UNM architecture class designs bee sanctuary

  • Phuc Nguyen - 1
    Bee sanctuary designed by Phuc Nguyen
  • Leila Roth - 1
    Bee sanctuary designed by Leila Roth
  • Jacob Martinez
    Bee sanctuary designed by Jacob Martinez
  • Emily Ashford - 4
    Bee sanctuary designed by Emily Ashford
  • Daniel Quintana - 4
    Bee sanctuary designed by Daniel Quintana
  • Vanessa Salazar - 3
    Bee sanctuary designed by Vanessa Salazar
  • Thomas Bejcek
    Bee sanctuary designed by Thomas Bejcek

UNM associate professor leads student project to design an urban beekeeping area in Albuquerque


Students in Gabriella Gutierrez’s Architecture 402 class are focused on creating a sanctuary for bees at Tingley Beach.


As part of the Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree, students are required to take several design studio classes. Arch 402 is their final six-credit studio that typically explores contemporary architectural topics that focus on issues of sustainability, history, and community outreach.


Gutierrez, an associate professor in the UNM School of Architecture and Planning, got the idea for her class project from a resolution that Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton and former councilor Brad Winter sponsored seeking approval from the city council to make Albuquerque a designated “Bee City USA”. 


In 2016, the Albuquerque City Council unanimously approved Albuquerque as the first Bee City USA in the Southwest – Burque Bee City.


Additionally, Gutierrez planned to submit the student’s projects to the 21st Annual Steel Design Student Competition for the 2020-2021 academic year in the “Category I: Workplace Wellness” organized by The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).


However, the needs and sizing of the land in Albuquerque didn’t match the guidelines of the competition and the submission didn’t come to be.


Gutierrez said she still wanted to pursue a focus on worker productivity and how the concept of wellness could be explored in environments where everyone is safe and thrives including bees. The competition requirement of using steel was encouraged.


This project strived to highlight the relevant role of bees in our society – biodiversity, wildlife habitats, food source, wild plant growth, and pollination — and protect them. 


First, students did research on the topics of bees, expressive use of steel in architecture, towers focused on nature and parks, wellness in architecture, wellness for the bee population, and site analysis in groups of two/three students.


Next, students had to create a design to house areas for education about bee pollinators, like food production and harvesting honey. The primary programmatic elements included a welcome center, a modest café, apiaries, and an observation tower. 


The site for the design project is located in the northern end of Tingley Beach Park, which is between the Botanic Gardens and Aquarium, and the Zoo. These three amenities make up the Albuquerque BioPark and are connected with an existing narrow gauge train track that shuttles visitors from one end of the park to the other. 


Gutierrez said that architecture students tend to view themselves primarily as designers, but can often make an impact in the STEM field.


“[I am asking them] to rethink the nature of working in a post-pandemic era and how to design for holistic physical and mental wellness for all the building’s inhabitants.”


Jacob Martinez, a student in the studio class, said that “the largest struggle for the project was thinking about site development while considering bee-friendliness.”


Martinez’s design was created with the main idea of connecting the surrounding community and creating an open and inclusive environment for people of all ages. “It is unique because it doesn’t only take advantage of the site itself, but also takes advantage of off-site circulation to connect the community.”


“I think this project is important for multiple reasons,” Martinez said. “Bees are very important to all life on earth, and they are dying at alarming rates. This project creates an outlet to learn about the importance of bees in the environment and what is happening to these unique creatures.”


One of Gutierrez’s students, Thomas Bejcek, focused on education and creating a compact floor plan to allow visitors to immerse themselves in beekeeping and share the experience with the bees.


Bejcek said that he “[feels] that the tower design is the most unique aspect. Rather than a simple vertical tower, I decided to cantilever my tower at an angle, all out of cast-in-place concrete.”


“Finding the balance between sustainability and design is difficult as is, but trying to create an experience with bees is even harder,” Bejcek said. “The process I enjoyed the most was finding ways to bring out educational moments within the architecture and letting the spatial planning work for me. […] I didn’t want to put people so close to bees that it was uncomfortable, but I also wanted them to still learn.”


“Bee’s are extremely vital to our ecosystem, and to our economy which is why education to the public and a safe haven for bees is so important. Rather than keeping bees far away, I think this project allows people to see bees and learn about them in an interactive way,”  Bejcek said.


Now, Gutierrez is hoping to present to Benton the student’s projects and gain his support for the idea of a bee sanctuary located in Tingley Beach Park.


Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, the Seattle company that developed Albuquerque BioPark Master Plan in collaboration with NCA Architects, provided Gutierrez a copy of the maps as a reference for students. Gutierrez believes they could also be part of this project due to their previous involvement.


This master plan includes proposals for Tingley Beach, the Zoo, the Botanic Garden, and the Aquarium – a 25-year living project plan with designs and goals, including the creation of an observation tower located at the north end of Tingley Beach that could become an iconic landmark rising above the cottonwoods and offering visitors views of the Rio Grande, Route 66, the Sandia Mountains and the valley for miles in all directions. 


The vision of the master plan is to focus on biodiversity in all forms, and Gutierrez hopes that some of the ideas her students had for their bee sanctuary projects could promote the goals embedded in the master plan and in the resolution that designated Albuquerque as a bee-friendly city.   


At the end of the semester, students learned about sustainability in architecture and how the shape of buildings have the potential to contribute to the wellbeing of its users, the land, and to becoming good shepherds of the environment. 


They learned that bees are vital for the preservation of ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. They provide one of the most recognizable ecosystem services, i.e. pollination, which is what makes food production possible.