Symbiosis – The Orchid and the Bee


Reciprocal Communication: Learning from the Orchid and the Bee

Symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between different species which sustains and nourishes both participants. Derived from Ancient Greek as ‘sym’ meaning ‘living’ and ‘biosis’ meaning ‘together’, symbiosis is a crucial means of different species and organisms helping each other out, of ensuring each other’s health and survival.  A beautiful and complex system of reciprocal altruism.

One of the most fascinating and recently discovered examples of symbiosis is the orchid and the bee. Orchids are stunningly varied in form and colour but have one similarity – they intentionally look like a bee. The orchid’s form has evolved purely to attract the bee, and in a further complication the orchid does not provide nectar, the food of bees, like most other flowers. Scientists have now discovered that the orchid secretes a special scent which, when gathered by the male bee, attracts the female bee thus improving the male bee’s mating ability, and ensuring its own reproduction. The bee and the orchid therefore sustain each other. The bee is the integral agent in ensuring the orchid’s reproduction, and in turn the orchid ensures the reproduction of the bee. A beautifully circular, yet simple tale of symbiosis – of perfect reciprocal communication.

This is both an instructional and cautionary allegory for architects. Our communication must be symbiotic. Architects at present, are in danger of communicating only commensally – we communicate largely among, and for ourselves. Unlike the bee we do not, generally speaking, allow ourselves to be enticed and sustained by outside influences, other species. We speak in jargon and trade in empty learned rhetoric passed down by other older, similar architects. Unlike the orchid, we do not make ourselves enticing to the wider community, in order to help sustain them. We are happy to converse among, and entice ourselves with utopian images and fetishised fashions, in a closed and self-serving manner.  This blog instead promotes symbiosis…