All species have three basic needs: shelter, food, and water. As is known, there is a looming threat to bees’ survival with their population dropping dramatically in the past years. Part of this problem is the destruction of their natural habitat.
That is why Mexico-based creative studio MaliArts has designed a series of three structures for solitary bees living in built-up areas to help welcome nature into urban environments. Thus, taking care of those three basic needs for the bees in areas where the needs have become scarce.
Their creation is a bid to generate a closer relationship between human-centric cities and nature, designed for all different species of solitary bees. The project, called Refugio, is conceived as a group of three objects. Each one takes care of one of the three basic needs.
The three objects include:
1. A shelter to function as both a resting place and a nesting place
2. A waterer to provide a safe space to drink
3. A feeder that contains food, for areas without enough flowers
Many people are afraid of bees because they string. However, most solitary bees are not aggressive and many don’t even have a sting.
They also do not live in colonies or in a hive, do not have a queen and therefore do not produce honey or wax.
The truth is, only about 10% of bee species in the world do all the above.
Industrial designer Gabriel Calvillo, from the Mexico City-based studio said:
“NORMALLY WHEN WE THINK OF BEES WE IMAGINE THE MOST COMMON SPECIES, THE EUROPEAN HONEYBEE (APIS MELLIFERA), BUT IN REALITY, ABOUT 90% OF BEE SPECIES (THERE ARE ALMOST 25,000 SPECIES IN THE WORLD) ARE CONSIDERED SOLITARY BEES”
The other 90% are solitary bees and what they do well is pollinate. Dedicating most of their time to collecting pollen, solitary bees are potentially the most efficient pollinators in nature. There is one particular species of solitary bee, for example, called the Red Mason, who is equivalent to 120 worker honeybees in the pollination it provides.
Conservationists tend to focus more on honeybees, but scientists have found this strategy can be severely flawed since it overlooks a majority of pollinators in the world.
That is why Cavillo’s firm MaliArts designed Refugio: a series of homes for all the solo-living bees who would normally find refuge in soil and rocks.
“THE FACT THAT SOLITARY BEES DO NOT GENERATE ANY ‘CONSUMABLE PRODUCT’ FOR HUMANS HAS MEANT THAT THEY ARE NOT GIVEN MUCH ATTENTION, BUT RECENT STUDIES POINT TO THE FACT THAT THEY ARE POSSIBLY THE MOST EFFICIENT POLLINATORS IN NATURE.”
Refugio shelters are like apartment complexes, or co-op living, for our six-legged friends.
It doesn’t look like a beehive at all either, more like a collection of birdhouses.
One unit features a large, ceramic cone. Another uses a lip to capture water to drink.
Perhaps the most visually striking bee house stacks different types of wood, and uses holes of various diameters, to serve as micro-apartments for various bees.
The Refugio Shelter Complex
When a set gets installed somewhere in the city each structure is complemented by a cultivation manual that passersby can read to find out how they can create their own sanctuaries for solitary bees.
The Refugio Shelter
The housing consists of multiple modules made from unfinished pine and teak wood covered with natural oil, while the roof is ceramic. The tall legs are made of steel.
The Refugio Waterer
The main structure is ceramic with red clay enamel on the internal faces. The tall legs are made of steel.
The Refugio Feeder
Like the waterer, the main structure is ceramic with red clay enamel on the internal faces. Both the lid and the base are made of teak. The tall legs are made of steel.
The goal was to attract endangered insects, so when coming up with a design they focused on creating something the insects would be drawn to and feel comfortable in.
The design of each structure was based on the types of refuge and nesting sites that solitary bees naturally seek out both in nature and in urban spaces, as well as the “insects hotels” found on many farms.
“THE SELECTION OF MATERIALS ALSO RESPONDS TO THIS RESEARCH, IN THE CASE OF THE SHELTER, DIFFERENT MODULES COULD BE USED BY DIFFERENT SPECIES OF BEES. SOME SPECIES PREFER SOFT WOODS WHILE OTHERS SEEK REFUGE IN THE GROUND OR IN ROCKS.WE USED PINE WOOD WITHOUT FINISHING AND CERAMICS WITHOUT ENAMEL, TRYING TO IMITATE WHAT THEY COULD FIND IN NATURE.”
Nature in this context doesn’t necessarily mean jungle and forest, it means natural – where they would naturally be. For example, solitary bees have a strong foothold in urban environments, like Mexico City, where cavillo did field research. Ironically, urban areas feature less frequent use of pesticides and fewer monoculture plantations than commercial farms, so bees can thrive even amongst the concrete jungle.
“THEY CAN FIND MANY FLOWERS IN GARDENS, PARKS, AND URBAN FARMS. I THINK IT IS VERY INTERESTING TO THINK ABOUT HOW CITIES CAN ALSO PLAY A ROLE IN THE CONSERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY.ONE WAY TO INCREASE THE POPULATION OF SOLITARY BEES IS CREATING FLOWER GADENS IN FARMS, GADRENS AND PRKS. THESE GARDENS OR SANCTUARIES CAN BE COMPLEMENTED WITH THE USE OF SHELTERS, WATERERS AND FEEDERS”.
This is actually what inspired the designers to create the shelters in the first place. They got the idea after reading an article published by Conservation Biology titled The City as a refuge for Pollinating insects, which discussed how lots of pollinating insects have found refuge in cities, where they can find many flowers in gardens, parks and urban farms.
The studio said:
“IN TIMES WHEN MORE THAN HALF OF THE POPULATION LIVES IN CITIES, WE SEEM TO FIGHT TO EXCLUDE NATURE EROMN OUR LIVES. THE PLANTS THAT GROW BETWEEN CRACKS OF CONCRETE ARE AESTHETICALLY DESPISED, TREES ARE CUT DOWN TO BUILD PARKING LOTS AND SHOPPING CENTRES ARE BUILT WHERE PARKS ONCE STOOD. POSSIBLY, INSECTS ARE OUR MAIN OBJECTIVE WHEN WE TALK ABOUT EXCLUDING NATURE FROM OUR LIVES. INSECTICIDES, REPELLENTS AND TRAPS ARE USED MASSIVELY AROUND THE WORLD EVERY DAY. WE FORGET THAT INSECTS PLAY AN INDISPENSABLE ROLE IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL BALANCE.”
Cavillo not only developed this prototype bee housing but also drafted field guides that explain how it can be implemented, along with several species of plants, to create welcoming healthy homes for bees. His studio did all of this working under a grant from Mexico’s government agency on culture, FONCA. He hopes to fully commercialize his bee houses in the near future. “We are very interested in being able to scale the project,” he says. “The more bees the better!”