Summer Destination: A Pollinator Lounge - Brooklyn Botanic Garden
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Summer Destination: A Pollinator Lounge

This summer’s art installation at Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a special group of visitors in mind: native insect pollinators. 

Two women with black hair sit in front of a building.
Architects Nerea Feliz and Joyce Hwang. Photo by Jack Landau.

The installation, a Pollinator Lounge, is the creation of architects Joyce Hwang and Nerea Feliz, who make up the design collective Double Happiness. The duo has worked together for nearly a decade on projects that meld art and architecture and encourage humans to think of other species as neighbors. (This is Hwang’s second time making art for the Garden—she previously created a birdhouse for BBG’s 2022 For the Birds exhibition.)

In May 2023, Double Happiness unveiled a Multispecies Lounge at the Bentway Studio, facing Canoe Landing Park, an outdoor public space in Toronto, that invites visitors to interact with urban wildlife. Drawing on insights from that experience, Hwang, Feliz, and their students from the University at Buffalo and the University of Texas at Austin are creating a space for native insect pollinators and BBG visitors to coexist.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden director of Interpretation & Exhibitions Kate Fermoile spoke with Hwang and Feliz to learn more about their work and what we can expect this summer.

What was the goal of the Multispecies Lounge in Toronto?

Hwang: Because the Bentway is a public place in the middle of Toronto, we wanted to make it interactive. It’s a series of urban seating arrangements that allows people to sit down and interact with animals. 

A sculpture with tall wooden poles bathed in purple light at night.
The Multispecies Lounge at Bentway Studio in Toronto, which inspired this summer’s Pollinator Lounge at BBG. Photo by Mila Bright Zlatanovic.

Creating a space that could bring animals and people together in a public arena was a really important goal, while increasing awareness of urban wildlife, exploring the ecologies of the area, and bringing visibility to some of the species there.

And did you achieve that?

Hwang: I recorded some photos and videos after a few weeks of some bees moving around in the insect hotel structures. Anecdotally, I’ve also seen on Instagram people posting pictures where somebody sits down in a seat and suddenly notices a bee behind them.

A part of the piece was to help people realize they are surrounded by other city inhabitants that they might not have thought of, like a groundhog that lives underneath the site.

What is the difference between building for bees, animals, or birds and building for people? Do you approach your work differently?

Feliz: I don’t approach it differently. Design is always about trying to identify the needs of the occupants. In this case, obviously, very different needs and occupants! Also, a big part of this work is to bring attention to nonhuman species and how they inhabit and perceive the city differently, and design can play a huge role in doing that and making that interesting.

A black and white digital drawing comprised of rectangular shapes in various shades of gray against a background of trees.
A sketch of the Pollinator Lounge at BBG. Image courtesy of Nerea Feliz and Joyce Hwang.

Hwang: I try to think about animals and fauna as neighbors. So how can we lend the same empathic sensibility to design for multiple species, not only humans? 

That said, obviously, there are so many regulations, codes, and accessibility requirements to manage as an architect designing for humans that don’t translate into designing for multispecies. On the other hand, there probably should be more thought given to design for nonhumans. For example, the bird-safe building guidelines in New York City are a good start; there should be more things like that.

How did you learn about the animals for whom you were designing the Multispecies Lounge?

Feliz: We started with iNaturalist.

Hwang: And then we met with ecologists from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. They looked over the list of species we had identified through iNaturalist and compared it with a list of species at risk. Also, I wanted to gauge their level of enthusiasm about some species. 

For example, this one ecologist got very excited about DeKay’s brownsnake; he was saying that it is one of the most misunderstood snakes in the area—that people don’t even realize that they’re killing baby snakes because they think that they’re worms and step on them or cycle over them! So we decided, okay, well, we have to incorporate the snake into the Lounge.

What are some things from that project that you want to bring to BBG?

Hwang: The seating arrangement really worked well, and the solitary bee habitats worked really well. I’ve read that it tends to be better if the bee habitats are facing south, but the ones that were facing in all directions were being used. For the BBG project, we’ll look at some other species, like wasps, butterflies and moths, and so on.

What are you most excited about as you start planning for BBG’s Pollinator Lounge?

Feliz: I’m very excited for our work to be at Brooklyn Botanic Garden! And I’m excited to give this project another spin. It is a rare opportunity to be able to revisit our design, adapt it to a new location, and be able to improve it, so that’s actually really awesome.

Hwang: I had such a great experience working on the birdhouse project. I just have so much respect for the organization that it just feels wonderful to be part of it. Since I was born in Brooklyn, BBG was actually one of the first places my parents took us to when I was little; there are loads of pictures of me sitting in Brooklyn Botanic Garden as a baby.

What should visitors look out for when they visit the Pollinator Lounge?

Feliz: The premise of the project is exciting, creating a place for rest and the observation of nature. The Garden is already a place to pause and marvel at plants, but we are expanding it to include other species that play a huge role within plant life, specifically pollinators. We think these interspecies encounters are really great.

Hwang: Get ready to learn more about our friendly neighbors, and about animals that you might not have even considered. You might like butterflies, but did you know that wasps are also pollinators? I want visitors to see the world through a different lens.

A version of this article ran in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Plants & Gardens, the BBG Members’ newsletter. 

Kate Fermoile is the director of Exhibitions & Interpretation at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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Image, top of page: Photo by Steven Severinghaus.