The Eden Project
St Blazey, off the A390, Cornwall
Anthony Hunt Associates
1998 - 2001
photo Nigel Dale
In 2001, the Eden Project, with its two huge biodomes, opened as a visitor attraction, boasting the largest greenhouse in the world. It's a long term horticultural development but its immediate popularity also has a lot to do with its impressive scale and bold design.
Each of the spectacular biodomes comprises a series of four interconnected spherical caps of various sizes. The biggest dome, the Humid Tropics biodome is 55m high, 100m wide and 200m long. It covers 15,590 sq m and is designed to maintain a temperature between 18 and 35 degrees C. The air inside is kept moist by abundant water movement, including a waterfall.
The smaller Warm Temperate biodome is 35m high, 65m wide and 135m long, and is designed for temperatures maintained above 10 degrees C in winter and between 15 and 25 degrees in summer.
The domes have a galvanised steel framework that supports a series of hexagonal panels. As glass panels would have been too heavy and too dangerous, a special air-filled panelling system was devised. Triple layers of ETFE foil, transparent to ultra violet light, are stretched across the frames, some of which are over 9m wide. The foil has an expected life span of 30 years. Abseiling along the joint lines from the top of the domes is the only way to access the panels for maintenance.
We can trace back through engineering history to a number of sources for the design of the Eden Project's biodomes. First, there is the tradition of British glasshouse construction. Two examples are the Great Conservatory at Chatsworth House (now demolished) and the Palm House at Kew Gardens.
Second, there is the work of Richard Buckminster- Fuller, who promoted the idea of geodesic domes in the 1960s and was responsible for the USA pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal.
Third, and perhaps most significantly, there is the work of Frei Otto, a German architect, who studied the interconnection of domes by inspecting the way soap bubbles form together. Otto designed the tent-like shapes of the German Pavilion also at Expo '67. It is appropriate that the company with which he then worked, Mero Structures, was the steelwork contractor for the Eden Project.
Although the biodomes resemble geodesic domes, they owe more to the inspirational work of Victorian engineers in Britain and to the pragmatism of today's German engineering, than they do to the Buckminster-Fuller dream.
Architect: Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners
Quantity surveyor: Davis Langdon & Everest
Services engineer: Ove Arup & Partners
Steel contractor: Mero UK plc
"Eden Regained - Eden Project, Cornwall, England"
by Colin Davies, Architectural Review, August 2001
"The Architecture of Eden" by Hugh Pearman and Andrew Whalley
Eden Project Books, 2003