The U.K. Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo created a lot of buzz with its artist-designed installation, called “The Hive,” by Wolfgang Buttress. Distilling the expo’s theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” Buttress chose to focus on the importance of the honey bee to global food production. His resulting structure took the lion’s share of the budget, providing a challenge for BDP, who took on the tripartite role of architect, landscape architect, and lighting designer for the U.K.’s pavilion.
The Hive is a 46-foot cube out of which a spherical void was carved to make it habitable. A complex armature of steel rods and connectors, like an oversized Erector Set, forms the volume of the structure, with audiovisual components embedded into the individual pieces. A live stream of data collected by accelerometers placed within a real beehive translates to sound and light displays. An algorithm converts vibrations of individual bees into pulsating lights via 1,000 individually controlled LEDs that make the Hive come alive with the movements of the bee population.
Tasked with providing the look of a high-budget lighting design using limited finances, BDP strove to integrate luminaires into the architecture wherever possible, and worked closely with British manufacturers to achieve maximum effect with minimal expense. Outside, BDP installed a linear garden and orchard that form the approach to the pavilion. Integrated handrail and skirt-mounted fixtures delineate pathways through the landscape to a bright feature wall full of information about bees—dubbed the Swarm, in keeping with the apicultural theme. On the pavilion’s terrace, recessed fixtures beneath the floor add an overscaled honeycomb effect through backlighting. Clusters of custom hexagonal aluminum extrusions hang from the interior conference room’s ceiling to provide a soft amber glow.
Using a minimally expressed lighting sensibility, BDP achieved ample illumination while still deferring to the artistic expression of the Hive and its buzzing activity.
Project: U.K. Pavilion, Milan Expo 2015, Milan • Client: Stage One, North Yorkshire, England • Architect and Landscape Architect: BDP, Manchester, England • Artist for the Hive: Wolfgang Buttress, Nottingham, England • Lighting Designer: BDP, Manchester • Team Members: Rhiannon West, Colin Ball, Chris Lowe • Photographers: Nick Caville, David Barbour • Project Size: 1900 square meters (20,451 square feet) • Project Cost: £6 million ($9.378 million) • Lighting Cost: £25,000 (landscape and architecture); £200,000 (Hive) ($351,733 total) • Watts per Square Foot: 13.2 • Code Compliance: SLL Code for Lighting and LG8 Museums and Art Galleries (ambient lighting), BS 5266-1 and BS EN 1838 (emergency lighting) • Manufacturers: Light Projects Group, LEDFlex, Lumenpulse, Luxonic Lighting, Mike Stoane Lighting, Thorlux Lighting
• Technically sophisticated. • The lighting is the transformative element; it’s conceptual but it still provides good, usable illumination.