Brainchild of Tim Smit, The Eden Project is an environmental, educational and architectural venture in 'Green Tourism' near St. Austell, Cornwall, UK. The ideology behind Eden is that of communicating issues surrounding current environmental concerns, and demonstating mankind's unique relationship and dependency with flora. Eden describes itself and a "showcase for all the questions and many of the answers".
The "showcase" itself is very spectacular: 2 massive 'biomes' – housed in domes constructed of thousands of hexagons (a bit like an insect’s eye) – the volumes of which measure 15,590 and 6,540 metres cubed. The hexagons from which the domes are constructed are made from ‘ETFE’ (Ethylene Tetrafluoro Ethylene co-polymer), a transparent, super strong, self-cleansing foil. This allows in sunlight to support the plant life inside, plus helps maintain the carefully controlled environments inside. They are set in an old quarry. They are surrounded by landscaped gardens and the visitor’s centre – all parts of the Eden Project, however the main attraction in most certainly the walk round the inside the biomes themselves.
Inside the domes are artificial environments: the smaller houses the ‘Warm Temperate’ environment which is a Mediterranean-style climate, with plants from such climates. Walking through this area, the visitor travels through areas inspired by Mediterranean Europe, South Africa, and California. The larger ‘Humid Tropics’ biome houses plants of the rainforest such as mahogany, pineapple, teak and banana. Outside the biomes there are plants that thrive in Cornwall’s own mild temperate climate – sunflowers, hemp, tea, lilies and more. Overall, there are approximately 100 000 plants and 5000 different species from all over the world.
Naturally, as these domes are closed artificial environments, the conditions inside them must also be man-made. The temperatures are maintained through a computer system that automatically opens and closes vents in the tops of the domes; through the insulating properties of the ETFE hexagons; and through the plants themselves, which ‘sweat’ when they are warmer, therefore cooling the air. To water the plants and keep the Humid biome humid, run-off water from the outside of the domes is collected and recycled. A waterfall in the humid biome also helps maintain water levels, as well as regular simulated rainfalls from sprinklers.
The sheer scale of Eden as an ongoing environmental project and tourist attraction has naturally made an impact on the local community. In an area with high unemployment, it has been a welcome break by providing thousands of jobs directly, plus bringing more wealth to the area through the ‘multiplier effect’. There has however been some anger locally over several issues: firstly that the admission prices are so high in an area which is so poor. The Eden Project argues that it is offering a “Grade A” attraction that is at “the top of the range” therefore such prices are justified. To decide whether this is true one really has to visit to decide for oneself! Another negative effect is that of the traffic congestion that has come upon the area due to the sheer number of visitors. Eden attempts to draw at least 20% of its visitors from transport other than cars – and it is possible to arrive by train and then bus, or by bicycle – however there is still a massive increase in traffic levels in a county in which the largest roads have two lanes.
As a ‘project’ as well as tourist attraction, Eden is a long term venture. The idea behind Eden is that it will be here ‘forever’. The domes are maintenance free for at least 25 years, time enough for the ecosystems to mature into climax vegetation. Plants are bred in the Eden nursery, and an endangered plants breeding programme is also in place. Eden runs an educational programme aimed at schools and the general public. Training programmes are also run for local businesses. Eden plans to develop and evolve – as quoted in their literature: “In short it will be bigger and better - mature but always fun.”