Designed by Amsterdam-based NEXT Architecture, the Vlotwateringburg — better known as "Batbridge" — pulls double duty as both a curvaceous crossing for pedestrians and cyclists and as an all-seasons habitat for different species of roosting bat colonies. Bisecting a natural flight path for flying mammals with mugs that only a mother could love, the 230-foot Batbridge was commissioned by the South Holland municipality of Westland to serve as a car-free entryway to the Poelzone waterfront recreation area.
As a work of Chiroptera-friendly architecture, Batbridge employs numerous subtle yet beneficial design considerations. But first and foremost, the structure stands as a river-straddling pedestrian bridge — and a handsome one at that. And NEXT, which also maintains an office in Beijing, has produced designs for several in the past including Anacostia Landing, a conceptual span for Washington, D.C.'s 11th Street Bridge Park Design Competition.
On the habitat front, the bridge’s 82-foot concrete arch, from a thermal standpoint, provides a “pleasant and stable climate for bats” while slits on the underside of the structure serve as an ideal roosting spot that's snug, secure and largely out of sight from natural predators such as owls. Most importantly, the slits prove an excellent grip for upside-down nap sessions.
Masonry cavities smartly incorporated into the sculptural timber- and brick-clad span provide additional protected shelter to winged lodgers during the chilly months.
Explain the designers:
The Bat bridge is designed to house bats in as many ways as possible. In the design we figured out that we could use the specific qualities of the mass of the concrete, the height of the construction within the deck and the railings for pedestrians and bicycles for bats as well. These spaces provide unique opportunities to house bats.
While it has yet to be seen if bats have given the bridge an enthusiastic webbed thumbs up, bat experts have enthusiastically endorsed the project. Marcel Schillemans of the Dutch Mammal Society calls Vlotwateringburg a “textbook example of how a functional object can at the same time serve nature.”
NEXT Architects co-founder Bart Reuser explained to Dezeen back in June: "One of the noticeable things of the area was that there were already different types of bats flying the route over the water — throughout the winter periods they hide in world war two concrete bunkers around the area, for the moderate climate. This became our inspiration, we thought we might be able to design the foundation (bridgehead) equating the environmental qualities of a bunker."
And in a nice bit of (intentional?) timing, it’s worth pointing out that International Bat Week, a conservation-minded annual celebration of these hugely beneficial critters that just-so-happens to align with Halloween, is once again upon us.
As part of festivities, event organizers are encouraging participants to pause from festooning their homes with bat décor (or putting the final touches on costumes resembling superheroes or sun-hating Eastern European counts with hematophagic dietary preferences) and to lend these incredibly vital — and not entirely vampiric — creatures a much-needed helping hand by building and installing a simple bat house. This year, the goal is to build 5,000 bat houses in the U.S. and Canada all in one very special day: October 31.
And in case you were wondering, the not-so-terrifying town of Monster — that is, unless you're petrified of greenhouses which this particular swath of the Netherlands happens to have a ton of — is thought to have gotten its name from the Old Dutch word monster or “big church” as, once upon a time, the town was home to a sizable house of worship. Others trace the town's name back to the Latin for monastery, monasterium.
In modern Dutch, the word monster translates in English to "sample." As for the insect-chomping, echolocating residents of Vlotwateringburg, they're called vleermuizen.