Restored church building has a growing congregation – of bees

hives on roof
© ZGF

ZGF builds interesting hives on the roof of a fascinating building.

The Sanctuary is a historic church building in Seattle, formerly the First United Methodist Church, that has been turned into an entertainment venue. As congregations shrink, many churches are lost to demolition, particularly in growing cities like Seattle. This one is particularly interesting to the historic preservation community; it was the subject of a big fight that changed the rules for architectural preservation. According to the Sanctuary website,

The battle gained national attention because it pitted the public’s right to control zoning over a religious institution’s right to freely practice religion. In a 5-4 vote the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the congregation and allowed for the demolition of the building without city landmark protection.

Mark Meets Sanctuary© Connie Zhou

But it didn't get demolished; Daniels Real Estate bought it from the congregation and a new office and hotel tower designed by ZGF cantilevers over and looks down on the roof. Downstairs, the executive chef, food and beverage manager Gavin Stephenson is also a beekeeper, so ZGF designed four very architectural beehives to provide "a sustainable source of honey to infuse in The Sanctuary’s buzzworthy menu." Being into bad puns, they call it An Urban Bee-con of Light.

The designers explain what they learned about beehives:

  • Size and dimension: The Sanctuary hives are wooden structures comprised of stackable boxes, standing over five feet tall. Size and dimension are important in order to accommodate a growing hive and its honey production. When occupied, the hives can weigh up to 300 pounds each, so the team designed platforms to stabilize and support them.
  • Ventilation and air flow: Surface treatments on the outside are light and colorful so as not to overheat the hives and provide adequate ventilation, as moisture makes bees susceptible to illness.
  • Color: Any surfaces that bees come into contact with need to be left untreated, so the team funneled their creative energies toward the design of the painted exteriors. The final colors were sampled from regional pollinator-preferred flower species, like bright orange nasturtiums, yellow black-eyed susans, purple borage and pink marguerite daisies.

hives on roof© ZGF

The hives are now home to 200,000 Carniolan bees; the architects note that "bees can roam as far as six miles from their hives, collecting an array of nectars from maple trees and other plants that make complex and delicious urban honey."

My first thought upon seeing those hives sitting on the white plastic roof was that there should have been habitat up there as well, perhaps an intensive green roof full of flowers that bees like. It's also a nicer view for all those people in the towers admiring the hives. However, that often isn't possible on historic buildings because their roof structure wasn't designed to take the loads.

Perhaps the architects and their clients, Daniels Real Estate, can find some other bit of roof or ground to join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge to create a better habitat for bees and other pollinators.

night shot looking down on Sanctuary© Connie Zhou

Restored church building has a growing congregation – of bees
ZGF builds interesting hives on the roof of a fascinating building.

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