Elevator B by students of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Buffalo, located in Buffalo’s First Ward (Hive City Design Team)
The 22-foot Elevator B honeybee habitat was the winning proposal in a design competition sponsored by Rigidized Metals and the University
The disquieting phenomenon of colony collapse disorder is seeing global bee populations vanish before our eyes, threatening the pollination of much of the world’s food crops. So when Buffalo, New York, metal fabricator Rigidized Metals discovered a colony of bees in an abandoned grain silo that its owner purchased, the company sponsored the Hive City competition. Students at the University at Buffalo (UB) were invited to design a viable bee habitat that would spark interest in the Silo City area and demonstrate the strengths of various building materials suppliers in Buffalo’s First Ward. As the first, permanent new construction on the Silo City site, Rigidized Metals wanted something that would be visible from nearby Ohio Street, stand out in the industrial landscape, and be reverent to neighboring silos.
The winning design, known as Elevator B, is a 22-foot tower of 18-gauge sheet metal panels, with strategic perforations for natural ventilation, light, and heat management. An operable bee “cab” in the interior supports the actual hive on a pulley system, allowing beekeepers to access the colony and return it to a level that keeps the population safe from predators.
Looking up through Elevator B reveals its honeycomb shape. (Hive City Design Team)
Fabricators Rigidized Metals, Courtney Creenan, Kyle Mastalinski, Daniel Nead, Scott Selin, Lisa Stern
Designers Courtney Creenan, Kyle Mastalinski, Daniel Nead, Scott Selin, Lisa Stern
Process Grasshopper, sawing, welding, laser cutting
“We did lots of research on how bees build hives and colonies,” said Courtney Creenan, a student at UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, and one of the designers of Elevator B. “The structure also induces the motion of standing inside of and looking up through a grain silo, where you have no where to look but up.” However, instead of a perfectly rounded oculus at the tower’s summit, Elevator B viewers see the outline of a honeycomb.
The student design team mocked up the tower with plywood cutouts in UB’s School of Architecture workshops and Rigidized Metals fabricated the panels, but the design was completed in Grasshopper. The software helped determine a workable pattern of perforations, particularly along the top of the elevator where winds could compromise stability. In the team’s initial design, all of the 70 metal panels received an 80 percent perforation, though each had a unique number of cuts in a unique array. Grasshopper brought out the commonalities from these disparate patterns, and allowed the team to scale back to six types of panels with maximum perforations of 60 percent. “You can barely see a difference,” Creenan commented.
Worker bees returning to their new home at Elevator B. (Hive City Design Team)
Once the design was simplified in Grasshopper, the Elevator B team devised a matrix to deliver to Rigidized Metals that indicated the number of panels to be fabricated and which had to be folded around the corners of the tower’s steel frame. To ensure accurate installation on-site, each panel was numbered. Since the grain silos are unoccupied most of the time, with the exception of special events and tours, the tower had to be vandal resistant. The students fastened the panels to the frame with self-tapping screws, which required no predrilling. The steel frame was hand-made and the panels were machine-formed, but Creenan said there was little error and the pieces came together easily onsite.
Beekeeper Phillip Barr successfully relocated the bee colony in the spring of 2012 and it has survived its first Buffalo winter. With the warmer weather, the colony’s member numbers are on the rise. And though Elevator B was designed specifically for bees, Creenan said that other animals have taken a shine to the tower. “Before [the bees] moved in we noticed robins had nested there,” she said. Though the design team hasn’t been approached about adapting its design for other animals throughout Buffalo’s Olmsted-designed park system, Creenan likes the idea. “It’d be interesting to test this somewhere else in the city,” she said.
The fastens the steel frame at UB’s School of Architecture and Planning workshop. (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
The design team works on the steel frame at UB’s School of Architecture and Planning workshop. (Doug Lever/University at Buffalo)
Designer Courtney Creenan works on the elevator’s steel frame. (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
Rigidized Metals fabricated Elevator B’s panels from 18-gauge metal. (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
The elevator cab is made from cypress wood and laminated glass. (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
The team erects the steel frame on-site, overseen by Rigidized Metals’ Rick Smith. (Hive City Design Team)
From left to right: Courtney Creenan, Scott Selin, Daniel Nead, Lisa Stern (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
The steel panels were fastened to the frame with self-capping screws. (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
The Elevator B site is located in Buffalo’s First Ward, amidst abandoned grain silos. (Doug Levere/University at Buffalo)
Beekeeper Philip Barr moves the colony to its new home. (Hive City Design Team)
The bee colony survives its first winter in the new home. (Hive City Design Team)
The bees are thriving in their new habitat. (Hive City Design Team)
Elevator B measure 22 feet in height. (Hive City Design Team)
Looking up, inside Elevator B (Hive City Design Team)