U. BUFFALO (US)—A twisted tower is raising awareness about bats and the fatal disease threatening their population in the Northeast.

Bats were first afflicted with white-nose syndrome in 2006, when a caver exploring terrain west of Albany, N.Y. photographed hibernating bats with a strange, white substance on their muzzles—a telltale sign of infection.

Since then, sick, dead, and dying bats have been found in and around caves and mines as far south as Tennessee and as far west as Oklahoma.

More than 90 percent of bats in some hibernacula have died, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“White-nose syndrome is a major ecological crisis,” says Joyce Hwang, assistant professor of architecture and planning at the University at Buffalo who designed the tower.

“Bats are animals that people practically consider to be pests, so there is a lack of desire to see them in the environment around us. But bats are a critical part of the ecosystem, and now they are facing this threat.”

The 12-foot-tall tower comprises five triangular segments stacked on top of one another and joined by steel bolts. The walls of each segment consist of finished plywood panels arranged in a ribbed, accordion-like pattern, with a narrow space separating each piece of wood from the next.

A plywood covering stained with a dark, rust color wraps around the top of the structure. Screws and steel cables hold the pillar together, bracing it to withstand wind or other lateral forces.

“Since I was a graduate student, I have taken an interest in the constructive relationships between humans and animals, and how we can shape our environment in a beneficial way,” Hwang says.

“Bat Tower draws attention to bats by challenging the notion of a bat house being something nondescript that fades into the background.”

Caves, with their long, seemingly endless hollows, were the inspiration for “Bat Tower,” which Hwang compares to a vertical cave. The structure’s many tight spaces are ideal for bats, she says.

The tower, fabricated and assembled with more than 400 plywood parts, has been permanently installed in a park in Cattaraugus County, N.Y.  Chives, oregano, and other herbs are planted at the bottom in an effort to attract insects for the bats to eat.

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