The Hive Exhibit – Kew Gardens

I went back home last weekend and decided to visit The Hive installation at Kew Gardens (where I work). Kew Gardens have made a concerted effort to educate the public on the importance and fascinating nature of bees with this installation. They also maintain multiple hives, with specific wildflower areas on the grounds for bees and have slowly increased their range of bee-related items in their shop.

These different aspects all aid in raising awareness, I would know, as the  amount of bee-related questions I get asked on a regular basis has sharply risen in the last couple of years.

The Hive itself cuts out an impressive figure from afar and as you get nearer, the appearance shifts from a fuzzy mesh into an intricate lattice-shaped structure.

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Honeybees communicate primarily with each other through vibrations and as you step closer to the area underneath the structure, you are surrounded by ambient buzzing.

There are devices that emit vibrations and by biting a wooden stick connected to a conductor, you can get a sense of four types of vibrational messages through the bones in their head.

As you make your way up into the The Hive, the sound is more apparent and you notice the flickering lights. The intensity of sound and light is controlled by the vibrations of honeybees in an actual hive at Kew that is connected to the sculpture.

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The surrounding area is also populated by wildflowers, with the intention being when in full bloom to have bees feeding on the flowers around the structure; adding to the atmosphere and reinforcing the message of conservation of habitat.

There are signs around the structure with concise information about wildflowers, habitats and the plight of the bees, which adds some depth to the message.

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The way they’ve managed to incorporate tactile features and sound/light to show people how a hive works is really impressive and I think we can draw inspiration from some of the ways they’ve  engaged people through simple platforms (like the wooden stick). The wooden stick device in particular was very popular with children, due to it being fairly intuitive and fun.

The immersive nature of the environment made you feel like you were inside a hive, losing a sense of reality for a brief moment is something we could try and capture – potentially playing into the ideas we had around a virtual hive.

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