Reviving Neutra with Hive Living
We recently received a letter from a reader, Kristy Krone, after she read the article Hive Design in our September issue, which takes a peek at a rooftop apiary above a Toronto hotel. Krone, a recent graduate of California State University's Interior Design program, had been working on a hive of her own—this one for human habitation. She was kind enough to share the concept with Dwell readers.
For her thesis project, Krone worked with Dion Neutra to repurpose an old Richard Neutra-designed community that had fallen into severe disrepair. "In the early 1940s, Richard Neutra designed a Federal housing project in San Pedro, CA, for World War II shipyard workers," Krone explains, "The project sat on just of over 160 acres of canyon land with 600 units. After the war ended the project slowly fell victim to vandalism and lack of maintainance. It was purchased, subdivided and destroyed over time."
Inspired by the habits of honey bees, she chose to recreate the space as a cohousing facility—a mix of private residential space and common interior and exterior space. "Bees are devoted to community and they understand the importance of good real estate," says Krone, "When a queen bee finds an abandoned hive, she will reinhabit it. With a similar intent for this development...The Apiary repurposes an old Neutra project into a vibrant community where neighborliness can thrive."
The Apiary's 8500-square-foot common house, appropriately known as The Hive (and known as the Administration building in Neutra's original plan), contains shared living, dining and office space, as well as a fitness area. Shared meals are typically a major part of cohousing, and the Hive is the hub for community meals—each family residing in the Apiary is responsible for preparing one community dinner per month. The rest of the acreage supports twenty 1900-square-foot private homes—a significantly smaller footprint than today's standard American home.
"Maintaining the buildings original locations, architecture and structure, I redesigned the flow of the site to facilitate community through paths and landscape," says Krone, "By providing each home with a deck that extends to the path and a half wall off one side of the house, I was able to provide semi-private exterior space without damaging the connection to the community."
Of course, the project wouldn't be complete without a literal salute to the bees who inspired it, so Krone has also designed real apiaries into the plan, with the intention of having residents tend the hives and teaching children about bees, pollination, honey production, and ecosystems in general.
While Neutra's original modernist project preceded the advent of cohousing by a couple of decades, the development lends itself perfectly to a new interpretation of intentional community. Although it's merely a concept for now, Krone's idea is a nice representation of the respectful reuse of historic architecture, preserving structures by imbuing them with modern utility.
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Drawings and black and white photos: Permissions courtesy Dion Neutra, Architect © and Richard and Dion Neutra Papers, Department of Special Collections, Charles E.Young Research Library, UCLA.