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The Hive Mind Approach To Rewilding Design

By Eva Boehm

Arthur Mamou-Mani creates dancing beehives for Fortnum & Mason

Arthur Mamou-Mani, French architect and director of Mamou-Mani Architects, specialises in a new kind of digitally designed and fabricated architecture. His work centres around 3D-printing on a large scale, using bioplastics to form biodegradable structures that are, in many ways, ground-breaking. For London Design Festival 2021, Mamou-Mani partnered with Fortnum & Mason to create a swirling, geometrical installation titled, ‘The Dancing Beehives’.

Inspired by quintessential Fortnum & Mason symbols, such as the champagne flute and the beehives residing on their Piccadilly rooftop, the flowing 3D-printed cones flew across the store’s central atrium. Starting with a formal, elegant column, the structure builds to a crescendo of scattered elements that travel all the way up to the roof, where the real bees reside, telling a multi-layered story.

'We are telling the story of the pollinator, which also links the project with a wider story about rewilding – the idea that architecture can actually bring nature back to the city.' - Arthur Mamou-Mani

The environment plays a key role in this story. Producing the modular pieces from his East London studio, Mamou-Mani’s 3D printing technique allows for greater control over the quantity of material being used, resulting in a holistic approach from design to making that creates far less of a carbon footprint.

Alongside the benefits of keeping his projects optimised and local, 3D-printing also enables Mamou-Mani to use innovative materials. Bioplastics are produced from renewable biomass sources – ‘The Dancing Beehives’ are composed entirely of sugar cane. They take about 80% less carbon to produce than petroleum and are 60% less toxic when burnt. Bioplastics can also biodegrade in industrial composters. As Mamou-Mani says: “It’s a cradle-to-cradle material.”

Mamou-Mani is keen for ‘The Dancing Beehives’ to trigger a response in his audience beyond the installation’s beautiful structure, unique geometry and sugary, silk-like, light-reflecting materials. He hopes it will encourage a deeper exploration into 3D-printing, environmentally friendly materials, pollinators and nature. “If we don’t tap into that curiosity and that quest for depth, then we won’t be able to tell a wider story,” he notes.

“We are telling the story of the pollinator, which also links the project with a wider story about rewilding – the idea that architecture can actually bring nature back to the city,” Mamou-Mani explains. “Pollinators are so important and I’m glad that we can tell that story in parallel to everything else.”

Each year, Fortnum & Mason fundraises for pollinators, promotes sustainable beekeeping and auctions honey made by their bees. For 2021, there was also a chance to take home an individual hive from ‘The Dancing Beehives’ structure. Mamou-Mani’s modular approach to design is the ideal foundation for reuse – previous projects have taken on new lives as lamps, tables, lattices to grow tomatoes and even birds nests. “I always think of where things come from and where they end up, rather than only the event itself.”