There is a long history of beehive designs. Most beekeepers in the U.S. keep bees in a standard, sometimes called “Langstroth” hive. The parts generally include an outer cover, inner cover, several boxes of of different depths (supers), a bottom board and hive stand as noted here.
Here’s contributor Bill Catherall establishing his first beehive:
Bill looks parts of the hive: Watch a beginner look at his first hive and put the pieces together. This video is 2 minutes 25 seconds long.
Vented inner cover
Medium (6 5/8″) depth supers; he uses them throughout the operation. The standard frame is 9 5/16″ deep.
Frames: He is using three full frames of foundation and a strip of foundation across the top to let them draw their comb using only their natural wax, not a full frame. This would be important for those who want “all natural” wax. There is discussion that beeswax has been contaminated over the years via chemical treatments, mostly for mites.
Ventilated bottom board
Bill has decided to use frames without beeswax foundation, although he has included some some with a starter strip at the top to guide construction. Beeswax foundation has acquired a reputation from some beekeepers as being contaminated with pesticides due to Varroa mite treatments.
Foundation is also manufactured from plastic and full plastic frames of already drawn out comb are available. Some consider this safer for the bees, but sometimes they are reluctant to construct on a plastic base.
A ventilated bottom board and entrance reducer round out Bill’s description. Note that some beekeepers can become fixated on the equipment they use. It’s often best to experiment to see what is most suitable to a beekeeper’s style. Remember too that when it comes to equipment, the honey bees don’t really care as long as the basic details of shelter and nutrition are available.
Other beehive designs exist and they can emanate from different traditions, including places like Ukraine, where a movable-frame hive was also developed. A “new” kind of hive is making its way into the lexicon of beekeepers. This “apicentric” way of beekeeping is being touted as better for the bees, rather than designed for the beekeeper’s convenience. A brand new journal has hit the presses in October, 2016: Natural Bee Husbandry: International Journal for Bee Centered Beekeeping. See the first issue in its entirely here.
Beehive design in intimately associated with something that is becoming of more interest to researchers and beekeepers. This is the idea that “lifesyle” is far more important than many realize when it comes to not only designing beehives, but also examining the other aspects of honey bee behavior, including disease tolerance and Varroa tolerance.
Some alternative beehive designs being used contemporaneously in the U.S. include the top-bar hive, the Warré hive, cathedral hive, and most recently, something called the flow hive. Beekeepers are great tinkerers and so one can always be ready for something “new” from the beekeeping community, which often is not as novel as those advocating their invention might think. In this era of “big data,” and citizen scientists, one program seeks to focus on “democratizing” beekeeping.
Most modern beehives are made from wood. Their preservation from the elements is of major concern of beekeepers in many parts of the world. However, hives have also been made out of many alternative materials, including concrete.