Eden Project

Year:2001

Duration:2.5 years

Cost:£141m

Country: Cornwall, UK

What did this project achieve?

Create the biggest greenhouse in the world using unique and sustainable architecture

Built in 2001, the Eden Project turned a disused Cornish claypit into a temperature-controlled environment for an entire rainforest - as well as hundreds of other plants.

It won the ICE Merit Award in 2002 as an outstanding example of civil engineering.

The complex is dominated by 2 biomes. The biggest of these is the Rainforest Biome. It’s 55m high (11 double decker buses on top of each other), 100m long and 200m wide (2 football pitches).

The temperature in the Rainforest Biome is kept between 18 and 35C. It houses the biggest rainforest in captivity.

The Mediterranean Biome is 35m high, 65m wide and 135m long. It’s full of warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grapevines.

The two biomes are constructed from tubular steel and hexagonal cladding panels made of a special plastic.

Difference this eco project has made

The Eden Project has brought massive economic and social changes to the region.

More than 19 million people have visited the site and learned about sustainable construction, green living and the importance of low-energy buildings.

The project has generated £1.9bn for the local economy since 2001. It’s been so successful that in 2015, the Eden team announced they will be creating another Eden Project in China.

How the the domes were built

When architect Nick Grimshaw first visited the Eden site the old claypit was still being mined. Thinking about how to build on the pit’s uneven and shifting sands, he came up with the idea of soap bubbles as they adapt to any surface they settle on.

The weather was a major challenge during the early months of construction – 43m litres of rain fell in 90 days. Engineers had to devise a special drainage system as the site was 15m below the water table.

The biomes were designed as a warm environment for plants. They’re made of transparent hexagonal panels on a steel structure. The panels trap air between two layers of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a kind of plastic.

ETFE is designed for strength over a wide range of temperatures. The ETFE panels are very light, but can take the weight of a car.

The buildings were designed to need as few construction materials as possible – the honeycomb shape of the biome maximises strength while minimizing materials.

Staff buildings have ‘green roofs’ which keep warm in winter and cool in summer. They’re insulated using recycled newspaper.

“​‌

If we don't make ourselves energy independent, building on traditional British skills to do so, we're going to be in serious trouble.

Tim Smit

Founder and Chief Executive, Eden Project

Fascinating facts

It took 230 miles of scaffold to construct the Eden Project – a Guinness Book of Records record.

The green tiles on the floor of the Core – Eden’s education building – were originally Heineken beer bottles. The entrance mats are made of recycled truck tyres.

Eden’s biomes appears in the James Bond film Die Another Day, where they stand in for the villain’s diamond mine in Iceland.

People who made it happen

  • Founder: archaeologist and anthropologist Tim Smit
  • Designers: Nicholas Grimshaw and engineering firm Anthony Hunt & Associates (now Sinclair Knight Merz)
  • Main contractor: Sir Robert McAlpine Biome construction: MERO (UK) plc

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