At the intersection between art and architecture, some unexpected moments of inspired design can emerge, and so it proved in Milan, Italy, this summer: in partnership with architectural firm BDP, artist Wolfgang Buttress has scooped the International Prize for Best Pavilion Architecture for his UK Pavilion at the 2015 World EXPO in Milan.
The structure is intimately connected to the event’s overarching theme, “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life.” The primary sculpture is entitled The Hive and was conceived in close collaboration with bee-expert Doctor Martin Bencsik’s research on pollination and the collective dynamic of bees. The 46-foot (14-meter) cuboid of interlaced aluminum elements is based on the structure of honeycomb, evoking the dense but permeable spatial qualities of beehives.
The Hive hums and emits a soft glow, lending the pavilion an ethereal atmosphere that acts as a metaphor for the increasing fragility of the honeybee population. However, the design goes further than abstract references: sound and light are directly affected by the movements of real insects. “Signals from a bee colony in Nottingham are streamed in real-time to the UK Pavilion in Milan, activating a lighting-array and soundscape,” says Buttress. “The Hive acts as a medium or interface, conveying the activity of bees at a specific point in time.”
Outside the main pavilion, a meadow of wildflowers is raised up to provide a “bee’s-eye view” of the insects’ native habitat. Visitors embark on a journey along paths that intertwines with nature, reaching an experiential climax as they enter The Hive itself. The pavilion makes for a highly visceral environment that, in the words of Buttress, offers people “an immersive multi-sensory experience” that leaves visitors with “a lasting flavor of the British landscape.”
Wolfgang Buttress’s immersive installation is on show and accessible to the public until the finale of the EXPO at the end of this month.