by Jerry ElengicalSep 25, 2021
Suspended in the grand atrium of Fortnum & Mason at Piccadilly above the ornate spiral staircase, Mellifera: The Dancing Bee Hives by French architect Arthur Mamou-Mani, the Managing Director of Mamou-Mani Ltd, is an installation of swirling modules, 3D-printed from fermented sugar. Decorating the space at the heart of the famed department store, the project is one among the roster of Festival Commissions at the London Design Festival 2021 programme of events. Marrying Mamou-Mani Ltd’s proclivity towards digitally designed and fabricated architecture, with circular design and sustainable materials, the installation, developed in collaboration with FabPub, complements its lavish setting, as a fitting centrepiece amid the buzzing walkways of the upmarket retail space in London.
As per the team at Mamou-Mani Ltd, Mellifera was developed with the aim of highlighting the need to rewild urban spaces. Considering the recent research which suggests a significant loss of diversity in species of bees and hoverflies among other pollinators throughout the United Kingdom between 1980-2013, the firm’s choice to address this concern is both timely and commendable. To this end, the design takes inspiration from the famous beehives on the rooftop of Fortnum & Mason - frequented by native Welsh black bees. In fact, the term Mellifera itself means ‘honey producing’ in Latin, and is the second part or ‘specific epithet’ used in the binomial classification of the western honey bee.
The other core parameter that drove the design was the exploration of PLA (Polylactic acid) bioplastics, which offer an eco-friendly alternative to conventional petroleum-based products. According to Mamou-Mani Ltd, PLA bioplastics are non-toxic, compostable, free of any hormone disruptors found in conventional plastics, and potentially even mechanically stronger than their petroleum-based counterparts.
Speaking to STIR at the London Design Festival, Arthur Mamou-Mani elaborates on this theme stating, “PLA itself comes from renewable resources such as sugarcane, or any kind of starch, including corn, cassava, sugar beet, or potatoes, so it’s a natural carbon sink.” Furthermore, manufacturing PLA also has a considerably lower carbon footprint - up to 80 per cent less than petroleum equivalents, as mentioned by the London-based architect. Mamou-Mani further adds, “Of course there is energy required to produce it and it isn’t completely carbon neutral yet, but it is significantly less when compared to the alternative.”
Dancing along the circular void of the store’s atrium, the modules present an enticing concept for an alternative structure to house pollinator species that are absolutely vital to natural ecological balances. Mamou-Mani was influenced by the patterns seen in the balustrades of Fortnum & Mason’s spiral staircase while developing the installation’s funnel-like modules - which feature whirling ripples on their surfaces. The French architect sheds light on the fabrication process that crafted the modules, stating, “We have our own mini-factory where we take what's called bioplastic. So, this one is made from fermented sugar, and the machine we use basically covers a distance of around a kilometer - like bees essentially, to slowly construct this geometry. And so, you have about 88 of these pieces in the installation.”
With regards to the environmentally conscious outlook behind the design, Mamou-Mani remarks, “What we are trying to do is to not have a piece that sort of finishes here. And so, there's always an afterlife and also, a place where it comes from - that are both interconnected. For example, this comes from renewable materials and is then biodegradable.” All of the modules are fully compostable, and capable of being reused after the event, staying true to the concept of the circular economy promoted as part of the London Design Festival 2021’s key themes. In this vein, the individual components constituting the installation will be on sale after the festival’s conclusion, to raise funds that will aid in rehabilitating the UK’s dwindling bee populations. Moreover, 25 per cent of the proceeds will go to the charity Bees for Development.
Other Festival Commissions are also on show this year over the duration of the London Design Festival 2021 dates - running from September 18-26. A multitude of these projects have been split up across the 10 anchoring design districts, which include the Shoreditch Design Triangle, King’s Cross Design District, Brompton Design District, and Islington Design District, alongside several others. The London Design Festival V&A Museum hub is also playing host to immersive installations such as Medusa by Tin Drum and Sou Fujimoto, as well as Between Forests and Skies by Nebbia Works, among a plethora of other innovative projects that chart a way forward for circular, sustainable design.
Click here to read all about STIR at LDF, a STIR series on what to look out for at the London Design Festival 2021.