The Eden Project – Worlds Largest Geodesic Greenhouse?
Is a sustainable education and horticulture center, known the world over as “a living theater of people and plants”. It was started eleven years ago by Tim Smit in northern Cornwall, England. Smit had a vision to renovate an old quarry and bring it back to life as a giant geodesic greenhouse education entertainment complex.
Although relatively new on the world stage as an eco-tourism destination, the project has become one of the most popular attractions in the England. The huge greenhouse complex has three giant transparent domes that are kept at specific temperature and humidity to create different micro climates.
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Dome number one emulates tropical rain-forest. while biodome two is set up as a warm temperate Mediterranean environment. The third dome will become home to desert loving plants in the future, all at latitude 50°18 North! I live at the 49th parallel so I can appreciate what the designers are up against in Cornwall!
Building The Eden Biodome Complex
The Eden Project took over two years to build and the project is still evolving as part of its design is to see how different micro climates change over time. The dome complex was built in an abandoned clay quarry and the domes were chosen for their ability to be built on very challenging ground.
Once you have entered into the dome complex there is a winding path with views of the two biodomes and of the amazing planted landscapes (some of which are even edible!) The park also houses many sculptures, such as a giant bee and large robotic creature created from recycled electronic appliances.
The largest geodesic greenhouse grows tropical plants such as fruiting banana trees, rubber, timber bamboo and even coffee! This amazing dome is of course kept at a tropical temperature.
Designing the Biodomes
Famed green architect Michael Pawlyn was in charge of the design of the warm temperate and humid tropical biodomes which form the core of the incredible dome complex.
Because the dome structure is so strong, it is completely self-supporting and has no internal supports. The design was based on observing nature including; honey comb, sea coral and soap bubbles.
These massive structures are in effect giant geodesic greenhouses. They are made from steel frames shaped as hexagons and pentagons then covered with a transparent material known as ETFE. This space age material forms an insulating polymer membrane, and when the individual panels are bolted together the dome supports itself. EFTE has a lifespan of around 25 years, is durable and light, and transmits UV light, necessary for heating and for the amazing array of plants contained within each biodome.
Pawlyn says his idea for the design of the amazing domes came from studying dragonfly wings, as well as other naturally occurring patterns. By using a design borrowed from living creatures he felt he had brought nature into the design of the biodomes. “I want to make buildings that include a narratives about the materials used, and in this case, this worked,” Pawlyn said in a recent interview.
Pawlyn says the lightweight polymer material was ideal for the domes, as it is almost one hundredth the weight of glass. The panels were installed by teams of professional rock climbers, humorously referred to as “the flying sky monkeys”.
Each of the biodomes is largely self-heating, because of the way they collect solar radiation and trap heat inside. Being inside one of these gigantic dome greenhouses is like coming to another world. Then realizing that the design was inspired from a living creatures only adds to the sense of wonder and enjoyment.
There are hands-on displays in each dome environment showing how humans have adapted to survive in hot and humid conditions, including how agriculture and water saving and use is adapted and managed.
The entire complex is built to the highest level of sustainability and I believe will provide a model for the future when climate may be much more changeable. So if you get the chance, go see the largest geodesic greenhouses in the world up in cold, blustery Cornwall. Don’t worry though, inside the domes it is always summer!