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Beehouse designs inspired by traditional Philippine architecture

Bahay kubo-inspired beehouse.

Abu Hassan Jalil, a Malaysian agronomist and meliponiculturist, has been studying early Philippine architecture to see how such designs can be applied in beehouses. His end goal is to implement such designs as a way to get more people interested in agri-tourism, specifically insect tourism.

Pre-colonial and ethnic Filipinos built their houses with practicality in mind. Early houses were constructed using materials that were locally available and designed to withstand the elements of the Philippine climate, including natural disasters.

These design principles are reflected in Abu’s designs. As part of Word Bee Day on May 20, 2022, Abu shared some of his proposed beehouses which will be featured in his upcoming book “Vernacular Architecture in Meliponiculture” to be published by the International Bee Research Association (IBRA).

Bahay kubo

Bahay kubo-inspired beehouse.

The nipa hut is an architectural style that is found in many Southeast Asian countries.  The Filipinos call their nipa huts “bahay kubo” and designed them to make the most of the country’s warm and humid weather. The bahay kubo allows air to freely circulate in and out of the structure. Its roof is pitched high and steep to allow interior heat to rise and dissipate while the roofing material helps insulate the house from exterior heat.

Abu’s nipa hut-inspired beehouse is unwalled and has a roofing with a transparent polycarbonate ridge which allows light to enter. Four posts support the roof while wooden racks surround the sides. The structure can accommodate two to three rows of wooden racks to provide a surface where beehive boxes are placed. Pedestals may also be used as additional surfaces for the boxes. 

There are fewer racks in one of the sides to allow people to enter the structure. The structure will be built with the typical height of a Filipino in mind, so a raised platform can be placed in the middle to allow people to reach the uppermost tier of beehive boxes.

Bahay na bato

A side of a bahay na bato can be extended to house beehives.

In areas where there are frequent typhoons like in Batanes, the Ivatan people learned to construct their houses using limestone. Called bahay na bato, these dwellings protected the Ivatans everytime they had to ride out heavy rains and strong winds brought by typhoons.

To use this structure as a beehouse, Abu extended the side opposite the direction of the wind to serve as a location for beehive boxes. Log hives are placed along the flat edges of windows while coconut shell hives are hung from the eaves. 

Abu’s design includes a second floor where beehive boxes may also be placed. This multi-floor concept is also seen in Abu’s other designs as it allows bees to more easily access the canopies. Abu explained that the farther bees have to fly to reach plants, the more exposed they are to predators. 

Gilitob

Gilitob-inspired beehouse has eight sides to allow bees to forage at multiple directions.

The Kalinga people of the Cordillera region have different housing styles to indicate a person’s rank in society. Kalinga nobles live in a type of octagonal housing called gilitob. The house is elevated, with sapling trunks used to support the structure and to cordon animals below the house. Other designs of the houses use weaved bamboo in place of the trunks. 

Abu used this design to create an octagonal beehouse. Since this beehouse has eight sides, it allows bees to forage in multiple directions. This prevents swarming and reduces the chances of bees returning to the wrong colony, according to Abu. 

Structures with octagonal sides are also more resistant to heavy wind as air easily flows around the exterior of the structure instead of building up pressure on one side. 

Torogan

Torogan-inspired beehouse can use log hives to support the structure.

Natural disasters were also considered when early Filipinos made their houses. A lot of traditional houses are elevated from the ground to keep the inhabitants dry during the wet season. An example of this is the torogan which is where Maranao nobles dwelled.

The torogan is an elevated house adorned with intricately-designed end-beams called panolong. It is also marked by a sarimanok that perches on top of the roof.  Supporting the house are wooden trunks placed on top of half-buried rocks. It was designed this way to absorb the shock from earthquakes since the Philippines, being part of the Pacific ring of fire, is prone to earthquakes. 

Abu’s torogan-inspired beehouse had the supporting wooden trunks replaced with trunks containing beehives. Trunks without beehives may also be used as new bee colonies can just be introduced into them as long as there are cracks or holes for bees to enter.

Using traditionally designed beehouses for tourism

Adopting traditional architecture for the construction of beehouses can make them more appealing for tourists. A few agri-eco parks in the Philippines are already featuring traditionally designed structures.

However, Abu said that there are several considerations when using beehouses inspired by traditional architecture. Such designs should be reviewed by relevant government bodies, as well as by architects, engineers, and meliponiculturists. The structure should be compatible with the topography while also being near to plants where bees may forage. Lastly, farm owners need to assess the worth of implementing such designs. As with every aspect of running a business, the financial cost should be weighed against the potential benefits.

The information provided is from a webinar titled “Philippine Vernacular Architecture for Meliponiculture and Insect Tourism” led by Abu Hassan Jalil as part of the World Bee Day 2022 celebration. 

For updates on Abu Hassan Jalil’s upcoming book, follow the Facebook page of Akademi Kelulut Malaysia.

Illustrations courtesy of Abu Hassan Jalil.

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