“Farm follows function” – a catchy maxim I first heard used by American architect and urban agriculture advocate William McDonough – could well be the calling card for two newly installed beehives on an Oslo rooftop. Everything about the Vulkan Bigård project, from the honey-coloured wood used in construction to the comb-patterned ornamentation, resonates with a bee vibe.
Designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta and positioned on the roof of a local food market, the hives are home to roughly 160,000 individuals and have produced 80 kilograms of honey for beekeeper clients Heier Du Rietz. “We didn’t just want to make the hive look good,” says lead designer Peter Girgis. “We wanted the bees to be happy.” In other words: aesthetics after apiary.
It’s surprising to see honeybees making their homes in an urban centre, and even more remarkable to find one built for them. However, with diverse vegetation readily accessible, cities provide an excellent habitat. In contrast to rural areas, where monocultural crops limit nectar and pollen sources, city parks and gardens can offer exactly what bees need: a progression of blooming plants, from spring to fall.
Of course, one problem with beekeeping in cities is that people often fear the insects. Girgis admits that he felt it himself on site, “the hum was so loud.” But close contact, watching the bees work and interact, led him to a changed perspective. Now, when he tends his own garden and sees them buzzing around, he thinks, “That bee could be one of the ones living in the hive we made.”
Thus the Vulkan Bigård project is not simply about creating a home for bees in the city; it is also about reimagining the city as a home for them.
Lorraine Johnson is the author of City Farmer and editor of Ground: Landscape Architect Quarterly.