The Hive - Wolfgang Buttress

Cost: £6m

Duration: Permanent

Location Details: Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, in London UK.

Date of Delivery: Installed June, 2016, at Kew Gardens

Medium: Sculpture, Installation, Sound.

Dimensions / Technical Specs: At 17 metres high, The Hive ‘consists of 32 horizontal stacked layers of hexagonal geometry creating an abstracted analogue of a honeycomb. A rotational twist in the aluminium structure introduces movement, suggestive of a swarm. The form is a 14m cube raised-up on columns, appearing almost to hover, a spherical void hollowed from the centre, allows visitors to enter. Walking beneath the sculpture, visitors may peer up through the glass floor into the interior.’ ‘Accelerometers (vibration sensors) are used to measure the activity of a real bee colony in the UK, feeding real-time signals to a 1000 RGBW LED light array inside the spherical void bee colony vibrations are converted into lighting effects. Each light is individually addressable, allowing for the hive to pulse and glow in response to the signals it receives, so acting as a visual representation of bee activity’ (from the artist’s website).(From artist's website). The responsive light show is ‘accompanied by about 140 musical arrangements of human voices, cello, guitar and other sounds. It is a prayer in C. Bees, it turns out, buzz in this harmonious key’ (Bhattacharya 2016).

Project Delivery Team: Artist and Creative Lead: Wolfgang Buttress, Structural Engineers: Simmonds Studio Architecture, Landscape and Environmental Engineering: BDP Sound engineers: Hoare Lea Audio visual + graphics: Squint Opera York-based Construction contractor: Stage One Ltd Physicist and Bee Expert: pioneering work into honeybee communication Dr Martin Bencsik. Soundscape: BE

Themes: Energy, Food & Urban Agriculture

Duration: Permanent

Author: Lucia Barrera

‘Bees are highly sensitive creatures and can be seen as sentinels for the health of the planet.’ — Buttress

The Hive was originally conceived for the UK Pavilion of the 2015 Milan Expo touching on the theme ‘feeding the planet’. Taking research on bee communication out of the research laboratory and into the public realm, The Hive is an important example of transdisciplinary art and science.

 The immersive audiovisual structure draws the audience through Kew Gardens, following the flight pattern of bees. It quietly raises awareness of human vulnerability to climate change by bringing visitors down ‘to scale’ with the world of bees, connecting with the rhythmic fluctuations of their day and providing insight into their vibration-based communication.

The work addresses the urgent need for climate-change action by exposing the ‘issues we face in relation to pollinators, their intimate relationships with plants and their vital role in helping us feed a rapidly growing population’ (Buttress).

The Hive has won over 20 awards.



  • — The artist aimed to draw parallels between the complex relationships between bees and those between humans.
  • —To evoke reflection and a more empathic understanding of the world through the vibrations of bees.
  • —To create a ‘quiet’, yet profound work that gives insight into the essential role that bees fulfil in relation to food production.


  • —Raise awareness of the decline in bee population and its relationship with the the broader ecosystem within which they exist.

  • —Draw attention to issues around climate change.

—To reconnect people with nature: ‘ opened a beehive for the first time two years ago and it gave me a different outlook on life and how humans are connected to nature. We are in danger of losing that vitally important connection, especially in cities’ (Buttress).


Gold Award for Architecture and Landscape—BIE Awards, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Best Pavilion Architecture Award—Italian Association of Architects and other Italian

National Construction and Landscape bodies, 2015, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Best Public Use Project with Public Funding—Blueprint Awards, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Best Completed Community Building—Manchester Architects Awards, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Highly Commended, Landscape Award—WAN Awards, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Highly Commended, Temporary Landscape Design—Landscape Institute Awards,

UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Commended, Exhibition Lighting and Temporary Installations—AL Awards, UK Pavilion

Milan Expo 2015

Best Exhibit Winner—Exhibitor Magazine

Iconic Award for 2015—Best of the Best for Event/Exhibition. German Design Council

Gold Award for Architecture and Landscape—BIE Awards, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Best Pavilion Architecture Award—Italian Association of Architects and other Italian

National Construction and Landscape bodies, 2015, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Best Public Use Project with Public Funding—Blueprint Awards, UK Pavilion Milan Expo 2015

Methods of Evaluation

No formal evaluation material has been collated to date, however the project has received significant media coverage and reviews.


Cultural: Audience engagement: The project was showcased at the UK Pavilion 2015 Milan World Expo and attracted massive audiences.  Installed at the Royal Botanical Garden, Kew, in June, 2016,  and considered the 15th most visited attraction in the UK, it has provided an ideal setting for ongoing large scale audience engagement. (

Environmental: The project raises awareness of the delicate balance of ecosystems while also highlighting the sophistication of bee communication.


In response to the 2015 Milan World Expo theme, ‘Feeding the Planet’, the team of artists and engineers led by Buttress built The Hive to focus attention to the plight of the honeybee. Bees and other pollinators are responsible for a vast proportion of the planet’s food sources, but are compromised by climate change and other threats to habitat. The work ‘reinterpret[s] apiarian ecology’ into an immersive, real-time and multi-sensory  experience of a hive.


The main cost both financially and environmentally speaking was building material. Both installations were erected in purpose built event settings rather than the natural environment. The cost of relocation to or rebuilding at Kew Gardens is unclear, but the social impact of the work is high. The Hive continues to garner significant media coverage and has become a hugely successful attraction, succeeding in its mission to raise awareness of the key role bees and pollinators hold in the world’s ecosystem, and the delicate nature of their position due to climate change and other human intervention.


Bhattacharya, Shaoni. (2016, 13 July). ‘Listen to secrets of a honeybee hive in Kew’s latest sculpture.’ New Scientist 3082. Retrieved from https://www-newscientist-com/article/mg23130820-700-listen-to-secrets-of-a-honeybee-hive-in-kews-latest-sculpture/.

Buttress, Wolfgang. Artist’s website:

This database is developed by the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA) at COFA, UNSW in association with the City of Sydney and Carbon Arts as part of the Australian Research Council ARC linkage project Curating Cities.