The Eden Project

The Eden Project in Cornwall England by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, 2001

On Saturday, March 17 the Eden Project in Cornwall, England by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, and one of Great Britain's Millennium Projects, opened to the general public. But unlike the Millennium Dome in London the future is bright for this "showcase for global bio-diversity and human dependence upon plants". The diagram at left illustrates the focus of the design: two linked, climate-controlled biomes providing conditions for vegetational growth from humid tropics and warm temperate regions (with a third outdoor biome for Cornwall's climate).

The site, a former china clay quarry, seemed ideal (south-facing, sheltered, near the sea) though presented many problems for the architects and engineers: very little level ground, a propensity for flooding, lack of soil and stability. Sitework for the project lasted 18 months with 1.8 million tons of soil shifted, a drainage system created able to drain 22 liters per second, and a huge filtering system implemented for the water run off, among many engineering feats. Even with the amount of earth moved a level ground for the biomes was impossible, a condition the architects had to deal with.

The first scheme Grimshaw presented reiterated the structure of his Waterloo Terminal in London, a sinuous linear shell of parallel structural elements of different sizes. The unlevel ground dictated that an alternative approach be taken, and bubbles provided the inspiration with their ability to adhere to uneven surfaces. The biomes consist of a hexagonal geodesic dome structure glazed with 3-ply ETFE pillows, lighter and more clear than glass, making the design buildable. Unlike Buckminster Fuller's regular domes, these biomes were only possible with computers, as each cell is unique.

The visitor's center, above, resembles Grimshaw's tensile structures at Lord's but also uses rammed-earth construction to become an exhibit within the Eden Project. While Eden, as it is also called, is a tourist attraction its raison d'etre is praiseworthy: a controlled environment where scientists, and other professionals, can learn how humans can exist in the future in harmony with Mother Nature. Grimshaw's design parallel's Eden's ideals, its organic shape utilizing computer engineering, enabling the least amount of damage to the land and the most efficient structural solution. Praiseworthy indeed.