Last edited 24 May 2022

Bee buildings



[edit] Introducing bees

[edit] Background and benefits

Bees are winged insects that are closely related to wasps and ants. There are seven families of bees with over 20,000 different species. They are an important part of the global ecosystem and exist on every continent apart from one. Humans and other species benefit greatly from bees as the pollinators of nearly three quarters of the plants, that produce 90% of the world's food.

The numbers of bees has been in decline, with the highest loss being recorded between between 2006 and 2015, when roughly 25 percent fewer species of bee were spotted globally.

Bees are commonly thought of as living in hives and making honey, however over 90% of bees do not actually live in hives or make any honey, they are solitary bees. Solitary bees are crucial to the pollination success of several crops such as cucurbits, blueberry, cranberry, tomatoes, eggplants, apples, plums, almonds, and lentils. Social bees do build and live in hives with the social order and colony set up around the queen bee, with worker bees and drones.

The United Nations World Bee Day is celebrated every year on May 20th, for more information visit :

[edit] Families and species

  • Andrenidae family are all mining bees; active in early spring, with a very light sting and velvety patches of hair on their faces.
  • Apidae family include honey bees, stingless bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, Diadasia bees, long-horned bees, orchid bees, and ground-nesting Anthophora bees.
  • Colletidae family are made up of two genera; the Colletidae, often called plasterer bees because their nest cavities are lined with a waterproof secretion. The genus Hylaeus are unique because the females carry pollen in a crop inside their bodies.
  • Halictidae family are brightly coloured metallic blue / green, so called sweat bees - they are mining bees. The alkali bees are also part of this group.
  • Megachilidae family are a bee genera that carry pollen on the underside of their abdomens. Familiar members are the mason bees, carder bees, and leafcutter bees.
  • Mellittidae family are mining bees from drier climates that often collect floral oils in addition to pollen and nectar.
  • Stenotritidae family is a small Australian mining bee family of exceptionally fast fliers.

[edit] Bee builders

[edit] Perfect hexagons

Apis Melifera bees makes typical bee-built hives that follow the well know hexagonal order which maximises storage areas while minimising the building materials required. Two types of hexagonal honeycomb cells are needed, small ones for rearing worker bees and larger ones for rearing drones, the male reproductive bees. The challenge arises when the bees need to link the lattices made of smaller cells with the larger ones, because the geometries don’t allow for a seamless fit. One issue is that bees don’t remodel their cells. In natural nests, workers must regularly transition between different cell sizes, merge inconsistent combs, and optimise construction in constrained geometries. Using automated image analysis of naturally built honeycombs, scientists have found that some building configurations are more difficult for the bees than others, and that workers overcome these challenges using a combination of building techniques, such as: intermediate-sized cells, regular motifs of irregular shapes, and gradual modifications of cell tilt.

[edit] Spiral Towers

The tetragonula carbonaria bee does not have a sting and so creates a maze to trick its predators into getting lost and being killed by a mixture of wax, mud and vegetable resin. These bees build spiral-shaped towers which are called brood combs, the structures link hundreds of individual egg chambers together into a continuous staircase of unborn baby bees, some of these spiral towers can have over 20 storeys. A research paper from the Royal Society showed that the structures of the Tetragonula construct a brood comb with a spiral or a target pattern architecture in three dimensions and that crystals possess these same patterns on the molecular scale.

[edit] Underground hives

Bumblebees, of the genus Bombus, locate their natural beehives underground, usually in abandoned animal burrows and tunnels. The queen bumblebee will select a hive site for that year after emerging from hibernation. She will line the hole in the ground with dry grass and moss in preparation for the first brood of worker bees. The workers will sometimes build a wax canopy over the hive entrance to deter their predators, mainly skunks.

[edit] Aerial hives

Aerial, or open-air, hives are constructed by southeastern Asian honey bees belonging to the genera Micrapis and Megapis. These permanent natural hives are similar to the temporary swarm nests of the Apis mellifera honey bees. The Asian bees construct honey and brooder combs attached to exposed tree limbs or cliff faces. They coat the immediate surrounding area with waxy propolis to prepare it for comb construction. The parallel, evenly spaced rows of combs are covered by the bodies of the bee colony members for protection from the elements and predators. During rainstorms the bees on the outer layer extend their wings over the swarm to keep the inner combs dry.

[edit] Hollow trees

Feral or wild Apis mellifera honeybees are eusocial, meaning they live in large, well-organised colonies employing a strict division of labour. Commonly building their hives in hollow trees, they are cavity dwellers, a characteristic that makes the species easily domesticated. In the wild, they will seek out an enclosed space with a capacity of 15 to 100 litres in which to build their hive. Once the bees have selected a suitable tree with a hollow trunk high enough off the ground to deter honey hunters and with a south-facing, downward-pointing entrance, they set to work preparing their new hive. The bees strip off outer layers of bark to smooth the walls, then seal and coat them with propolis or "bee glue" made from tree and plant resins in preparation for building wax honeycombs.

[edit] Bee inspired buildings

[edit] Beehive houses

The earliest recorded conical or beehive shaped buildings have been attributed to early Anatolians, living in the Urgup Valley of Turkey's central Anatolian Plateau. By 3,700 B.C. examples of tholoi mud brick building have been found in neighbouring Cyprus. Ancient beehive houses can also be found in the hot climates of Aleppo, Syria of the 6th millennium BC, whilst, the Celtic hive dwellings of Scotland and Ireland date back to 200 BC.

[edit] Stone church beehives

Rosslyn Chapel (formerly Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew) located in the village of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland, was founded in 1446 as a family chapel. Following the Reformation, the Chapel fell into disrepair. In 1650, Cromwell’s troops attacked the castle and stabled their horses inside the Chapel. After a period of Victorian repair and restoration, it was rededicated in 1862, in 1954 it was again in poor condition and in 1995 following a condition report Rosslyn Chapel Trust started a major conservation project. As part of this restoration they discovered a 600-year-old hive that had been built into the stonework. The bees entered the hive through a hole in a carved flower crafted by the chapel's master stone masons.

[edit] Antoni Gaudi - Cooperativa Mataronesa

According to architectural historian Juan Antonio Ramirez, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) used catenary arches first in his designs for the Cooperativa Mataronesa factory, which he believes were directly inspired by the form of natural beehives. He supported this claim referencing the Gaudi designed graphics of a flag with a bee on and coat-of-arms representing the workers as bees (a symbol for industriousness and cooperation) that accompanied the project.

[edit] Mies van der Rohe - Honeycombe skyscraper

One early unbuilt design by Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) is the 1921 project which was the nicknamed the “honeycomb”. Ramirez views, the glass skyscraper as evidence that Mies was looking into nature, specifically to bees as well as innovative new design methods.

[edit] The beehive of the Metropolitan Tower, Chicago

The Metropolitan Tower, Chicago, was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and completed in 1924. The building has a 12 metre zinc-coated stainless steel sheathed pyramid at the top which is peaked by a 6 metre glass beehive ornament containing a blue glass box filled with six 1000-watt lightbulbs which emit a deep blue light. The beehive, representing hard work and industrialisation is supported by four limestone bisons and is sometimes referred to as the Beehive Building.

[edit] Zvi Hecker - Ramot Polin apartments

The Ramot Polin apartments, designed by Zvi Hecker in Ramot Polin, East Jerusalem, built by the Ministry of Housing between 1972 and 1975 are an example of a 'human hive'.

[edit] Teuto Rocholl - Mother Temple of Europe

The Bahá’í House of Worship or Mother Temple of Europe near Frankfurt am Main was a 1954 competition winning entry by young Frankfurt based architect Teuto Rocholl and was completed 10 years later. The design reflected the postwar interest in buildings with simple structures and walls of glass, built using a steel concrete skeletal (exposed concrete) construction. The reconstructed steel concrete ribs were assembled on site and fixed in place with poured steel concrete rings brought into place at the lower and upper extremities of the ribs around a central hive like atrium space.

[edit] Bees in the built environment

Whilst the overall population of bees is in decline, the numbers of bees recorded in urban areas is said to have increased, although the relative areas of land now considered urban has also increased globally. Urban bee keeping has also been steadily on the increase across cities and towns along with guidance to designers and developers about how to support pollinator populations.

An increase in green / blue infrastructure including wildflowers is encouraged to support bee populations as well as the use of building elements such as bee bricks, which integrate a series of narrow openings like those where solitary bees are known to nest. The aim being to increase opportunities for habitats for solitary bees which make up nearly 250 of the approximately 270 bee species in Britain.

Nature scot publish guidance stating that a pollinator-friendly development should provide:

  • Food - A variety of 'pollinator-friendly' food sources from early spring until late autumn. Wildflowers, plants, flowering trees and shrubs are all needed.
  • Shelter- Pollinators need safe nesting and hibernation areas. Bumblebees will nest in long grass and hedgerows. Many solitary bees nest in the ground. Others will take advantage of spaces in dry stone walls and wood.
  • Habitats- Flower-rich grasslands, flowering trees and hedgerows, small patches of nectar-rich rooftop and window box planting.
  • Less pesticides- Minimise pollinator exposure to pesticides.

Pollinator Strategy - 2021 Progress Report was published by Nature scot in January 2022. The National Pollinator Strategy 2014 to 2024: implementation for the UK was published in 2019 following The National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England along with its supporting document which was published in November 2013.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was established in 2006, it is a UK charity that actively monitors and conserves bumblebees and their habitat. The UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) gathers data on a wide range of flower-visiting insects.

The Bee Coalition formed in 2012 when the UK’s main environmental groups joined forces to bring attention to the plight of bees and other pollinators and to inspire and engage policymakers, industry and the public to protect these invaluable, irreplaceable animals.

Pollinating London Together (PLT), is a pan-livery organisation, inaugurated in June 2019 as a long-term initiative to halt the decline of pollinators in the City of London and its immediate environs.

The British Beekeepers Association, founded in 1874 continues to support and provide valuable guidance to beekeepers across the UK.

These organisations as well as the wildlife trusts and many others publish useful guidance about how best to to support pollinator populations.

[edit] Beehive designs

[edit] Langstroth

The Langstroth is the most common beehive, it is one of the oldest beehives having been invented, by a Rev. LL Langstroth in 1852. The design has adapted over the years, but the basic modular, expandable beehive approach remains, with easy access for the beekeeper. The key innovation was the use of convenient vertically-hanging frames, on which bees build their comb.

[edit] Warre

The Warre beehive, looks like a mini-Langstroth. Its designer, was a French monk called Abbé Émile Warré. He aimed to design a beehive mirroring the type of space bees choose in a natural setting, which resulted in a design intended to be similar to a hollow tree. A key difference is that new boxes are added beneath the existing boxes, rather than on top. The individual boxes are smaller and lighter and the existing boxes need to be moved up in the stack when adding a new one.

[edit] Horizontal

The Horizontal hive functions similarly to the Langstroth hive, but with the benefit of no heavy lifting. While the Langstroth hives boxes are stacked upon each other, the horizontal hive has everything on one level. These hives have a lid that opens up, and some models have observation windows, the frames used are the same as regular Langstroth hives.

[edit] Top Bar

The Top Bar Hive (TBH) is more recent and quite different relatively speaking, presenting the bees at a convenient height, with no heavy, honey-laden boxes to lift, just individual frames of comb. It has a single, long box design which means no expansion capabilities, but greater simplicity, so a popular design for many hobbyist beekeepers.

[edit] Golden Hive (Einraumbeute) or One-Room Hive

The Golden Hive was designed about 30 years ago for biodynamic beekeepers in Europe by Thomas Radetzki. It is a one-room hive and has deep, large frames that can accommodate brood, pollen and honey on the one comb.

[edit] The Hex Hive

A stackable, hexagonal-shaped hive designed and built by Willow Hankinson in Australia. It uses both, three-sided frames and top bars to fill in the gaps.

[edit] Dome Hive

The dome hive is a curved top bar hive, and can be hung from a tree or shelter, or placed standing on a tripod. It consists of kiln-dried pine assembled into a top dome, a bottom dome and a central ring. Inside there are ten top bars for honeycomb, and two for ventilation.

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