Many, many years ago I studied photography in New Zealand. During one semester we were given the assignment to photo document a building of our choice. The goal was to get a better understanding of perspective and visual control. A view camera to make the appropriate adjustments to correct these images is a necessity. Unfortunately, I arrived late at the equipment room to obtain a view camera so I had to contend with a smaller medium-format Mamiya RB7 monstrosity to do my project. Perspective control was now out of the question so I had to come up with something to make an impression. What would be better than the Parliament building, locally known as the Beehive because of its shape? Surely this central city edifice housing the country’s top intellectual thinkers would be appropriate. Some quick phone calls (they were obviously needing any PR they could get!) and I was given unlimited access to the building from top to bottom. Many of those photos are now lost and thankfully forgotten but three black and white images did manage to survive my garbage bag editing process.
Built over a period of ten years, the official opening occurred in 1977. Designed by Scottish architect Basil Spence, the building resembles an old style straw “skep” beehive. At ten stories above ground and four below the building is over constructed, perhaps because it sits on an earthquake fault line, as most of the capital city Wellington does. Most circular buildings I have seen have an enormous amount of wasted space. The Beehive is no exception. All the rooms are curved or asymmetrical with irregular shapes and tunnels. Perfect for my photo assignment! It was assumed that a government building housed a legion of workers, busily making decisions and constructing a community of like-minded individuals, not unlike the beehives in real life. Sadly, back then and much like today around the world, this has never been fulfilled. But we hope and cross our fingers as we vote…
This has not been the first time architects have been inspired by the hive design if such a thing exists. Antoni Gaudi was known to keep bees during his lifetime. We should be able to see his Sagrada Familia (pictured below) scheduled for completion in 2026.
But the perhaps the most devout believer of the beehive principle, ethic and design must go to Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret). Not long after the end of WWII, he was commissioned to design “Unite d’habitation de grandeur conforme”or a housing unit of a standard size. This became the first of many in Marseille, France and other war-damaged cities throughout France. His buildings were pure in aesthetics and relied heavily on concrete, inside and out. From this point on his projects multiplied and success came to his career throughout the world.
A brief description:
He gave the building the name of his pre-war theoretical project, the Cité Radieuse, and followed the principles that he had studied before the war, he proposed a giant reinforced concrete framework, into which modular apartments would be fit like bottles into a bottle rack. Like the Villa Savoye, the structure was poised on concrete pylons though, because of the shortage of steel to reinforce the concrete, the pylons were more massive than usual. The building contained 337 duplex apartment modules to house a total of 1,600 people. Each module was three stories high and contained two apartments, combined so each had two levels. The modules ran from one side of the building to the other, and each apartment had a small terrace at each end. They were ingeniously fitted together like pieces of a Chinese puzzle, with a corridor slotted through the space between the two apartments in each module. Residents had a choice of twenty-three different configurations for the units.(Credit: Wikipedia)
His life and career are too big for this little article but please check out his accomplishments further online. I am sure there are other designs from around the world that are based on the hive concept. If anyone wishes to contribute other architects to this posting, please do so by sending photos. We can display all photos, good and not so good here on the blog.