The Hive Project




About: Designer at IDEO

Each year I enjoy initiating a project for the purpose of personal development. I often use it low risk way to explore new mediums, materials or a subject matter that I know nothing about. I allow myself to experiment, deviate, start over and of course fail occasionally.

This year I chose to pursue learning more about the common honeybee.

Step 1: Research

I decided to research the common honeybee and see if there is a possible design solution to potentially improve the current state of declining bee populations. I started at the top with the commercial bee industry and discovered a troubled honey industry plagued by thin profit margins and forced to compromise their bees health.

As I worked my way down the chain I discovered a growing population of passionate people who love the environmental and social aspects of keeping bees. What I found interesting after speaking to casual beekeepers is the social component of beekeeping and how word of mouth is the primary source of information. The sharing of information, tools, and even bees are incredibly important and have become a type of social currency.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that I discovered is how many people have come to get their bees. Just as hives split in nature to grow their species, people seem to be following suit by making a habit of giving half of their hive to a different friend each year. Even a small project starting with just 10 hives could potentially duplicate to well over 10,000 hives after 10 years. This was the foundation of my design exploration.

Step 2: Inspiration

Watching bees for the first few times is quite a magical experience and i wanted to preserve and enhance that. Its similar to a campfire in that you could watch it for quite a while and not lose interest. The bees would obviously prefer if you don’t disrupt their home so I needed a way to allow people to interact without disturbance.

Safety is always a concern and bee equipment can be annoying so I built in a viewing window to allow people to feel as though they are interacting with the hive from a save distance. It also benefits the hive as it would reduce the number of times beginning beekeepers would feel the need to go in and make sure everything is going well.

The shape being parabolic reduces the amount of energy required to heat the nucleus while improving ventilation. It also eliminates most problems with unnecessary bacteria growth making the bees more resilient.

I also took into consideration the skill level of new beekeepers. The core is modular and doubles as a transport device while individual frames can eaily be removed and transplanted into another hive. This makes the process of starting a beehive or splitting a hive easy and with minimal disruption.

Step 3: Digital to Analog

I began by working backwards from the parabolic shape and found a way to get 3 identicle panels to interlock perfectly and form a sealed chamber. I knew I’d eventually need 3 seperate moulds to make it work properly but for now my budget could afford one.

I wanted to explore the possibilities of every medium. Wood was always the best case scenario but bioplastics provided an easy and affordable option as well. I moved forward under the assumption that I would be able to find an appropriate material at a later time

At this point I decieded to go with the cheapest, easiest, and most accessible medium that i could do all the manual labor for. Fiberglass provided that really well but presents problems with its strenth and rigidity. I knew nothing about it at the beginning but figured out the process as i went along.

I decided on a wood texture for the first one so it wouldn’t stand out as bad in a wooded environment. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a thermoform big enough for the viewing window but was more interested in function.

Step 4: Practice

The bees had no problems aclimating to their new home and have had very few problems. It wil be interesting to see what happens in a few months time when the nucleus is bigger and needing more space. This will require a slightly greater amount of maintainence than traditional hives but only a slight inconvenience.

Step 5: V2.0

At the beginning of the process I felt it was important to preserve natural that have little to no environmental impact. For the nurture hives I decided to go back to the traditional hives and preserve what makes them so functional. I wanted to use all the equipment that you would use with traditional hives, so existing beekeepers would be able to simply put their bees in a new frame with minimal disruption.

I maintained the modularity of traditional hives but made it hang so it would fit almost anywhere and wouldn’t require any lawn space. This also reduces moisture and cold from the ground. I maintained the looking window from the Nature hive so users would be able to enjoy the bees without disrupting them. Its really easy to lose track or forget tools so it features a top and bottom tool shelf with a friction fit sliding door.

In addition to wood being a perfect insulator for the hive, its also very easy to fabricate with afoordable tools. It requires minimal labor and hardware making it simple and affordable to produce. It is designed with house exteriors in mind so feels appropriate in front of any style home or apartment.

Step 6: Augmentation

One of the main goals I set out to do is make beekeeping as simple as possible. Through the process of beekeeping there are ample opportunities to make digital tools to enhance the social and commercial component of beekeeping. Interconnected hives would also provide a great way to help people prepare for and combat problems such as viruses or adverse weather.

Since beekeeping is inherently communal, a social tool would feel appropriate and enhance the communal experience. New beekeepers tend to have a lot of questions so this would help them get the information they need that is appropriate to their location and from someone who has likely had the same problem. This sharing of information creates a bit of a social currency while also being an effective tool.

Data could potentially be valuable to the acadamic or research community but I feel its greatest service is to the hive owners themselves. The idea of gamification adds a level of interaction and understanding that current beekeeping lacks. Even smaller features like maintaince reminders or notes provide a valuable service to even the most advanced beekepers

Step 7: Case Study

Heres a case study for those who'd like to learn more.

Step 8:



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    18 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Can anyone share how hard/expensive it is to get started beekeeping? It's something I've always wanted to try but always seemed a little out of reach.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Its pretty easy to get started these days, especially with the wealth of knowledge from sources like youtube. Getting the hive, tools, and gear is relatively inexpensive, for everything in New Zealand was about $100 for hive and $100 for tools, veil, etc. I imagine that prices is relative based off of location.

    The most challenging part, depending on where you're at in the world, is getting a healthy bee nucleus. The price depends on where location and availability (usually spring or early summer) but there are sources online which can sell either the full nucleus or a few kg of bees without a queen, and you add the queen yourself. I'd recommend getting the nucleus as there is little chance of failure. Getting from a local beekeeper is the best option. There are many tutorial videos on how to put bees in your hive.

    Once you have it up and going, the maintenance is quite minimal (checking once every few weeks, more frequently in summer "flow" season).

    One of the best things you can do is get a membership with a bee club. Harvesting can be a little more challenging but getting buckets of honey is a wonderful reward for your hard work and bee clubs will often allow you to use their equipment which makes it significantly easier and much more fun!

    The honey that you get will more than pay for the tools and hive. If you and everyone you give to split it every year, you'll make many friends and start a wonderful bee community! You should do it!


    Looking forward to hearing more about the results down the road. What a beautiful project!


    4 years ago on Step 7

    I'm impressed to say the least. I think a good description would be in love, though. I want so badly to help the declining bee population, and with considerations to my love of gardening and the many fruit bearing and flowering trees and plants on my property and AROUND my property, I feel like it would be so incredibly useful. This design makes the normal 'clunky' structure beautiful.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I hate to be the bad guy, but though I am seeing a beautiful sculpture, and an awful lot of work, but something entirely impractical. I've been associated with bees and beekeeping for more than 40 years now. The only animal more studied than Apis Mellifera is Homo Sapiens.

    The first part of this I need to address, bees do not heat the inside of the hive, they cluster over the combs and share body warmth. It is more like wearing a coat in the cold than having a fire in a cabin. Insulation is to avoid extremes in temperature, forcing the colony to regulate the hive temperature. Insulation on the ceiling will keep moisture from respiration from condensing and dripping back down on the cluster. A sure fire death in winter.

    A. Mellifera don't create hanging nests, generally. Instead they find cavities to build nests in. Free hanging combs are fixed to limbs or other structure. Any hanging cavity is fine, but the entrance would have to have the same general orientation. You would be making the bees find the entrance every time with a hive body that spins.

    The simplest hive form would be the "Top Bar" hive design. Frames are enclosed on all sides to give bees a place to "stop" building the comb. With a little work, the comb can be separated from the side of the hive body and combs would then be reworked by the bees to honor bee space.

    You will need some way to treat for Varroa, trap small hive beetle, and otherwise integrate some kind of pest management. It's for this reason Skeps, and other fixed comb hive designs are not legal in the USA. They cannot be inspected for problems easily.

    Bees are not "domestic" animals, and though considered domesticated are actually wild animals. Bee "keepers," like Game "keepers," manage wild populations of animals. There are no "beeherds." The concept of the "pet" beehive is nothing new, and is still a practice among the Maya in Mexico concerning a stingless honeybee called the "Royal Lady." Hives made from the natural logs are kept under the soffits and in the rafters of their houses.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I'm glad that this brought comment & criticism as its exactly what It's meant to do. Its purely a exploration of form and a concept for bringing beekeeping to a larger audience. This is purely a design exploration and deserves input from experts like yourself.

    Theres plenty of great options for beekeepers out there, a lot of them I've had over the years and they work wonderfully. I would likely never trade my Langstroth hive for any other type, but its sure fun to thing about other options as well.

    Most of those issues you mentioned have been addressed in further iterations of the project which I haven't had time to fully post. I only really put a small part of the project online as most people don't understand bees to the extent that you do.

    There does seem to be a lot of misconception about the spinning hive. The animation was purely a exploration of form and for presentation purposes.

    I'd have to agree with most things you said, this hive is far from perfect although it actually does work reasonably well with a little bit of upkeep, although I wouldn't recommend it for a huge group of people.

    Theres a great culture of beekeepers that seems to be growing each day. I hope that that continues to spread with the awareness and more people have a positive experience with beekeeping.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Very true! I have noticed a change in the general attitude toward bees in general, and keeping Honeybees in suburban backyards in the last 10 or more years. I have seen burly, mountain men types go from standing 20 or more feet away with a look of fear, to a smile and in the middle of the beeyard, over a period of a few years, with no encouragement on my part.

    The Langstroth hive was designed to produce Honey. I notice the girls will get antsy, then take on the "invader" after a few minutes. In top bar hives (and I'm inclined to build a Tanzanian because I cannot see an advantage to the slanted sides), the bees stay much calmer. I smoke my Langstroths, but either neglect or forget to smoke the TBH's.

    My hypothesis is the bees don't see a home in the cavity. The outside of the thing is incidental, another navigational landmark. Home is the combs. As long as the combs are not threatened, there is a feeling of well being. Langstroths leave spaces at the top of all the frames to facilitate the movement of the workers into supers, Top bars are closed and pushed close to one another, so inspection of one bar doesn't seem to evoke defensiveness, and the inspected bars carefully pushed together can be moved back to their normal position when the inspection is done.

    Frames can, and often are, used in the horizontal form, and I imagine the closed top bar style, not like a Warré, can be used in a vertical form. I can also imagine integration of the two. But for most people, bees mean honey, and that's why they get into the practice.


    4 years ago

    I love it! I think it's great that you took something so locked in to tradition and put it outside the box. I love bees and always wanted some of my own and this fall I'll get the box, paid for it and asked to have it shipped mid-winter. I think your hive design is great, and people will get unimaginable enjoyment from it. It is functional art, I believe that was your goal, to work with unknown materials and medium. You have amazing talent. keep it up.

    1 reply

    4 years ago on Step 7

    I'm not into beekeeping but this is an interesting project. I hope to hear from this in the future (the parabolic hive is amazing)

    Nice project but you may want to pay for that image you're using from DreamsTime stock site in the corner there. The original artist has a way of finding this stuff out and there might be consequences.

    If you are the artist then sorry I mentioned it.

    Just trying to save you the trouble. :)

    1 reply

    Very nice. The design is pleasing to the human eye and, it would seem, also to the bees. It's great to see someone taking the initiative to learn about honey bees and the problems they are facing as well. We need to do all we can to give the little guys a helping hand and, hopefully, keep them healthy and happy.

    The social aspect of beekeeping that you mentioned is an interesting factor as well. I guess it's like any hobby, it gives those who do it a common interest around which they can bond.