The critically acclaimed structure The Hive encapsulates the story of the honey bee and the important role of pollination, through an immersive sound and visual experience.
What is The Hive?
The Hive is a unique structure, inspired by scientific research into the health of bees. Designed by UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress, it was originally created as the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo.
The installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminium which create a lattice effect and is fitted with hundreds of LED lights that glow and fade as a unique soundtrack hums and buzzes around you.
These multi-sensory elements of the Hive are in fact responding to the real-time activity of bees in a beehive behind the scenes at Kew. The sound and light intensity within the space changes as the energy levels in the real beehive surge, giving visitors an insight into life inside a bee colony.
The award-winning honeycomb structure features lighting and music which fluctuate in harmony with a real beehive.
It may look like an alien spacecraft has landed at Kew Gardens , but this shimmering whorl of aluminium is actually an ode to an every day visitor – the humble bee.
The Hive looms amid the greenery like a vast swarm but as you approach, the intricate structure modelled upon the architecture of a honeycomb is revealed.
What’s more, Wolfgang Buttress’s spectacular sculpture is hooked up a real beehive in the gardens and contains nearly 1,000 LED lights which flicker in time to vibrations as the winged insects chatter among themselves.
To complete the mood, and immerse you even more completely into the inner world of the pollinator, the sonorous hum of a specially composed soundtrack envelops visitors as they enter the 17 metre tall mesh – growing louder as activity levels rise within the colony.
‘Conversation between visitors and the bees’
As The Hive’s creator puts it, the towering installation is an attempt to engender a “conversation” between humans and the unpaid workers responsible for pollinating the vast majority of crops we consume.
“The bee is a barometer of the earth’s health – a kind of sentinel of the planet – and by connecting (the sculpture) to a real beehive I hoped to give visitors a sense of connection to bees and to nature,” he says.
“It’s like a conversation between you, the bees, the landscape and the sculpture.”
The Hive – all 170,000 pieces and 40 tonnes of it – was imported from the Milan Expo 2015, where it was the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion.
A wildflower meadow was specially created to accommodate it, meaning visitors ascending the spiral staircase can imagine themselves as bees returning to the colony.
Insight into bees’ vital role in crop production
Kew Gardens’ resident bee expert Phil Stevenston says he hopes the installation will give visitors an insight into the insects’ lives and the importance of protecting the diverse array of plants they rely on for food.
“Diversity is incredibly important for bees and other pollinators, and it doesn’t take much effort, just a little knowledge, to contribute,” he says.
“Anyone with a garden can help by growing plants that provide forage for pollinators and are not just there to look attractive.
“With some of the multi-petalled flowers (specially bred for their looks), bees are unable to access the nectar or pollen.”
As well as soaking up the sights and sounds as they harmonise with nature, visitors can learn more about bees and their role in the ecosystem.
Listening posts enable you to eavesdrop on bee communication
On the ground floor, for example, a series of listening posts allow you to eavesdrop on bees’ communication via vibration.
Just stick a lollipop into one of the slots, and you can feel the buzz of the insects giving directions, begging for food or squaring up to one another.
Each day, from 11am-5pm a group of “hive explainers” will be on hand to lead you around the structure and explain the importance of bees.
Visitors can also follow a “pollination trail” around the gardens, and you can also meet the experts and get the lowdown on growing wild flowers at a series of special events.
Kew will also host three “Hive Lates” this September, giving you the chance to take in the sculpture’s beauty while sipping on honey-infused cocktails as dusk descends.
THE HIVE FACTS
• The sculpture stands 17 metres tall and weighs 40 tonnes
• It consists of nearly 170,000 pieces of aluminium
• There are nearly 1,000 LED lights
• Bees tend to be more active just before a storm, as they return to the hive, meaning the changing light and music levels within the sculpture act as a handy barometer
• The soundscape of bees, cello and vocals was composed by space-rock band Spiritualized, along with Sigur Ros’s regular string section Amiina, Buttress’s singer daughter Camille and Dr Bencsik’s cellist wide Deirdre
• The music, which also features unusual bee noises, was made after discovering bees hum in the key of C. It is available as an album BE.ONE
• The meadow around the hive is planted with 34 different native UK plant species that provide important forage for bees
• The global value of pollination is estimated to be between £162bn and £399bn a year. In the UK alone it is £600m
• Of the 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 70 are pollinated by bees
• There are 270 species of bees, of which 90% are solitary creatures
• More than a quarter of bee species are “cuckoo bees”, meaning they lay their eggs in other bees’ nests
• The nectar of the rhododendron is toxic to honey bees, but not bumblebees
HOW CAN YOU HELP BEES?
We asked horticulturists at Kew which were the best plants gardeners could grow to support bees, and this is what they recommended
• White clover – the meadow around the hive is oversown with white clover, which although common and viewed by some gardeners as a weed, is a great food source for bees
• Prunella vulgaris
• Wild carrot