Fly By Night: A Designer’s Look at Bats in Seattle Parks

Sidney Greenslate, BLA ’21, completed this senior capstone research project and presented to the UW Landscape Architecture Department in Spring 2021.


Inspiration: Art, Science & Creativity

I was inspired to pursue this project in part by a talk given at the UW by landscape architect and designer David Buckley Borden. His playful, eye-catching installation pieces at the Harvard Forest combine science communication with keen design in the way that trained landscape architects are particularly poised to do. He encouraged the students in the audience to follow their individual interests, even if they don’t seem to fit the scope of traditional design practice, and to be bold with design concepts. I took his lecture to heart and I owe him some credit in my decision to take on this this project.

Bats occupy a strange space in our culture, even in environmentalist spaces. They are often classified as pests and as dangerous disease vectors, with little regard given for their unique biological niche and diversity. There are over 200 species of bats, which is evidence enough on its own that nature finds them valuable.

An excerpt from a zine being made by artists Sonya and Nina Montenegro (known professionally at The Far Woods) best summarizes the other-worldly, ephemeral quality of bats that enchants some, yet disturbs others:

These despised inbetweeners,
Shrouded in nighttime;
Existing on the edges –
The edges of Animal & bird,
Day & night;
The edges of Dark & light,
Earth & heaven;
Mystery, myth & superstition,
Existing in a liminal space,
That makes us uncomfortable,
In its in-betweenness.

I first began exploring bats in Seattle in Spring 2019, in an ecological design studio. Since then, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the cultural reputation of bats has taken a huge hit. I believe that landscape architects have a responsibility to the non-human life present in the landscapes they design. I found bats to be a niche worthy of exploring, since they need any positive representation they can get.

An Exercise in Pedagogy

As undergraduate students, there are limited opportunities for research on topics of personal interest in the College of Built Environments. It was important to me to challenge myself to pursue a topic I care about, create my own structure for research, and to connect that work to landscape architecture. I knew early on that I would need to provide myself with a support structure and to set the tone for the kind of work I wanted to produce.

This approach resulted in a personal contract agreement, which served as a set of guidelines for the scope of my research, explicitly outlining that I am not conducting true scientific research, but rather exploring a line of inquiry. I also established how I would treat myself and my mental health during this process, in case I began to struggle to complete work of my own volition.

I also established that the investigative approach to this work would be process-based, and less focused on a single final product. I structured the work into three main tasks: an annotated bibliography, field study sessions, and creative interpretation of findings.


Read more about Sidney’s project at storymaps.arcgis.com.

You can also view Sidney’s final presentation to the Department here.