The University of Manitoba is hosting an international design competition called BEE/HOUSE/LAB, challenging people to create imaginative and functional houses for solitary bees. 

"This is something totally different than the honeybees that have recently been in the news in relation to the downtown beekeeping law," said Rob Currie, head of entomology at the university and one of the competition organizers. "These are for bees that are already found within the city."

They usually nest in twigs, rotted out logs and holes beetles chew for them, Currie said.

"In our urban environment, we try to keep everything so pristine that there's virtually no space available for them," he said. 

The goal of the competition is to create more habitat for the insects. The bee populations are quickly declining because of loss of habitat, harsh winters and pesticide use, the university said.

The participants will create boxes of any material with 60 to 100 holes that are seven to 10 millimetres wide, suitable for 80-100 solitary nesting bees, Currie said.

"The arrangement of the holes is open to question and the way in which they put the whole thing together and tell a story is all open to question," he said. 

Joyce Hwang, associate professor of architecture at the University of Buffalo, and Michael Loverich, co-director of a design farm in New York, will judge the competition.

The designs will be published in an architecture catalogue and the faculty of architecture at the university will make 300 replicas of the winning designs.

The faculty of entomology will test them in the field to find out whether bees like them.

"If the bees give the thumbs down, it's not a good design," he said. 

Submissions can be submitted from March 31 until April 20. The winners will be announced on April 25.