There was once a wasteland… a huge, 15-hectare, polluted eyesore right in the midst of St. Austell in Cornwall, England. The area, once a thriving china clay pit that has been mined for 160 years, had been abandoned. The place was completely dead where weeds not even dared to grow.
Fast forward to 2017, there seems to be no trace of that industrial wasteland. In its place is a thriving paradise. Sitting in a lush landscape in St. Austell are two series of domes that look like giant bubbles, housing a variety of plants from two types of environment — the Rainforest and Mediterranean biomes. Right next to the domes nestle another building with various spikes pointing out to the sky, christened as The Core. The entire area, aptly named The Eden Project, is a showcase in biodiversity and regeneration.
From a wasteland, the place has been transformed into a cradle of life.
The Story of The Eden Project
The transformation of The Eden Project is a story of resilience. It started with a vision. The Independent reports that Tim Smit, the man behind the Lost Gardens of Heligan, saw the china clay wasteland when he moved with his family to Cornwall in 1995. From there, he had this vision of restoring the area and creating the world’s biggest greenhouse.
Smit, in a Guardian interview, said: “I’d always loved the thought of a lost civilization in a volcanic crater, and when I saw the lunar landscape of the old Cornish clay pits, I realized they’d be the perfect site. However, we weren’t allowed to buy a crater. The companies that owned them would never declare them redundant because they’d have to fill them in. We had to get the council to reassure them they wouldn’t be liable if they sold us one.”
Unfortunately, buying the area was simply the start of a whole host of challenges. Smit, did not have a penny to rub together to get the project going. But he was good in getting people together and motivating them to work as a team.
In an interview, Smit talked about getting the services of the architecture firm Nicholas Grimshaw to start work on the project for free. Next, he engaged the construction firm McAlpine who agreed to invest in the project for part of the profits. He attracted more people to believe in his vision and work with him to get the project started. In short, The Eden Project became a success because it served as a rallying cry for a lot of people involved in it. From being The Eden Project, it turned into Their Eden Project.
Smith explains: “It’s a lesson for anybody that wants to do big and good – nobody likes people who say, “It’s all my idea. Mine, mine, mine.” I’ve seen so many good ideas where the champions or leaders of the ideas killed them because of their vanity. They should have just provided a stage and said, “That bit is yours. That bit is yours. I would be privileged to have this bit.”
Finally, with funding from the UK National Lottery’s Millennium Commission, Smit was finally able to scrape enough to get The Eden Project up and running.
And the entire project paid off. Since its launch in 2001, The Eden Project has already welcomed more than 18 million visitors from the UK and all over the world. It has also contributed £1.7 billion (about $2.2 billion in USD) to Cornwall’s economy.
Mr. Brian Palmer, a visitor to The Eden Project shares his thoughts about the place:
The Eden Project’s Environmental Impact
What really defines The Eden Project is its focus on the environment, from the design to construction and the day-to-day operations. In a study by Alistair Griffiths, he noted that “Eden’s aim is to present, to the widest possible audience, the need for environmental care through celebrating what nature has given to us.”
Indeed, this aim has definitely been realized. First of all, The Eden Project was able to resuscitate in just five years what The Guardian described as a “worthless, unusable, polluted site.” The place is not just thriving. Currently, it has been reported that it houses the world’s largest indoor rainforest, with more than 1,000 plant varieties. It has an outdoor garden that has more than 3,000 plant varieties.
Second, most of the materials that went into the building of this lush paradise were sustainably sourced. Some were from recycled materials such as the flooring of The Core which came from Heineken bottles, some were sourced from responsible manufacturers and still others were considered as low-carbon products or made without the need for energy-intensive manufacturing.
Third, the design of the architecture of the different buildings was made with respect to nature. For example, the bubble-like design of the domes was adopted because it was the only way to build on the uneven clay pit. The Core was built in a process referred to as biomimicry, with a trunk and a solar-panel roof that gets energy from the sun. Consultants were even called in during the construction process to ensure minimal environmental impact.
Fourth, The Eden Project takes sustainability very seriously. Water used in the area are sourced mostly from rain and ground water. Food waste is converted into compost. There is a conscious waste reduction effort that is being implemented and a focus on waste reduction and reuse.
Fifth, all local and food supplies are sourced ethically. This even refers to materials being sold in the souvenir shop, which includes bamboo cups, plates and trays. Dave Nutt, a first-time visitor to The Eden Project shares his thoughts:
Sixth, and definitely one of the most important features of The Eden Project, it characterizes itself as an educational charity. It offers several workshops on the environment fit for different age groups, provides school and science resources, offers different activities and podcasts, University courses, leadership courses and even work experience opportunities, among others. In fact, The Eden Project website reports that over 48,000 school children have participated in their various workshops and sessions. The great thing about it is that The Eden Project continues to evolve and offer more opportunities for learning.
Currently, there are reports of possibly creating other Edens in different parts of the globe. Hopefully, one will be near you soon. As Tim Smit said in an interview, “We are not in the business of building theme parks, we’re in the business of building hope, inspiration and leadership.”
What do you think about The Eden Project? Share your thoughts with us.
All other images courtesy of Flickr.