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The Eden Project, Cornwall, UK

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The distinctive domes of the Eden Project.

The Eden project is described as 'The living theatre of plants and people'. It was conceived by a team led by Tim Smit, who had previously been responsible for The Lost Gardens of Heligan, but this time instead of restoring a previously designed garden, they would create something totally new - something that would inspire and amaze new generations in such a way that would leave a lasting impression on all those who visited. In the process, it would shatter records and redefine visitor attractions.

The project's mission is to 'promote the understanding and responsible management of the vital relationship between plants, people and resources, leading towards a sustainable future for all.' Sustainable development is at the heart of the Eden Project, where the aim is to work towards understanding and implementing Agenda 21, the 'Convention on Biological Diversity' and the 'Framework Convention on Climatic Change' agreed upon at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.

So What Is It Then?

Carved into the remains of a disused clay pit near St Austell in Cornwall are two huge biomes, or, to give them a less fancy name, greenhouses. One biome is designed to recreate a tropical rainforest climate, while the other houses a warm temperate climate. They house plants which have been shipped in from around the world, as well as locally-grown plants, to produce a unique setting.

Sitting in a 50m crater of the clay pit, the biomes are bubble-like geodesic1 domes; the bubble shape being chosen because of the fact that they can be made to settle perfectly onto any shaped surface. This means that the individual elements of the bubbles are straight.

The final design is what is termed Hex-Tri-Hex which is made up of hexagons and triangles (with a few pentagons). Each element is made from a triple layer of ETFE (ethyl-tetra-fluoro-ethylene), - 'Cling film with attitude' - which is an incredibly strong, lightweight, self-cleaning material, with a weight 1% of that of glass and with very good ultra violet transmittance, which is essential for good plant growth.

Some Facts about the Constructions

  • The scaffolding used was the largest bird cage scaffolding in the world, earning it an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

  • The amount of earth shifted was 1.8 million tonnes.

  • 85,000 tonnes of soil have been made on site from clay waste and composted green waste.

  • The largest biome is 240m long, 55m high and 110m wide, with no internal supports.

  • The scheme was partly funded by lottery money, but only to the extent of about 10% of what was allocated to the Millennium Dome.

  • Eden is a permanent attraction which will grow and evolve over the coming decades. In 50 years' time, the mahogany trees will reach the top of the biggest dome.

Getting There and Admission Charges

Getting there is simple: aim for Cornwall. Note for non-UK residents: Cornwall is at the end of the bottom left-hand corner. Follow the A30 and aim for St Austell. At St Austell, follow the English Tourism signs to the Eden Project (though these might have been defaced by Cornish nationalists painting the Cornish flag - the Cornish flag is a white cross on a black background).

There are a variety of admission charges; for details, check the project's website. However, if you think you are likely to go again, there is a variety of annual schemes allowing unlimited entry, and queue-jumping.

The Plants

Currently there are three biomes at Eden:

  • The Roofless Biome (the outside area)

  • The Warm Temperate Biome

  • The Humid Tropical Biome

In the Roofless Biome, work will concentrate on plants that can be grown in the mild temperate Cornish climate; it will look at plants that have changed the world, including tea and hemp (also known as cannabis) as well as showing endangered local plants.

The Warm Temperate Biome contains a variety of Mediterranean, Californian and South African plants including olives, citrus fruits, maize and cotton, all chosen in order to dazzle the eyes with their colour and the nose with their scent.

It is, however, the Humid Tropical Biome that takes the breath away most. Big enough to hold the Tower of London, this huge structure houses some of the world's most spectacular tropical plants, such as tropical hardwoods, coffee, bananas, pineapples, rubber trees and, of course, cocoa.

The Ethos

Everywhere you go in Eden, you are struck by the project's commitment to sustainable development, to recycling, to aiding both local communities and those around the world, be it by displaying local art work (the driftwood sculptures are amazing) or by highlighting the problems of globalisation. Even the gift shop contains products of an unbleached, wholemeal, organic variety rather than mass-produced 'I've been to Eden' plastic toys and trinkets found at other so-called worthy tourist attractions.

The project is more than just a tourist attraction. It is a centre of education, arts and science. Serious research is to be conducted there. Research is planned on many subjects including Plants and Conservation and Plants and Technology, as well as research into problems facing the local Cornish environment, which has suffered for generations from decline and pollution.

It is more than a collection of plants. It has been designed to tell stories of particular plants and their importance to us all, be it rubber, chocolate or dye products. It opens the mind to other cultures while maintaining a firm link to that of its location. It plans to be the second most recognised structure in the world after the Sydney Opera House. It may just do it.

Only a brief summary could ever be given here. If you want more information, then the referenced Eden website is the place to look. This entry was written with information provided from that site as well as personal knowledge.

1Geodesic means 'Made of light straight structural elements mostly in tension' according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

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