The Eden Project

The Eden Project is a visitor attraction in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, including the world’s largest greenhouse. Inside the artificial biomes are plants that are collected from all around the world. The project is located in a reclaimed Kaolinite pit, located 2 km from the town of St Blazey and 5 km from the larger town of St Austell, Cornwall.

The complex is dominated by two huge enclosures consisting of adjoining domes that house plant species from around the world. 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 emulates a tropical environment, and the second aMediterranean environment.

The project was conceived by Tim Smit and designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw and engineering firm Anthony Hunt and Associates (now part of Sinclair Knight Merz). Davis Langdon carried out the project management, Sir Robert McAlpine and Alfred McAlpine did the construction and MERO designed and built the biomes. Land Use Consultants led the masterplan and landscape design. The project took 2½ years to construct and opened to the public on 17 March 2001.


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 giantbamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature and moisture level.

The Mediterranean Biome covers 0.654 hectares (1.6 acres) and measures 35 metres (115 ft) high, 65 metres (213 ft) wide and 135 metres (443 ft) long. It houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various sculptures.

The Outdoor Biome (which is not covered) represents the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops, hemp andsunflowers.

The covered biomes are constructed from a tubular steel space-frame (hex-tri-hex) with mostly hexagonal external cladding panels made from the thermoplastic ETFE. Glass was avoided due to its weight and potential dangers. The cladding panels themselves are created from several layers of thin UV-transparent ETFE film, which are sealed around their perimeter and inflated to create a large cushion. The resulting cushion acts as a thermal blanket to the structure. The ETFE material is resistant to most stains, which simply wash off in the rain. If required, cleaning can be performed by abseilers. Although the ETFE is susceptible to punctures, these can be easily fixed with ETFE tape. The structure is completely self-supporting, with no internal supports, and takes the form of a geodesic structure. The panels vary in size up to 9 metres (29.5 ft) across, with the largest at the top of the structure.

The Core

The Core is the latest addition to the site and opened in September 2005. It provides the Eden Project with an education facility, incorporating classrooms and exhibition spaces designed to help communicate Eden’s central message about the relationship between people and plants. Accordingly, the building has taken its inspiration from plants, most noticeable in the form of the soaring timber roof, which gives the building its distinctive shape.

Grimshaw developed the geometry of the copper-clad roof in collaboration with a sculptor, Peter Randall-Page, and Mike Purvis of structural engineers SKM Anthony Hunts. It is derived from phyllotaxis, which is the mathematical basis for nearly all plant growth; the “opposing spirals” found in many plants such as the seeds in a sunflower’s head, pine cones andpineapples. The copper was obtained from traceable sources, and the Eden Project is working with Rio Tinto to explore the possibility of encouraging further traceable supply routes for metals, which would enable users to avoid metals mined unethically. The services and acoustic design was carried out by Buro Happold.

At the insistence of architect Jolyon Brewis (Grimshaw) the photovoltaic (PV) array on the roof of the core building was arranged in an inclined circle for aesthetic reasons. However this arrangement ensures that more than half of the panels never receive direct sunlight.

Environmental aspects

The domes provide diverse growing conditions, and many plants are on display.

The Eden Project includes environmental education focusing on the interdependence of plants and people; plants are labelled with their medicinal uses. The massive amounts of water required to create the humid conditions of the Tropical Biome, and to serve the toilet facilities, are all sanitized rain water that would otherwise collect at the bottom of the quarry. The onlymains water used is for hand washing and for cooking. The complex also uses Green Tariff Electricity — the energy comes from one of the many wind turbines in Cornwall, which were among the first in Europe.

Controversially, one of the companies the Eden Project currently partners with is the British mining company Rio Tinto Group. Rio Tinto is set to begin mining in Madagascar fortitanium dioxide. This will involve the removal of a large section of coastal forest, and may cause extensive damage to the unique biodiversity of the Malagasy flora and fauna.

In December 2010 the Eden Project received permission to build a Geothermal electricity plant which will generate approx 4MWe, enough to supply Eden and about 5000 households.

Edited from The Eden Project

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2 Responses to The Eden Project

  1. alfy says:

    I enjoy visiting the great greenhouses around the UK and abroad, particularly when they try to recreate the climates of other parts of the world within a single house. The Eden Project is something of a quite different order of magnitude and tremendously impressive.

    I visited it one September when all the children had gone back to school and I was amazed at the sheer volume of visitors. They were all well-catered for in terms of transport, toilets, places to eat, places to sit down, but I found the sheer numbers overwhelming. Everyone was well-behaved (they were largely POBs) but, for me, the pleasure of the experience was much reduced by having to share it with quite so many others.

    By comparison, Kew, in the heat of summer, or the Oxford Botanic Garden are the height of tranquillity. We really need more Eden Projects around the country to take some of the pressure of the Cornish enterprise.

    Final note for Phil. I knew something about the Cape Verde Islands already, when he announced he and Claire were going there. When doing my OU research degree I read a French paper on “filau”, a nitrogen-fixing plant which was being widely cultivated there to improve the soil fertility. Now “filau” is a handsome tree about 15 – 20 feet high, with a grey bark and curious narrow, bristly leaves. Its scientific name is Casuarina equisetifolia. The second name means, “with leaves like Equisetum, the Common Horsetail”. I wandered around Kew and failed to find it, although I did not cry for help to the experts on tap there.

    When visiting Edinburgh Botanic Gardens a year later I found an excellent mature specimen in prime condition. I was so excited I wanted to grab people and say, “Look, look it’s Casuarina!” Fortunately I didn’t otherwise they may have taken me away in a plain van. I wonder if Phil saw ant “filau” on Cape Verde? May be he would not have known it had it bent down and bit his leg. Has he inadvertently taken any pics of it, albeit accidentally?

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