and geographically variant as human communication strategies. See /wiki/batresearch

Bat Billboarding: a public face; an invitation to local advertisers; a revenue stream and sustainable support model

In a hierarchy of needs the bats care about dampened temperature cycles such as found in caves, restricted openings, cling able surfaces (see image of bat on brick archwork) and proximity to insectivorous resources. The proximity to water can add waterborne insects to a healthy varied diet. The moth attraction of the ubiquitous streetlighting in an urban context provides the equivalent to fast-food drive-thru outlets for the bats. In short the architecture of these bat apartments can address the local material dialect (see birdhouses). Attracting bats to man made bat cave is typically done by waiting, however, temperature control?passive or active?may be the most effective attractant in this context.

Like a traditional billboard it would bias to local businesses and the pricing structure would provide for the ongoing attention to, maintenance, fostering and study of the bat population therein. Advertisers would also enjoy the tax deductibility and goodwill generation of supporting the bats.

Advertisers could respond to this challenge in interesting ways mining thousands of years of bat imagery that incorporated mystery, nocturnal intrigue with their presence. For instance the local floral shop, Bloom, would have an image of their flower arrangements with a bat visiting one of the blooms, demonstrating the little known pollination services of bats; Marc Jacobs: using current image on the 7th/11th and Greenwich Ave billboard as an example could incorporate tiny bat emergence holes in the hair of the raging woman and out of the mouth of the screaming man; An image of a Stella McCartney adorned model enjoying the bat interactions; or a gathering of martini sippers seated in street seating of Florent watching bats emerge against the unique vista of the sun setting over the High Line; illustrate the coupling of advertising and bat interests.

The billboard along the High Line on 24th Street. Photo credit: David Patrick Columbia, New York Social Diary