They may be fuzzy and small, but bees keep our world buzzing.
Over 80% of the world’s flowers have bees to thank for their bloom. One-third of the food we consume depends on pollinators like bees. And about 75% of crops, from apples and peaches to almonds, rely on pollinators like honey bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and others. In short, bees are worthy of the royal treatment, and a new pavilion is doing just that.
Perched at the edge of a lake in the woodlands of The Newt Hotel in Somerset, Beezantium is a home for bees–and the people who want to learn about them. Designed by Piers Taylor of British firm Invisible Studio, the new structure houses a visitor experience that aims to spread awareness about the insects’ essential role in our ecosystems—and thousands of bees.
Unlike other apiaries that house bees in a glass box for people to look at, Beezantium is the apiary, as bees live inside the very walls of the structure. “A glass box in the middle was too obvious,” says Taylor. “I wanted the building to be the hive, not to make a public space we put a hive in.”
The exterior of the building is clad with oak panels, each separated by 1-inch gaps. Bees fly into the walls from those cracks, and from an array of small copper tubes poking out from the structure. From the inside, visitors can watch bees building honeycomb, storing nectar and pollen in the cells, and even grooming each other, through a number of observational hives nestled in the walls. They can smell the waft of honey being produced. And they can hear the buzz too, by simply being in the space, or by sitting on yellow chairs with integrated speakers that relay the “rich, dense sound of bees at work.”
Right in the center, an accompanying exhibition features an interactive honeycomb replete with visuals and information about bees from all over the world. Designed by Dutch design agency Kossmanndejong, the playful exhibition teaches visitors about the importance of bees to the environment.
Bees play a critical role in every part of the ecosystem. The pollen they spread is essential to crops, and the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants. But bee populations are under threat from environmental pollution, climate change, and loss of habitat. The world is home to over 20,000 bee species. Since the 1990s, one quarter of them, or a whopping 5,000 bees species, have gone missing. (This doesn’t necessarily mean they are extinct, but it does mean that they are so rare they haven’t been observed in nature for over three decades.)
Honeybees are not endangered, but populations worldwide have dropped from 5.9 million colonies in 1947 to 2.7 million in 2020. They like to live in woodlands, orchards, and all kinds of areas where flowering plants are abundant. Within their natural habitat, they build nests inside tree cavities. In Somerset, the estate was already home to two native colonies, some of which needed to be rehoused after trees had fallen down on the estate.
At the start of September, four colonies of bees had moved into the walls of the Beezantium — some with the help of the estate’s local beekeeper, Paul Carnell, others on their own. That’s thousands and thousands of bees for us humans to admire, observe, and learn from.