This Cute Wooden Shelter Is Like an Apartment Building for Bees

With a new bee home design meant for your backyard, Danish company Habeetats is creating a buzz around biodiversity.


In his career, architect Jeppe Utzon has tackled a range of projects, designing everything from luxury homes and eco-resorts to social housing in Bolivia. His latest endeavor, however, is on an entirely different scale. Using scrap wood from flooring company Dinesen, Utzon has created the first bee home design for Habeetats, a Danish company committed to helping the solitary bee population thrive.

Habeetats’s Utzon bee home is crafted from Dinesen Douglas fir off-cuts and has been tried and tested in various research projects around the world. The boards are stacked and have grooves carved in them to create tunnels where nesting female solitary bees can lay eggs.

The Habeetats story begins a decade ago, when founder André Amtoft was working on food insecurity scenarios and learned about the importance of insect pollinators to our food supply. At the time, there was a lot of publicity around colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomena wherein honeybees die off, triggering a food shortage. People were only beginning to explore how bee species that were unaffected by CCD could be supported to ensure continued pollination and increase biodiversity.

Female solitary bees build nests inside the Habeetats dwellings using natural materials such as leaves and mud to create "cells" with enough pollen to support a single offspring. The bee lays an egg in a cell, and then seals the opening. When the offspring are ready to emerge as adults, they chew their way out.

When Amtoft’s sister, Anja Amtoft Wynns, embarked on a PhD project to study how solitary bees and their companion species, nest fungi, live, he had an idea.

"I had previously visited the headquarters of Dinesen, where I discovered many off-cuts in production," he recalls. "I reasoned that if we could design functional and aesthetic nests for scientific research, they could also be used for garden enthusiasts and agriculture."

Habeetats nests are crafted from off-cuts of Dinesen floorboards. "The collaboration with Habeetats ensures a meaningful purpose for our Dinesen Douglas off-cuts and ultimately a small contribution to maintaining biodiversity, nature, and taking care of our precious planet," says Eva Hjarup Preisler, communications manager at Dinesen.

Dinesen agreed to sponsor the project, taking the opportunity to give back to the environment in a meaningful way. The last piece of the puzzle was a bee home design that would suit scientific research and private gardens alike. Amtoft met Utzon through a group of friends one evening, and they began talking about why providing shelters for solitary bees is so important.

"Jeppe is incredibly good at asking interesting questions, so it didn’t take long to ask if he wanted to do a collaboration and give animal architecture a shot," says Amtoft. "It’s been fun and mutually rewarding so far, so I’m really glad he did!"

The minimal appearance of the Utzon nest makes it suitable for private gardens, as well as for research.

A trio of bespoke shou sugi ban versions of the Utzon was created for Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf’s magical garden outside of Noma, a restaurant in Denmark. The bee homes can be seen from the main dining room.

To create a bee home that was intuitive, sustainable, and aesthetically pleasing, Utzon and the Amtofts spent a great deal of time researching how cavity-nesting solitary bees live. In time, the brief became clear: They discovered that an ideal habitat is one with precise conditions and geometry.

"Even if the final nest looks simple, the path to get there was rather long, with many sketches, drawings, 3D-models, prototypes, and dead ends," says Utzon.

The resulting design, a tidy stack of trapezoidal planks with arch-shaped cavities, is the one Anja used in her PhD project—a model made completely from Dinesen’s Douglas fir waste material.

The Utzon nests are made from stacking off-cuts from timber floorboards, making them simple to assemble. "In a country like Denmark, where salaries are high, using waste materials usually ends up with the final product costing substantially more than one made from traditional materials," reveals architect Jeppe Utzon.

"As a studio we always aim for natural materials, which are both usually better for the planet and also age with grace," Utzon says. "However, it’s often not possible to the extent we want due to budget constraints. In this case, much to our delight, [Habeetat] had built it into the project from the start."

Mason bees are named for their habit of using mud or other "masonry" products in constructing their nests, which are made in naturally occurring gaps such as between cracks in stones or other small dark cavities.

The Utzon can be easily attached to a wall, and the solitary bees nest in the small openings created by grooves carved into the timber off-cuts.

To get more people to install the bee homes, which promise to boost a backyard’s biodiversity, all Habeetat has to do now is convince them that solitary bees are nonaggressive. "In contrast to honey bees, solitary bees do not have a queen or hive to defend. They’re ideal, peaceful companions," explains Amtoft. "All female solitary bees are fertile, and in this sense they’re flat structured and a bit reminiscent of Scandinavian societies in the way that they live."

Follow Habeetats on Instagram, or purchase your very own Utzon bee home at their website.

In addition to selling individual shelters, Habeetats also offers an annual subscription service, which includes a fall nest inspection, cleaning and removal of parasites and predators, and minor nest repairs if needed. Additional services include monitoring nest population and larvae development, storing cocoons for timed spring release, and the transfer of the home to new sites.

Sketch of the Habeetats shelter by Jeppe Utzon

Sketch of the Habeetats shelter by Jeppe Utzon

Sketch of the Habeetats shelter by Jeppe Utzon

Sketch of the Habeetats shelter by Jeppe Utzon

Published

Last Updated

Save

Get the Pro Newsletter

What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.