The Hive at Kew pays tribute to the world's busiest insects

The Hive. Photo: Kew Gardens.

The Hive. Photo: Kew Gardens.


When bees were placed on the us endangered species list for the first time last autumn, Wolfgang Buttress’ the Hive took on a whole new resonance.

Originally built for the Milan Expo 2015, the 17-metre high installation found a permanent home in the Kew Royal Royal Botanical Gardens last June. Conceived by Brit artist Wolfgang Buttress, Hive is a suspended latticework structure in which 170,000 pieces of aluminium positioned around an illuminated dome.

From a distance, it looks like a swarm of bees; up close, hundreds of flickering LED lights and low humming sound create a multi-sensory simulation of a hive itself; light and sound are controlled by the vibrations of honeybees in an actual hive at Kew that is connected to the sculpture.

From the warlike cries of queen bees to sounds used to beg for food, honeybees use vibrations to communicate to each other through the tiny bones in their heads. By biting into a wooden stick connected to a conductor, visitors to the Hive get a sense of these vibrational messages.

Inspired by the plight of bees, who pollinate 70 per cent of the most important crops we eat, The Hive is a beautiful integration of architecture and art, design and science, the environment and its creatures. Few other places exist in which a visitor will be able to explore the life of the bee so intimately.  ‘I want visitors to feel enveloped, wrapped-up and involved in the experience, rather than adopting the position of an external observer,’ Buttress told the Guardian.

The sculpture is surrounded by a wild flower meadow planted with native species, including clovers and cornflowers. Fifty species of wild bees have been identified at Kew feeding on the flowers.

The Hive’s meditative soundtrack of a 40,000-strong honeybee colony, along with instruments and the human voice, created by members of the band Spiritualized, was named as one of the Guardian’s best albums of 2016.

"The Hive creates a powerful, immersive space for us to explore the urgent issues we face in relation to pollinators, their intimate relationships with plants and their vital role in helping us feed a rapidly growing population," says Richard Deverell, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens told Dezeen.