Interview: Nottingham Apiary Team

Our project stemmed from the fact human settlement had been exploiting the divide between us and other species for centuries, in large scale food production, monoculture and pollination…

We are happy to bring to you our next featured interview with one of the 2011 Animal Architecture Award winning projects, The Nottingham Apiary. This project began as a study to revive urban industry and proposes the re-introduction of a bee population to get jobs and manufacturing back on track. We think its a beautifully rendered and complex solution to a very pressing problem. Check it out here and congratulations to the team!

The Nottingham Apiary
Animal Architecture Awards: First runner up.
A written interview with Ana Moldavsky, Amelia Eiriksson, Fraser Godfrey, and Esko Williams.

Firstly, we’d like to talk with you about your beginnings. How did you become interested in exploring the space between humans and other species? Where would you say your work began and are you where you thought you’d be? Where do you feel that you’re going?

AM: As part of a group project in the Urban Manufacturing studio in the University of Nottingham, we researched bringing back manufacturing processes into the city. We became interested in the worldwide decline of the honey bee population, at first in relation to honey production, later evolving into a focus on the relationship between the honey bee, the natural environment, the city and the public.

FG: In addition we felt that the public weren’t fully aware of the dangers faced by the honey bee, and sought to convey this threat and its consequences in a more understandable and legible manner.

AM: The project evolved greatly during the 5 months we spent in the studio: the focus on the effects of humans on the natural environment and the critique of large-scale manufacturing was greater than we expected, as we developed our own brief and interests away from the studio’s

EW: I suppose the interest developed slowly in conjunction with the on-going debate about sustainability in architecture. I feel that too often the issue is reduced to mere energy-saving measures, when instead we should be concerned with establishing a healthier relationship to the world around us. This includes acknowledging our coexistence with other species, and I believe architecture must play a strong role in the process.

What were some of the most important factors that you were considering while developing your entry for the Awards?

AE: As stated above, we really wanted to turn a manufacturing process, something that is in essence a harsh environment, into something accessible that the public can see and understand.

The honey bee population is declining, however many people don’t realise the extent of the problem, and the affect it would have on all areas of our ecosystem, right down to the food that we eat. We wanted to show that an animal that has a bad reputation in relation to human habitats, is in fact beautiful and important, and that we can live in harmony with them, in a much closer way than we realise.

EW: I think it was very important for us that the project should establish strong and sensitive connections with its surrounding context, both materially and in terms of its programme. We didn’t want to lose the harshness of the derelict warehouse and its surroundings, but rather wanted to enhance it and even allow for a continuation of the decay.

The Nottingham Apiary offers a unique new collaboration with other species, asking questions and provoking alternative species perspectives – how does your creative process begin in bridging the species divide that exists between us and other animals? Moreover, why do you think it’s important to do so?

AM: I believe our project stems from the fact human settlement has been exploiting the divide between us and other species for centuries, in large scale food production, monoculture and pollination, causing some of the problems leading to the recent decline in honey bee populations. The restoration of local bee populations (and the possible replication in other locations) begins to address the narrowing of this gap. With the initial (re)introduction of honey bees to the site, existing plants and trees will benefit of pollination, spreading around the site and creating even more bee habitat, thus beginning a cycle of healthy natural environment growth. The bee breeding and export will do so in other locations. Whereas in the past human intervention has deepened the species divide, The Nottingham Apiary seeks to employ human manufacturing abilities to bridge this gap.

FG: One obstacle in the human/bee divide is size; the scale of a singular honey bee is hard for humans to relate to. The survival of the honey bee is integral to our own survival though our dependence on pollinated crops, however if harvests did suddenly decrease it would already be too late, so it’s important that the problems facing the honey bee are translated in a scale understandable to humans now.

EW: In taking a rather harsh approach in our treatment of the pre-existing building and in fact the bees themselves, the project acts as a kind of foreboding commentary or narrative on our relationship to – and dependence on the honeybee.  I think it is important for architecture to address the co-dependency of humans and other species, not only because it is vital for a more sustainable future, but because I believe it can bring us a great deal of joy as well.

What kind of choices go into the type of technology used for the collaborations you create? More generally, how do you view technology in your work?

EW: I think we all agreed that the simplest most low-tech solution would be the best. Architectural design shouldn’t deal with gadgetry and high tech. Generally I find our relationship to technology slightly problematic. It has enabled us to enjoy some undeniable benefits, but at the same technology has a tendency to disconnect us from the world. I believe a basically ‘primitive’ architecture can play a role in reconciling this disconnection.

How has your work been publicly received? Have you witnessed your projects provoking others to explore “natural” outlets in new and different ways?

AM: The project has been well received within the studio, and has been featured in the End of Year Exhibition at the University of Nottingham Department of Architecture and Built Environment, as well as the Architects Journal sustainability blog. The architectural interest in our work indeed relates to finding new ways of addressing the natural environment (and a particular interest in the animal world, complementing the more often explored world of plants and green spaces). However, a great interest also lies in the ways in which these explorations take situated architectural form, and create a programmatic and material richness within a site.

Speaking of Public…how important is the public or a publicness to your work?

FG: Very, as the plight of the honey bee is a subject we all need to be aware of, as the fate of our own species is firmly nestled within the health of their tiny hearts.

AE: All architecture is built to engage with the public, everything we did was on two scales, that of the honey bee and that of the human. We tried to bring both levels of occupation together to create environments that are a hybrid of the natural environment. Without a public interface with the buildings/spaces the project could have been anywhere in the world, it would lose its essence of site and location. The public interaction allows the project to remain sustainable, and regenerate a previously unused human place for the future to enjoy and relate with.

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