Commercial beekeepers have relied on the Langstroth hive, basically a set of crates. Inside each crate are rows of wooden frames with foundation inserts that bees can build honeycomb on and use it to store all their worldly goods–which then the beekeepers can get at easily. The Langstroth model allows additional crates to be stacked on as the hive gets bigger and the bees produce more honey. It is a very modular and utilitarian approach to housing bees, and one that maximizes honey production. But now beekeeping is becoming more popular for backyard beekeepers, who find themselves guardians of a mini-empire, with the queen and her thousands of minions, and the responsibilities for maintaining the empire, there is the freedom to create more creative structures for the bees other than the monolithic Langstroth. Some beekeepers see themselves mainly as stewards of a dwindling bee population, not as robbers of honey.
Popular among new beekeepers is the top-bar hive, which can have an observation window to allow “newbees” the chance to see what is going on during the hive-building process. It is considered a more natural way of keeping bees, since they are allowed to build their home from scratch. Since top-bar hives typically have no foundation, the bees build their own comb, which is typically removed during honey harvesting. The bees thus produce less honey than they would if they still had their old comb to get started with.
There is the modern “Dwell” version of the Langstroth, the Urban Beehive by Rowan Dunford, who designed it as a school project at the Auckland University of Technology, and is working on developing it into a commercial product. It has colored plastic sides and looks like it might make a nice stool if you gave up beekeeping. It is supposed to combine the benefits of top-bar hives: the rendering of the insides shows top bars instead of frames. No viewing window, alas.
On the traditional side, the beehives on top of Fortnum & Mason are Langstroth hives gussied up to look like Orientalist temples. Would you care about your bees more if you raised them in such elegant looking structures? You would still have to deal with the gooey, sticky interiors though.
The HexPlex Pagoda Palace (another modified Langstroth) acknowledges the bees’ technical artistry in building hexagonal comb. It is a custom project by Oliver Frank of Landscapia.