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Animal Architecture: Rescued Bee Colony to Get New Buffalo Waterfront Home

Bees famously labor for us, but in this case teams of UB students labored for them

Release Date: June 4, 2012

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UB architecture and planning students have designed a structure to house a colony of bees, and to educate the public about bee work and its contribution to our ecological system.

This steel skeleton on the site of Silo City will soon be a 22-foot, free-standing tower covered with stainless steel panels and will house a bee colony.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- This week, a massive and thriving colony of bees now living in the walls of an abandoned outbuilding in "Silo City," the former industrial site at the corner of Ohio and Child Streets, will get a glimpse of its brand new home.

"Elevator B," as it is called, won a design competition organized by the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning's Ecological Practices Research Group. The competition was sponsored by Rigidized Metals Corporation, Rigidized Metals CEO Rick Smith and colleague Jeff Eder, who own the site.

The design of Elevator B is described in detail with diagrams and drawings at http://hivecity.wordpress.com/design/phase-2-schematic-design.

The members of the winning team are Courtney Creenan, who graduated from UB in May with master's degrees in both architecture (MArch) and urban planning (MUP); Scott Selin and Lisa Stern, each of whom graduated with an MArch in May and Kyle Mastalinski and Daniel Nead, who will receive combined MArch and MUP degrees in 2013.

Bees, of course, are under enormous environmental and physical stress, and are perhaps less well understood than they should be, although in his day, St. John Chrysostom wrote that the bee "is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others."

The designers say their intention was not only to design a structure to house the bees, as the competition rules called for, but to offer a way to educate the public about bee work and its contribution to our ecological system.

The result is Elevator B, a 22-foot-tall, free-standing tower made of steel and covered with one of a kind Rigidized® stainless steel panels that were fabricated by RMC:LAB, a division of Rigidized Metals, and whose hexagonal shapes were inspired by natural honeycomb. Inside the structure is an innovative "bee cab" or bee elevator constructed of cypress and glass, which will actually house the colony and provide it with protection and warmth.

To see their work in progress, go to http://player.vimeo.com/video/42373401 and http://player.vimeo.com/video/43226729.

The bee cab typically will be in a raised position so visitors stepping into the tower can look up and watch the colony from below through a glass window. The bees enter the cab through holes near its top, about 10 feet above the ground in its raised position. The cab can be lowered to the ground to permit the beekeeper to attend to the health and safety of the bees.

The exterior panels have holes of varying density punched out of them to allow for an atmospheric experience for human visitors and to provide sun shading for the bee residents.

The students built the tower in the UB school's material and methods shop. It will be moved to its new site this week to be assembled and raised. The bees will be relocated from their current colony to Elevator B at the end of June.

As part of the competition, four teams of UB graduate and undergraduate architecture students worked through the spring to design habitats in which the entire "living body" of the colony -- thousands of bees and a huge honeycomb -- could live long and prosper.

The participating teams were directed by Christopher Romano, UB clinical assistant professor of architecture, and Martha Bohm and Joyce Hwang, both assistant professors of architecture. In 2010, Hwang famously designed and built an innovative structure to house bats and raise awareness of their enormous value to the ecosystem and of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that so far has killed more than 1 million bats throughout the country.

Hwang explains that the competition was a three-phase process that began with a 24-hour charrette (an intense period of design activity) from which four semifinalist teams were selected. The second phase culminated in the teams' presentation of schematic design proposals from which a jury selected two teams to continue into the final round of competition.

The two finalist teams presented detailed proposals, including construction drawings and cost estimates. Elevator B emerged as the winning project.

It is one its designers call "an iconic gesture symbolizing the regeneration of the Silo City site, both naturally and economically" because the material property of the tower represents the cluster of material manufacturers around the site, and the colony of bees are being rescued from an abandoned industrial building due to be renovated.

Rigidized Metals Corporation has assisted the UB School of Architecture and Planning on a number of design projects and, in concert with Smith, has made the buildings and grounds of Silo City available to the school for several experiments in design, student studio presentations, project construction and special events.

Rigidized Metals fabricates textures and finishes metals for use in architectural cladding, kitchen surfaces, panel systems and industrial parts.

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan
News Content Manager, Arts and Humanities, Public Health, Social Sciences
Tel: 716-645-4602
pdonovan@buffalo.edu