For those who don’t know, last year Milan, the city I grew up in Italy, hosted the Expo 2015, a World’s Fair held under the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and The Hive was the UK’s national pavilion designated to showcase how technology and innovation mixed with national’s culture, traditions and creativity can be related to food and diet in order to overcome global challenges such as one of the world’s major issues of feeding a rapidly growing population.

Following this theme The Hive pavilion, imagined by the British artist Wolfgang Buttress with engineers Simmonds Studio and BDP Architects, takes shape from scientific research that raises awareness about the role of pollination as essential to human survival. It was one of the 145 pavilions at the Milan Expo 2015 and it was acclaimed as one of the best architectural results winning the gold medal for architecture and landscape at the end of the World Fair.

After Expo The Hive pavilion has been installed again in Kew Royal Botanic Gardens where it will stay until November 2017. I think the chosen location is the perfect new home for this structure that is now set in a wildflower meadow with plenty of signs spread around the area informing with interesting facts about insects pollination and the relationship between bees and plants.


The Hive creates a beehive-inspired space that provides an experience in which all the senses are involved. The installation includes glowing red lights and sounds that recall the buzz of bees. All these audio and visual effects allow the visitors to feel what it might be like to stand inside a real beehive. It’s a unique experience that you probably won’t be able to find anywhere else. I highly recommend to see The Hive even when the sun goes down so that you can admire the entire installation while turning into a vibrant fire-ball thanks to those vivid red lights. Scroll down here to get a feeling of it.


And lastly, the artist Wolfgang Buttress has been so kind to accept to answer to a couple of questions I had about the Hive. I thank him again and I hope you will enjoy these few more details and curiosities about him and his work.


Q. At the very beginning did you have any architecture, structure or artwork pieces you took inspiration from? Your work reminds me of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, I’m talking about The Hive, more clearly Rise in Belfast but even Lucent in Chicago.
Buckminster Fuller is an incredible man both in terms of his work and his philosophy. His harmonious approach to form, meaning, structure and aesthetics has definitely influenced me as an artist. His approach to establishing and expressing the essence of form has roots in Eastern philosophy which are as relevant and pertinent today as they ever were. 
Q. How did the original idea you had in mind evolved throughout the designing process facing the choice of materials, possible construction issues, adapting the form to a function? How different is your first drawing from the actual result?
I wanted the sculpture to be as visually delicate and lightweight as possible but still be able to accommodate many people within it. My first thought was to use steel but its own self weight precluded this for aesthetic considerations.  I choose aluminium (6082 T6 grade) for various reasons:
  • It was very light and relatively easy therefore to install.
  • If the pieces were cut by water jet there would incredible accuracy – this was needed – as we only had about a 1mm tolerance.
  • I was keen that the material could be easily recycled
  • I wanted the material to patinate naturally over time. 
The difference between my first drawing and the finished sculpture is remarkably similar as you can see from the sketch below.
Q. I read the pavilion will remain in Kew Gardens until the end of next year. Do you know what its fate will be afterwards? And is there any other place in London, the UK or the world in which you’d like to see the Hive, if possible, permanently?
We are in the middle of discussions about keeping the Hive at Kew for longer, possibly for another couple of years. The sculpture feels at home at Kew; visitor numbers are up (approximately 40%) and the idea of expressing the importance of the Honey Bee and pollinators to a new audience is very important to me. The problems facing the honey bee are global and it would be great if the Hive could move to either a new location in the North of England where it was conceived, designed and built, in Italy where it had its first home or in countries which have a personal resonance with me as Germany,  America or Japan. 
Q. And lastly, talking about the future, is there any architect, designer, artist you’d like to collaborate with?
I have been really fortunate in that, I have worked with some incredible architects and scientists over the last few years. I met Kengo Kuma recently in Japan and to work with him on a project would be amazing. I also greatly admire the work of garden designer and plantsman Pier Oudolf. Dan Pearson and I have been talking about collaborating on a project which hopefully we can realise in the next year. 


There’s still plenty of time to visit The Hive in Kew Gardens but just a little suggestion, try to go on a bright, sunny day (I know it’s hard now that winter is coming) so that you can see the pavilion changing in relation to the movement of the sun. You will see beautiful shadows drawing the surrounding area, the metallic structure will be shining and if you stay a bit longer until the sun sets the red lights within the beehive will offer you an unforgettable view.

Check the KEW ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS website to know more.

All photos and words by Nancy Da Campo
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