The University of Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning seems especially respectful of nature. After the success of their bat tower, a beautifully-designed structure for a bat colony that the bats themselves seem to love, the school’s architecture and urban planning grad students moved on to designing new spaces for bees. According to the school, a massive and thriving colony was living in an abandoned, derelict office building in Buffalo owned by Rigidized Metals Corporation, a metals manufacturer. When the president of the firm was visiting the old space, which is targeted for rehabilitation, he discovered the gigantic hive. Instead of calling the exterminator, he decided to launch a design competition to find the colony a new, safer home. They’ve since moved into the grad student’s winning design: the 22-foot-tall Elevator B, a “free-standing steel, glass and cypress tower.”
The bee colony had been living in the walls of the old office for some time. Given the hive was humongous — and therefore a successful home for the bees – the students didn’t know if the bees would actually move. The students decided to use hexagonal shapes, inspired by natural honeycomb, and mimic the tubular design of the nearby grain silos. Inside the bee tower, a “bee cab” or elevator made of cypress and glass was created. The shape was designed to provide the colony “protection and warmth.”
The bees did indeed make the shift, and now there’s safe access for both bees and people. ”The bees will 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.” Furthermore, the glass wall enables people to better interact with the colony. “The bee cab typically will be in a raised position to allow visitors to step into the tower, look up and watch the colony through a glass window.”
Bees are under enormous pressure. The Scientific American reports that one-third of all honeybee colonies have died out in the past six years. Possible culprits include viruses, mites, the spread of unnutricious plants, or pesticides. Now, two studies have recently implicated insecticides in colony deaths. The issue is very serious for us as well: without bees, there won’t be much agriculture. “They pollinate about one third of U.S. crop species, including almonds, apples, grapes, soybeans, cotton, and others, the failure of which could lead not only to food shortages, but also to large economic hits for farmers—and consumers.”
Beyond building hives bees like, landscape architects, designers, and gardeners of all kinds can help support these hard workers of the natural world by eliminating the use of chemical insecticides and incorporating the plants bees love. The College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley, has created a list of these plants.
In other news from the natural world, scientists discovered that the shark fin soup beloved in many parts of Asia is not only terrible for sharks but also for people. The New York Times reports: “Shark fins contain high levels of a potent neurotoxin that scientists have linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” Demand for the soup leads to about 73 million shark deaths annually and the destruction of the delicate food chains in marine ecosystems.