It has been said that bees pollinate a third of everything we eat. Albert Einstein reportedly once said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” Today, as the press reports on declining bee populations worldwide, the public is more aware than ever of their contribution to our food supply and the wider global ecosystem.

The humble honeybee was the subject of the latest immersive installation from culinary duo Bompas & Parr, who teamed up with luxury hotel group Relais & Châteaux last week to transform a London townhouse into a buzzing hive of bee-related activities.

The Joy of Bees, a two-day honey tasting experience and art installation in London’s Soho neighborhood, celebrated the importance of bees to humanity and the nuances of honey produced at 29 Relais & Châteaux properties, with all ticket proceeds donated to The British Beekeepers Association.

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Rel 566 job 29credit florence fairweather
The Joy of Bees, photo by Florence Fairweather

On arrival, visitors were greeted by 20,000 honeybees in a live observation beehive before being whisked up to Hive Mind on the first floor to sup on a honey-based cocktail created by Relais and Châteaux’s mixologist Ariel Saniecki and be inspired by contemporary art, including works from French-born, British-based Marlène Huissoud. Her striking collection of black bee vessels titled “From Insects” was an ode to propolis, a biodegradable resin that honeybees collect from different trees and use to seal unwanted open spaces in the beehive.

A floor up, Mellifera, Queen of Honey, wafted around Pollenesia, a fragrant indoor garden, offering visitors a Pomaceous Primer (malic acid-based palate cleanser) before ushering them up to the golden Salon of Honey on the third floor. There, Bermondsey Street Bees’ Sarah Wyndham Lewis—resident “honey sommelier”—led a tasting of some of the world’s rarest honeys from Relais & Châteaux properties. Their color and consistency varying from pot to pot, some like lemon curd and others as dark as treacle, according to what the bees had foraged on.

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The Joy of Bees, photo by Florence Fairweather

Buzzing around the interconnected rooms was Bermondsey Street Bees founder and expert on sustainable urban beekeeping Dale Gibson. “I want to encourage all those that pass through this space to press the reset button and lose their personal space like bees in a hive,” he said.

Honeybees’ impact on the global food system is also the subject of Synthetic Apiary, the latest project from MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group. The group has previously explored the possibility of augmenting existing design techniques with biological processes.

The climate-controlled installation is conceived as the perfect environment for studying bees, and testing whether their behavior can be changed by altering the environment. “The long-term goal is to integrate biology into a new kind of architectural environment, and thereby the city,” organizers write.

For more from Bompas & Parr, see our post on Alcoholic Architecture, and see our Food + Drink report for more on the future of the sector.

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