A monumental steel beehive, planted deep inside London’s Royal Botanical Gardens, animates with the activity of a nearby natural nest: Glowing LED panels vary intensity according to the bees’ busyness, as does an accompanying soundtrack by Be—a dream team including Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and string section Amiina (a favorite of Sigur Ros) that recorded a series of ambient key-of-C improvisations inspired by bees’ buzzing. “These days we are bombarded by so many digital images and sometimes we forget how powerful and important sounds, touch and smell are,” said its maker, British sculptor Wolfgang Buttress. “So to me that was really important, that these elements were at the heart of the installation.”
In 2015, Buttress created “The Hive” as the centerpiece of the Milan Expo’s UK pavilion. Responding to the fair’s theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” Buttress imagined the installation as an homage to pollinators’ importance in feeding humanity and a clarion call for the challenges bees face (climate change, pesticides, lack of biodiversity). The intricate lattice, constructed out of 170,000 pieces of aluminum, took architectural cues from both the movement of the bees and the designs they build. “The Hive” won the expo’s Gold Medal, and has since garnered more than 20 accolades including judges’ and people’s choice in the Architizer A+ awards.
As the first pavilion installation to migrate from an expo to the UK, “The Hive” now sits within a historic urban ecosystem. Standing nearly 56 feet tall, visitors can meander through the meditative orb, and next month, experience it by night. On September 1 and 15, Kew Gardens will host two museum “lates” around the installation, inviting visitors to experience the soundscape amid the stars.
“The Hive” will live in Kew Gardens through 2017.