Mizzi Studio selected as one of three winners in London Festival of Architecture competition in support of biodiversity

Photo: Luke O’Donovan / Science Museum

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 August, 2021 at 12:14 pm by Andre Camilleri

Mizzi Studio’s design Home away from Hive is one of three winners of a competition organised by the London Festival of Architecture and Discover South Kensington to create a series of ‘green interventions’ on London’s Exhibition Road this summer to form part of The South Kensington Green Trail.  

Mizzi Studio, in partnership with the London Science Museum, have unveiled an organic, hive-like structure hailed ‘Home away from Hive’ in the centre of London’s arts and science district, supporting the post pandemic recovery of the area and promoting biodiversity.

Motivated to design an installation that would support eco-initiatives such as the Kensington & Chelsea Council’s Bee SuperHighway, Mizzi Studio envisioned a wild bee’s nest-like structure, Home away from Hive, in partnership with the Science Museum, that would attract insects and wildlife back to the borough, as well as visitors.

The ingenious design which is layered with medicinal and pollinator-friendly plants, allows for wild bees, which are so important for our ecosystem, to thrive within the urban environment, whilst also giving people the opportunity to interact with the beautiful nature-inspired stucture and learn about the importance of biodiversity for a healthy environment.

According to the invertebrate conservation trust, Buglife, it is estimated that 84% of EU crops and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination. Climate change, habitat loss, pollution and disease are pushing some pollinators to extinction. Mizzi Studio envisioned Home away from Hive as a physical counter to these harmful realities.  .

The winning design celebrates the complex forms and structures of wild bees’ nests and strives to create a space where people and pollinators can coexist. The timber installation covers an area of 40sqm and is comprised of two distinct domed lattice structures that are linked to create three archways of differing sizes and a circular viewing window, opening views throughout the entire structure.

Inspired by insect-built structures, the undulating and tunnelling lattice promotes natural air circulation and cooling, as well as creating shaded pathways with shadows that move continuously throughout the day to create everchanging geometric pattens on the ground.

The lattice intersections create the installation’s system of integrated planters that are home to pollinator-friendly plants, which act as a playground for wild pollinators, whilst the structures curved ribs and honeycomb-like texture provide the desired aesthetic.

“Our work has always been driven and inspired by nature. Ever since we launched our studio, our designs have rested on biophilia and bio-morphism, celebrating the ingenuity of organic systems and forms. But we are now working in a climate emergency, and accordingly our focus is even more strongly driven by a desire to make positive change through design.” said Jonathan Mizzi, Director, Mizzi Studio

We saw this project as an opportunity to highlight the importance of respecting the planet’s ecosystem. Bees are heroic protagonists in our natural world, essential to the way humans and other living creatures are sustained. They are a vital part of our ecosystem and their role in that system is being threatened. Dedicating this installation to bringing bees and other pollinators back into our urban environment felt like a significant and urgent reason to participate in this competition. Home away from Hive therefore contributes to a wider discussion on urban re-wilding – allowing nature and wildlife to reclaim a rightful place within our built environment.”

The open call invited design proposals that would demonstrate how plants, green space and biodiversity could be creatively embedded into Exhibition Road’s public realm, reclaiming space for nature amidst the bustle of the capital and encourage visitors to South Kensington, London.

The winning installations along the Exhibition Road include ‘Algae Meadow’ by Seyi Adelekun and Wayward’s, and ‘Windflower’ by Urban Radicals and Adam Harris.  Commissioned by the Exhibition Road Cultural Group in partnership with the London Festival of Architecture, Science Museum, V&A & Goethe Institute and supported by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, City of Westminster and the Mayor of London, the initiative set out to support “biodiversity and the recovery of London’s arts and sciences district in South Kensington”. 

“The South Ken Green Trail is one of the London Festival of Architecture’s most exciting and relevant projects ever.” said Rosa Rogina, Programme Director at New London Architecture and the London Festival of Architecture. “The three installations epitomise our mission to support design talent in London and enhance the city’s public realm in ways that are innovative and inspiring.”

The largest form of the structure is 5m high and 11m long, has a central chapel-like atrium filled with hanging baskets. Inside the structure, plants and dappled daylight pour in to provide beautiful spaces of respite and care for insects as well as joy for visitors.

With sustainable construction at the forefront of the design process, the structure, built by Firecracker Works, is a jigsaw of half-lapped CNC panels of spruce plywood from sustainably managed forests. These were cut from 8’ x 4’ panels to maximise material usage and minimise wastage.

 The installation was prefabricated in 20 parts, which were transported to site and bolted together within a day. The strength of the lattice structure allowed the team to build almost exclusively from timber, with stainless steel cables used sparingly for extra support.

For minimal impact on the site, load modelling dictated that a structural weight of 3.2 tonnes was sufficient to avoid floor fixings. The project is part of Mizzi studios ongoing developmental push towards carbon neutrality across their projects with the aim to educate and inspire others to do the same.  

In consultation with Richard Wilford, Head of Garden Design at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, plants were selected for their medicinal and pollinator-friendly properties to inspire visitors of the Science Museum to visit Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries and link with the Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Bee SuperHighway.  Plants include Lavandula Munstead (Lavender), Pervoskio Blue Spire (Russian Sage), Rudbeckia Goldsturm (Black Eyed Susan), Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel), and Echinacia Purpurea Magnus (Coneflower).

Left to right: Dr Julia Knights, Deputy Director for the Science Museum, Jonathan Mizzi, Director, Mizzi Studio; Emily Candler, Executive Director, Discover South Kensington.

Dr Julia Knights, Deputy Director for the Science Museum said: “Climate change is the most urgent threat facing humanity. In the Year of the COP26, the Science Museum is committed to engaging the public with the science of climate change and importance of enhancing biodiversity. As such, we are thrilled to host Home away from Hive by Mizzi studio planted with beautiful plants with medicinal properties – aimed at inspiring our visitors around the importance of wildflower habitat for our wild pollinators and igniting their curiosity to visit Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries.”

 “Our programme of outdoor activity and events brings arts and science bursting out into Exhibition Road. We want visitors to discover something new and follow the trail to discover South Kensington’s surprising green treasures. Responding to the climate crisis is a priority for all South Kensington’s arts and science organisations and a core focus for our collaborative public programming.” Said Emily Candler, Executive Director, Discover South Kensington. “The South Ken Green Trail connects to a fun and thought-provoking programme of exhibitions, artworks, talks, workshops and events happening across the district in the run-up to COP26. This project also celebrates the area’s garden heritage, while tapping into the renewed appreciation of urban nature that so many people have found during the lockdowns.”

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, added: “Tackling climate change is the challenge of our times – exciting and innovative projects like this help our borough to be a leader in this area as we seek to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

During the day the Home away from Hive forms part of the welcome to the Science Museum with visitors encouraged to weave their way through the archways to the Science Museum entrance.  Colourful information plaques feature at different heights throughout the installation so that visitors of all age groups can engage with key messages on biodiversity and pollination and feel inspired to visit Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries. The installation provides an immersive hive of discovery, education and biodiversity, promoting debate and enhancing the visitor experience.

The free-to-visit installation will be in place for everyone in London to enjoy until October, coinciding with the year of the UN international climate summit – the COP26, that the UK is hosting in Glasgow this November 2021.  

Mizzi Studio is a multidisciplinary practice specialising in Bioarchitecture and Biophilic design, dedicated to making the world a better place through inventive, climate-responsive design solutions. Made up of talented architects, interior designers and industrial designers the team believe in the power of design to enrich people’s lives and the world we live in.

They seek out projects that have a positive social and environmental impact, add tangible value, and make our public realm a healthier, more vibrant place to live in. Mizzi Studio creates architecture that is informed by the processes that occur in nature, brought to life through human craftsmanship and powered by technology.

The Studio has recently completed a four-year long commission for eight steam bent timber refreshment kiosks, along with the landmark Serpentine Coffee House and the Horseshoe Bend Brass Kiosk across Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park, in what is the largest mobilisation the Royal Parks have seen in 14 years. 

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