In the past five years dystopic visions of a collapsing part of our ecosystem and the DIY local food movement have combined forces to exalt the humble bee as a new urban hero – deftly navigating the city’s concrete pastures and providing free pollination service to all flowering plants in its path. Not surprisingly, design proposals are starting to sprout up which incorporate the urban bee in different ways. Two diametrically opposite projects come to mind – the first being a pragmatic proposal for riverside renewal and community building in Oslo, and the second a fantastical vision involving bio-hacking and species modification.
In Palynopolis by Eriksen Skajaa Architects and Christina Charlotte Tolfsen a riverside park in Oslo is transformed into an apiary with strategically located beehive harvesting units designed to demonstrate the importance of maintaining biotopes in and around our cities. The apiary includes a community garden and the two will have “a strong social agenda as it will be possible for the public to take part in the honey production and to learn more about bees.” Marcus Schaefer, the head juror, and also from AMO/OMA comments on the proposal’s significance when he says “By suggesting a series of beehive harvest units to be placed in the green belt around the Aker River, which runs north-south through Oslo, the authors want to show the importance of counter-acting the decline of biotopes in and around our cities today…a first step for a new type of urban gardening, inviting the public to bring flowers and plants for pollination into these urban beehives along the Aker River in Oslo…The beekeepers in their white protective suits could be envisioned as shadows, urban ghosts, that follow any architectural event, perhaps even any project. A new type of awareness is then positively raised through this proposal.”
In ‘New Synthetic Pollinators: The Beamer Bees’, the Power of 8 project paints a wholly different future for bees. In the fictional Acres Green, a community of biologists and bio-hackers have joined forces to create a new species of glowing bee called the Beamer Bee, designer to service under-pollinated plants due to the disappearance of the honey bee. The Beamer Bees are guided by radiowaves to crops requiring pollination. They are produced in a limited number each year, and their interactions with the bumble bees and other creatures are tightly monitored.
Both of these projects, while vastly different in scope and tone, point to an emerging trend in design, which cast non-humans in a pivotal role. It is reminiscent of Stefano Boeri’s call for a non-anthropocentric urban ethics, where the needs of all living systems in the city are considered and not just those of humans. Of course, both of these projects serve us in the end, since we are so reliant on bees to help pollinate the plants that eventually feed us. Still it’s an interesting move in what seems to be a good direction away from post-rendered green roofs and ecological greenwash that dominates so many proposals today. Time will tell if projects start emerging focused on different living species which create synergies between natural systems and specific urban needs — cloth roofing systems entirely generated from on site silk worms, accelerated composting systems for waste management using bio-hacked dung beetles etc.