THE BEEHIVE METAPHOR
The hive mind or collective consciousness is a term introduced in 1893 by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. He writes in Division of Labour in Society, “The totality of beliefs and sentiments common to the average members of a society forms a determinate system with a life of its own. It can be termed the collective or creative consciousness.” -Emile Durkheim This idea illustrates a social body, which practices a predetermined set of ideologies, understandings, and goals together within they’re immediate faction. This idea creates a boundary or confine implementing efficiency as the means for growth and evolution within the unified whole. The collective consciousness can be seen most notably in simple societies especially those of insects, thus creating the nature of the hive mind. Every ant, termite, or honeybee of a society has a purpose, goal, understanding, and direction, working together to exist. This social, and biomimetic, ideal I believe is central to understanding the works of the pious Antoni Gaudi and inventive Buckminster fuller. Interestingly both of these figures come from very different times and places yet they wanted to create space in a way that spoke to these conditions of a collective consciousness using the beehive as a source of inspiration. By exploring four case studies ranging from small to large we can come to an understanding of how these architects utilized the honeybee in terms of order, purpose, aesthetic, structure, and social thought. Antoni Gaudi is most noted for his large extravagant works but came from much more humble beginnings. Living in the Catalan countryside as a boy, Gaudi was influenced by nature and all of her god given forms, formulating his architectural principle, nature never has straight lines, neither should architecture. The Beehive Metaphor, a book written by Juan Antonio Ramirez goes into quite a bit of detail on Gaudi’s early life and religious beliefs and links it to the fact that Gaudi was very much influenced by the honey bee, not only the social structure but also the physical structure. The First work I would like to look at which demonstrates Gaudi’s inspiration from the honeybee is the Cooperativa Obrera Mataronesa (Worker’s Cooperative at Mataro) (Image 1-2). The Cooperativa was one of Gaudi’s first built works in 1883 and although his full vision was not completed the pieces that remain hold incredible evidence linking honeybees to his biomimetic understanding of Architecture. The Cooperativa Obrera Mataronesa was commissioned by Salvador Pages, a friend of Gaudi at the time to build an industrial whitening room, two worker’s houses, a garden, and design the company banner. This project is very important because it is the first time Gaudi implemented his famous catenary arches. The catenary arch is not only important to the architectural discourse because it is a new structural system not implemented before, but it also establishes Gaudi as truly an organicist architect. The Cooperativa was an industrial building where efficiency was key to its planning and conception. For Gaudi the parabolic form for the arches made the most sense because they are derived from nature and they allowed for an open plan with high
Image 1: Interior photograph of present day (restored) Cooperativa Obrero Matero.
Image 2: Exterior elevation photograph of present day (restored) Cooperativa Obrero Matero.
Image 3: Beekeepers box beehive, something similar Gaudi would have witnessed while living in the country.
Image 4: Box beehive superimposed onto Exterior Elevation of the Cooperativa Obrero.
Image 5: Cooperativa banner, with the beeâ€™s weaving the loom.
Image 6: Cooperativa cast iron detail of the worker bee.
cielings for machinery and ventilation. This is a key aspect when drawing comparisons to Buckminster Fuller’s work, the Dymaxion House. The parabolic arc is a common form found in nature, and interestingly enough bees construct their honeycomb structures using parabolas (Image 2-3). When comparing the interior of a beekeeper’s box the interior space and structure of the Cooperativa is almost exactly derived from the former. The connection to the bee goes further when studying the company banner and cast iron ornament Gaudi supplementally designed. (Image 5-6) The Banner displays three bees weaving threads on a loom surrounded by flowers with the text “Cooperativa Matarononse”. He wanted to instill this idea of the collective consciousness in the workers, to think of themselves as integral parts of the whole just like bees. Gaudi inscribed onto the walls of the Cooperativa, "Companion, be solitary, practice kindness", and, "There is nothing more immense than brotherhood”. Even materialistically he utilized resources common to the area using spanish cedar, which has a magnificent orange tone, and ceramic tile for the exterior which was a well known craft in Catalan. Gaudi utilized the honeybee in a quite complex biomimetic fashion to create efficiency aesthetically, structurally, and socially. This leads us to Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House. I chose this project for the comparison because it was formulated earlier on in Fuller’s career, just as Gaudi’s Cooperativa was early as well. This is importnat because their self-understanding of their own architecture was still developing. The Dymaxion house (broken down into dynamic, maximum, and tension house) draws some very interesting relationships to Gaudi’s Cooperativa and the honeycomb. The main model of design for the house was efficiency: efficiency of time, materials, cost, and environmental impact, but I believe there is another layer, The Beehive Metaphor. Looking at the formal characteristics the exterior draws a similar form to rustic beehives, (Image 7-9), raised from the ground, round in shape, spire on top. Fascinatingly enough the plan of the Dymaxion house is the shape of a hexagon, (Image 10), and although the hexagon is a common geometric form it holds the connotation of a honeycomb and is utilized as a spatial divider. The structural aspects of the honeycomb is used differently by fuller, in this case tension, and differently than Gaudi because there are no catenary arches. Fuller uses varying scales of the hexagon to his advantage like bees use each cell for multiple purposes, layering use on one system. In beehives the hexagon is used in multiple ways at one time, they are always structural, they are used as spatial dividers, they are used for growing bee larva, and they also process nectar into honey. The honeycomb is an efficient shape for an efficient structure, which is why I believe Buckminster Fuller knowingly designed with the honeycomb in mind. Fuller’s social design begins to differ from Gaudi’s. Gaudi used the beehive metaphor to create this idea of union between indiviuals locally, while Fuller saw the dymaxion house as an opportunity for individuals to come together globaly. The dymaxion house was planned to be implemented everywhere, giving it a worldwide scale and allowing for Fuller’s idea of networks to come into play. Notably the use of aluminum calls out to this futurist organicism sensibility because it’s an inexpensive and durable material and gave the dymaxion house a futuristic autonomy. These ideas are multiplied in each of these architects later works.
Image 7: Exterior elevation drawing of the dymaxion house. highlighting the similarities between the rustic beehive to the right.
Image 9: Model of the dymaxion house with Buckminster Fuller.
Image 8: Rustic beehive hut used for collecting honey in the the 1700-1800â€™s.
Image 10: Diagramatic plan of the dymaxion house, showing how spaces would be broken up into modulated system of triangles based on the hexagon.
Gaudi and Fuller’s later work link to the honeybee in their designs becomes stronger, especially when comparing the Sagrada Familia (Image 11,13,15), and 1967 US Pavilion (Image 12,14,16 ). Both of these works are seen as each architect’s opus project and they epitomize this idea of a collective conscious that I believe they were trying to cultivate in their work. “God has never made a sterile law, that is to say that all his laws have an application; the observation of these laws and the manner in which they are applied is the physical manifestation of the Divinity. Creation continues and the Creator makes use of his creatures; those who seek out the laws of Nature in order to fashion new works collaborate with the Creator. Those who copy do not.” -Antoni Gaudi This quote by Gaudi allows an insight to understanding how his naturalistic art nouveau style manifested into his biomimetic buildings. His phrase “physical manifestation of divinity” is important when analyzing the Sagrada Familia because it speaks to ornamentation, structure, and social effect this architecture has on the world. Due to the fact it’s a stone gothic cathedral the project was intended to be a large and ongoing, and has cost millions in the process and somewhat deters the term of efficency in regards to time. The function of this church is to bring people closer to god, and the immense size of the building, the ornamentation, geometric orientation, atmospheric affects, colors used, stained glass windows, etc. can all be viewed as separate pieces working as a unified whole. This building is much more than just a building; it is sublime creativity and speaks to the natural laws it represents. By utilizing the parabolic forms as arches, each spire take the form of rustic beehives (Image 11), and tree trunk columns inside use branches as lateral bracing holding up canopy like ceiling allowing light to spill into the space we can see that Gaudi absolutely “collaborates with the creator”.(Image 13) But efficiency is everything in nature, and not just structure but ornamentation too. The ornamentation on the exterior is not just ornament for the sake of ornament, but it tells the stories of the religion in three dimensions allowing for a multitude of readings bringing people closer to there creator.(Image 15) the immense weight and huge vertical and horizontal spans the Sagrada Familia is a feat, because it efficiently carries the loads using what Gaudi learned from not only beehives but from Nature. The transcendent feelings of the spaces are so dazzling one can appreciate and examine all of its intricacies just as many do with our natural world. This attention to detail is his way of exalting not only his god but also the representation of the people of Catalonia. It makes a statement to the entire world speaking to the common conscious of the people that they must serve and honor their lord. This poetic reading of the Sagrada Familia may seem unrealistic and unimportant but I think it is the only way to truly explain how Gaudi developed this building. He was a worker bee collaborating with many others to develop its awe-inspiring qualities, call it pious acid visions. The 1967 US expo pavilion in Montreal is the last case study that I will go over and it allows for a very interesting comparison to the Sagrada Familia. This is due to the fact of its size, structure, its sociopolitical implications, and
Image 11: Exterior of the Sagrada Familia, note the catenary arch in the front and the towers resembling beehives.
Image 12: Buckminster Fullerâ€™s Technological 1967 US Pavilion in Montreal Canada.
Image 13: Interior view of the nave cieling full of geometric awe inspiring detail.
Image 14: geometric patterning of geodesic structures.
Image 15: Incredible ornamental detail of the exterior of facade of the Sagrada Familia.
Image 16: Interior view of the of the dome structure with glimpses of the sun shading devices in action.
it’s functional ornament. Understanding its structural system and the link this structural systems has to the beehive metaphor is interesting because it is a much different approach but utilizes some answers discovered in the dymaxion house. I mentioned the rustic beehive as a possible formal immergence allowing for the link between Gaudi and fuller, but because of this shift of time periods between these two architects and the fact that they were two very different men we can only understand Fuller in a global lense and pulling from ideas around the globe. Fuller had been experimenting with the geodesic concept starting in 1948, and I believe in his research looked to beehives much more than people believe. The fascinating structural achievement with geodesic domes are they allow for a huge span with no interruption in the immediate volume, allowing for an impressive, possibly awe inspiring space. This is due to the fact that is intrinsic to the geodesic dome, subdivision. The polygonal restructuring of a sphere creates the line work for construction and is simplified into easy geometrical patterns,(Image 14) that being primarily the triangle but this shape when trying to maximize material turns hexagons and pentagons. The single parts forming the whole was a fascinating issue that Fuller invested a lot of time understanding, and he labeled them as networks. Networks occur readily in nature, such as honeybee beehives. Fuller did not copy what bees do but rather, “collaborated with the creator”. This brings us to our next piece of evidence, the Geodesic Research Project of 1958. I believe this is when Fuller took the beehive as a main inspiration, especially with his idea of how the geodesic dome could work as a breathing organism. This affirmation of his biomimetic use of beehives, both structural and socially is an interesting shift in thinking. Fuller visited by the invitation of Paul Connell and some students to travel into South African jungles and learn from the indigenous Zulu tribe. African bees are very important for the ecosystems in Africa because they pollinate much of the plants the local tribes use in there everyday lives, (Image 17) so naturally these tribes pick up some techniques from these animals. This is seen in the construction of their dwellings known as indlu or beehive huts. (Image 18-19) Fuller and the Connell studio ended up building their own indulu hut with the zulu tribe out of aluminum and it proved that the hot African climate was not suitable for the material usage and recorded temperatures much hotter than the Zulu’s own woven huts. I believe Fuller started to understand then how the geodesic structure could improve not only on sun shading but other ways for geodesic domes to perform in hot and cold climates. Jonathan Massey essay on the 1967 US expo Pavilion is an amazing analysis on how multifaceted the project was, including the operative skin idea Fuller had in mind. (Image 20-21) “The dome’s self regulation shading system would have taken on a powerful didactic meaning as a model for the pattern of social organization towards which game-players should strive: a global system in which every unit adjusted its behaviors to serve the needs of the whole.” -Jonathan Massey As stated in Massey’s quote the shading system illuminates this very interesting idea Fuller was using with his biomimetic idea, networks, and those networks aren’t just built functional ones but also social ones that act on a global scale. This social environment that Fuller was trying to create was a
Image 17: traditional African honeybee beehives.
Image 18: Zulu Village with Indlu beehive huts. direct connection traditional beehives formally and materialistically.
Image 19: Lattice strucutre used when construction the Zulu Indlu.
Image 20: Direct similarities between Fullerâ€™s US Pavilion and Zulu Indlu both formally and structurally. Creating direct link to beehive inspiration.
Image 21: Detail of the US Pavilion shading system.
utopia where the people of earth must act as a whole even though we are separate worker bee’s all trying to contribute and to our society and provide for our own families. This common ground earth should be understood as a friend and ally that uses us as we use it and a common conscious or symbiosis can be cultivated. That’s what the 1967 pavilion seems to really be about. I called Gaudi’s cathedral “Pious Acid Visions” due to its naturalistic allure and sublimity and this is in response to Felicity D. Scott’s essay Acid Visions. Her essay allowed me to see Buckminster Fuller’s influence on the counter culture with geodesic domes and understanding that the functional aspect of hexagon was not only structural but aesthetic, just as Gaudi’s catenary arch. Scott illuminates fuller’s, “infinity of lightful, abstract, harmonic unselfishness.” use of ornament and the ’67 pavilion was an impressive space ushering in a new possible way to create and inspire awe for the future. The ways these two designers created space and achieved very similar results, and ideas astonishes me. The beehive metaphor, although poetic can bee used as a different filter to view these two organicist architects.
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