Coming Soon to Cabrini Green: Bees on the Roof! Bees on the Roof!


Diagram of proposed building at 442 West Division

Diagram of proposed building at 442 West Division

The whole “green building” movement has become something of an ecological arms race over the last decade.  Your building has a green roof?  Well, my building harvests rainwater for the toilets.  Your building channels natural light to cut down on electricity use?  Well, my building cries unicorn tears to wash the windows!  It’s all become farcical, especially since architects and engineers are usually the smartest kids in the room and long ago learned to game the system.

A few years ago when we were developing an architectural tour of downtown Vancouver to coincide with the 2010 Winter Olympics, we found out that the then-new Vancouver Convention Centre had deployed the nuclear option:  A freaking apiary.

Vancouver Convention Centre

The Vancouver Convention Center, abuzz with activity. Photograph courtesy of Artefaqs architecture photography.

For those of you who aren’t the smartest kids in the room, an apiary is a bee farm.  In this time of food supply worries because of the planet’s dwindling bee population, there ain’t nothin’ more eco-mo-logical than putting a giant freaking beehive or 12 on the roof of your building.  The Vancouver Convention Centre even employs a full-time beekeeper to keep all the little buzzers fat and happy in their urban environment.

Much as lasers became laser pointers, and Univac became an iPhone, technology marches on and things become smaller, and more common.  So common that a baby apiary is landing in Cabrini Green.

Chicago Architecture Blog reporter Daniel Schell was there when the Chicago Plan Commission approved the construction of a new residential building at 422 West Division Street.  We first told you about this Pappageorge Haymes-designed building last summer when it was first proposed to replace the triangle-shaped lot where City Garden operated a city garden.  That urban farm has since moved on to browner fields, and now this corner of downtown is ripe for development.

Honey bee, Bea Arthur, To be or not to be

Two bees and a not to be.

Mr. Schell tells us that, as approved, the building’s 84 apartments will consist of 26 public housing units, 26 affordable housing units, and 32 market rate apartments.  Oh, yeah, and there’s going to be a bee farm on the roof so that thousands of tiny insects can fan out across the city, stinging and winging their way to pollinating balcony geraniums, parking lot crabgrass, and the late Maggie Daley’s tulips from way up in Lincoln Park down to that Lincoln parked by Pacific Gardens Mission so long it has dandelions growing under it.

As Cabrini welcomes its new, flying overlords perhaps some of them might even visit hizzonor’s private garden on the roof of city hall — the symbolic, if not actual, root of the architectural eco-friendliness movement in the Midwest.

But don’t worry about the residents of this building not getting sleep because of the sound of bees above them.  That will likely be drowned out by the noise from the children’s daycare center planned for the ground floor.


<strong>Location: West Division and North Clybourn, Old Town</strong>

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

Share This Post On