Rapid prototypers are falling in price, but are still expensive to use, and the field of swarm robotics continues to work on making better bots with more useful emergent behavior, but today, the hardest working hives on the planet are still organic. Tomas Libertiny made a form for his hive in the shape of a vase and then let the bees do the rest. It took 40,000 of the little ladies a week to make the vase. The materials are free, as the bees gather them themselves, and even better, they work for queen and country. I was spoke with a beekeeper this morning who has been working on something similar, and others have made use of the concept in the past, inclding Garnett Puett, who twenty years ago apparently put a queen bee in a life sized cast of his wife and let them sculpt a work known as Apiscaryatid, but I have yet to see a picture. Hilary Berseth has some wonderful slow prototyping work that can be seen here.
I think it would also be fun to use a lost wax process to cast the final product in a more permanent material. Next thing you know, the Danish will be using slow prototyping termites to make their clogs.
Update: It looks like Libertini is still at it. He has taken on a project much like Apiscaryatid, creating a life size figure of Jesus in a glass case entitled Unbearable Lightness. He started with a mesh small enough to trap the queen within, but large enough to allow the workers through. The bees built the honeycomb, filled it with honey, and then removed the honey when they were later relocated, leaving just the honeycomb structure behind. Why he chose the religious iconography I don’t know, but it scares the beeJesus out of me.
And some video as well: