51 architecture’s swift, bat and town-twinning column in the heart of Woking celebrates wildlife, friendship and open borders. The column points the way to Woking’s twin towns of Rastatt in Germany and Le Plessis-Robinson in France. And it provides urgently needed nesting places for migrating swifts. The small surrounding garden encourages insects, and nearby is the notable wildlife habitat of the Basingstoke Canal.
The column transforms the public entrance to the Woking Borough Council into “an open-air classroom, somewhere for children to learn about the extraordinary lives of these tiny creatures,” says Mayor Beryl Hunwicks, pictured here in a lighthearted moment with 51 architecture’s Peter Thomas at the opening on August 1st 2019.
A swift’s map of the world
Inscribed on the column’s stone plinth is a map of the vast territory swifts cover to breed in the UK, with drawings of swifts by acclaimed wildlife artist Jonathan Pomroy.
A day in the life of a swift
Tiny wildlife cameras in the nesting chambers record the swifts for research, education and pleasure. Brian Cahalane of the Northern Ireland Swift Group shared this still from a video camera in his swift tower in Crumlin to give an idea of what we can look forward to from the Woking column Cahalane's tower has 12 nesting boxes and this year 7 pairs bred successfully. "The other 5 boxes also had pairs, but they were not old enough to breed," he explains. "They will next year, and this will fully fill the tower.”
Binge watch videos from Swift Conservation.
Architecture working with nature
We have long admired the WWF’s Living Planet Centre by Hopkins Architects for its passive design principles and its integration of mature trees with natural daylight.
Swifts and bats of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham’s new Green Heart parkland, designed by Churchman Thornhill Finch and opened in June 2019, includes another purpose-made swift and bat column by 51 architecture.
Contact Catherine du Toit at 51 architecture on +44  203 3551255 or firstname.lastname@example.org / www.51architecture.com
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Behind every great project there’s a great team
Backing: Commissioned by the Green Infrastructure Team for Natural Woking. Initial R&D funding from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Flight data from the British Trust for Ornithology. Team: 51 architecture: Catherine du Toit, Thomas Smethurst, Peter Thomas. Column manufacture: Hutchinson Engineering. habi-sabi: Matthew Smith. Landscape design: Peter Beardsley. Stonework and engraving: Scribblestone Architectural Masonry. Swift artist: Jonathan Pomroy. Swift Conservation: Edward and Mandy Mayer. Woking: Tracey Haskins, Faouzi Saffer.
Join us to celebrate wildlife, friendship and Surrey’s food and drink scene
On Friday 30 August, the Woking Town Twinning Association will host a group from twin town, Rastatt visiting the column. Edward Mayer from Swift Conservation will give a talk at 10am, and renowned wildlife artist Jonathan Pomroy will be talking about his passion and showing us how to draw swifts. 51 architecture will be there celebrating wildlife, friendship and open borders. It’s the weekend of the award-winning annual Woking Food and Drink Festival, so we’ll also be celebrating Surrey’s food and drink scene.
Already missing the summer drama that swifts bring to our skies? Then may we recommend this excellent piece by Katherine Rundell in the LRB, packed full of amazing facts, including that swifts “evolved to have deep-set eyes with bristles in front, which act as sunglasses against the glare of the equatorial sun.” Signing off with more fabulous swifts drawn by Jonathan Pomroy for our column.