U of M lab abuzz after bee houses win sustainability design award

Researchers and students at the University of Manitoba were awarded the Campus Sustainability Achievement Award over the weekend for bee houses designed on campus.

Competition recognizes post-secondary schools working to improve sustainability

A University of Manitoba team has won an international design award for the 50 bee houses they designed and placed on and off campus this past spring. (University of Manitoba)

A group of researchers and students at the University of Manitoba have won an international sustainability design award for a set of bee houses they created on campus.

The U of M's FabLab (fabrication laboratory) took home the Campus Sustainability Achievement Award over the weekend for its BEE/HOUSE/LAB design competition. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education gave out three awards from a total of 220 entries from around the world.

The interdisciplinary U of M team behind the bee project included research partners and students in architecture, design and entomology departments.

A total of 50 bee houses were placed across the U of M Fort Garry campus, as well as in Assiniboine Park Zoo and the St. Norbert Farmers' Market. 

Robert Currie, an entomology professor at the U of M, said North America's bees aren't doing well, and the house designs were meant to offer the winged critters an attractive alternative to wild hives.

"Around the world, pollinator insects are under threat from … parasites and pathogens, pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change, especially in urban areas," Currie said in a statement.

"Bees play a critical role in ecosystems, including pollination of many food crops we rely on. In urban areas, creating artificial habitats like bee houses that are appealing to the public, easy to use and attractive to bees can help support healthy and resilient pollinator communities."

Competing for bees' attention

Last spring, the university's office of sustainability approached environmental design instructor Jae-Sung Chon to help out with a campus-wide bee house project. Initially the aim was more narrowly focused on the scientific bee research aspect of the project.

'Knaves turn'd Honest' bee house design by Chad Morgan Connery from the U of M and Anca Matyiku from McGill University. (University of Manitoba)

Chon suggested instead that the university cast a wider net by putting out a call for bee house design proposals across the world.

In the end, teams from nine countries submitted designs. Of those submissions, two judges from the U.S. selected their five favourites based on the combined aesthetic and function of each design.

"Some were a little more poetic, some were a little more witty," Chon said.

First place went to Chad Morgan Connery from the U of M and Anca Matyiku from McGill University for their "Knaves turn'd Honest" design.

Second place went to Michael Mazurkiewicz and Derek Smart from Ryerson University for their exhibit, titled "XOXO."

50 bee hives in total were installed on the U of M Fort Garry campus. Students from Ryerson University designed these 'X' and 'O' houses. (University of Manitoba)

"They used that iconic figure as a way to communicate between us and [the bees]," Chon said. "'XO' as kind of our willing design gesture to the other being [bees] that we are welcoming them to our co-existence."

'I think it's huge'

The entirety of the U of M bee house design project was then selected for the more recent competition by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which awards organizations for furthering the cause of sustainability within an academic setting.

"To be recognized as a winning project, I think it's huge," Chon said, adding he and his team didn't expect that level of praise.

"It's amazing. AASHE is world-renowned, the best awarding organization in this particular category."

At the end of October, the team plans to retrieve the houses so that Currie and others in the department of entomology can have a look inside and analyze the bee colonies. Each house was big enough to accommodate between 80 and 100 of the little stingers.

While the bee house design has already won the award, the number of bees that called them home will more truly reflect which shack the bees preferred, according to the university.