It has been written that the first architect was a bee – I know that from a slim volume, Bees and Beehives, published anonymously in 1874. One can wonder what manner of cultural artifact that bee-chitect produced but there can be little doubt that it was done with order, industry & modesty. There may even have been a little bee dance involved.
When the College of Architecture & Urban Planning was reinvented as the College of Built Environments we gained a small mascot, the CBE Bee.
It is appropriate – we are busy, going out every day to nourish ourselves and others with new ideas, organizing in hierarchies to build things to support a stable, long-lasting culture of caring and production. We mingle mostly with our own, and form clusters when something requires focused attention and energy. Sometimes we even behave as though we have stingers…but what successful strategy doesn’t include an effective defense?
Every bee belongs to a hive. Our department has a few hives – Gould Hall, Architecture Hall, the Design Machine Group, the Integrated Design Lab and a few others. I think of Gould Hall as being our main hive, as it houses our departmental offices, and we buzz in and out all day, almost every day of the year.
If Gould Hall is our hive, Gould Court might be the honeycomb supporting the larger Us – the College. Spacious and central, it has an active café and is surrounded by classrooms, studios, offices for the Dean and three departments, some of our academic and research centers and our conventional and digital fabrication labs – and soon we’ll have a gallery.
I spend a lot of time in and around Gould Court. I think about it, and admire the simple rules, proportion and syncopation of 2-foot (window frames), 3-foot (framing of the concrete walkways), 8-foot (lighting brackets) spacing within the 36-foot east-west and 50-foot north-south structural bays (the north-south spacing of the regular classroom bays is 30-feet) and can imagine the space extended in a linear manner across many blocks as the center of a megastructure. I enjoy thinking about how it could be a more vital hive for all our bees. Six years ago I suggested rolling display walls to replace the large wood trestles that were being used for reviews, displays and exhibitions. The Dean’s office supported the design and making of new rolling walls by students the following summer.
At the same time we looked at the café and wondered why it was so hard to find a table for a quick cup of coffee with a colleague, or for a working session with a student. I thought it could be a more useful and productive place if more, and smaller tables were provided. Megan, in the Dean’s office arranged a meeting with folks at UW tower who were buried in the furniture from the offices of the former tenant, and we walked away with a pile of high-quality, fashionable table bases. All we had to do was design and make new acrylic tops and, Voilá! – enough small tables to provide lots of open seats, plus some large round ones for larger groups.
During the design of the rolling walls the entire Gould Court space was considered, and suggestions were made for improving the display system on the walls of the court, from the first floor to the 4th. The six-foot module of the rolling walls was used to lay out exhibit panels to replace a collection of different surfaces, including cork board, homasote and glass-enclosed exhibition cases – none of which were original to the building. A steel rail system was designed and installed, and hollow-core doors were ordered onto which a thick, heavy pin-up material was glued. The new spacing made the original wood panels more visible to reinforce the original spacing and proportions of the building. The glass wall of the library was exposed once again, and the palette of materials in Gould Court was reduced, strengthening the reading of the original structure.
During the lead up to the High-Performance Craft symposium in the Spring of 2011, Architect Louis Mackall and I led a digital-fabrication workshop to design and make new stage elements for Gould Court – which we then used during the symposium presentations. Embracing the bee perspective, the stage was made up of 10 large hexagons. When arranged for almost any function, they mimic the pattern of a honeycomb. The presence of hexagons in Gould Court suddenly, and unexpectedly, enlivened the geometry of the central stair – the only non-orthogonal original interior component. Nice surprise!
More recently use of the honeycomb pattern has been reinforced with the addition of new model stands, with hexagonal bases and acrylic tops to match the café tables. They sport the same slots, and at the same height as the rolling walls do, so that things can be added to them in the same manner, and also to act has hand-holds for moving.
For architects the development of furnishings and amenities is part of a long game, and can go on long after a building has been completed, as new uses develop and new ways to work, socialize and play are adopted. I have enjoyed watching how the amenities we have developed for Gould Court have been adopted, adapted and taken for granted by users of the space, and how they have affected our bee culture.