Visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall, England was one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had. The ‘alien’ looking structures which nestle in a reclaimed Kaolinite pit, conjure up imaginary living conditions on other planets.
The complex is dominated by two huge enclosures consisting of adjoining domes that house thousands of plant species, and each enclosure emulates a natural biome. The domes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal, inflated, plastic cells supported by steel frames. The first dome simulates a tropical environment, and the second a Mediterranean environment.
The project was conceived by Tim Smit, designed by architect Nicolas Grimshaw and engineering firm Anthony Hunt and Associates.
It took 2½ years to construct and was opened to the public on 17 March 2001.
At the bottom of the pit are two covered biomes, inside the artificial biomes are plants that are collected from all around the world.
The Tropical Biome, covers 1.56 hectares (3.9 acres) and measures 55 metres (180 ft) high, 100 metres (328 ft) wide, and 200 metres (656 ft) long. It is used for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature and moisture level.
The Mediterranean biome covers 0.654 hectares (1.6 acres) and measures 35 metres high, 65 metres wide, and 135 metres long. It houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines from the Mediterranean and many fynbos species from South Africa. Nostalgia set in when we entered this biome; I was transported back to the Cape where the air is filled with the musky frangance of fynbos. Here bugu, pelargonium, salvia, artimisia, Namaqualand daisies, restios and aloes all flourish in this artificial environment. The moisture in my eyes was not due to the humidity in this biome!
The Outdoor Biome (which is not covered) represents the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops, hemp and sunflowers.
The innovative biomes are constructed from a tubular steel with mostly hexagonal external cladding panels made from the thermoplastic ETFE. The structure is completely self-supporting, with no internal supports.
The Eden Project includes environmental education focusing on the interdependence of plants and people; plants are labelled with their medicinal uses.
The Cornwall is noted for its wild Moorland landscape, its long and varied coastline and its attractive villages. Extensive stretches of the Cornish coastline and Bodmin Moor are protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.