You shouldn’t try to be right all the time
I was in Cornwall at the Eden Project this weekend. It was, to my shame, my first visit. I was interested to see how the ETFE panels on the biomes were faring. The answer was, not fantastic, but well enough. They mist up a little, and you can also see some lines of discolouration where strips of the material have been joined to make up the hexagonal panels.
Building these panels up from strips was not ideal, but it is the sort of thing that you do when you are a pioneer. When Grimshaw designed the biomes, really wide strips of ETFE were not available – now they are. Should the architect have shied away from the material, because it was just too early in its development cycle? I don’t think so. ETFE was the solution to achieving transparency and insulation without the weight that glass would bring. And if it had not been for Grimshaw’s bold move, the technology of the material would never have advanced so far. Eden was a brave project and there were all sorts of things that didn’t quite work at the beginning and had to be put right or adapted. These problems change.
This year for instance rabbits devastated the vegetable garden. But it is still a resounding success, both as a visitor attraction and as an educational proponent of sustainability. The beauty of the masterplan has been compromised by a ‘temporary’ structure in front of the biomes which has become permanent, housing ice skating in the winter, but that is a way of generating much-needed revenue in a recession and offering a facility to local people. Eden is being asked to consult on developments all over the world.
The BRE Solar Centre is about to move there, and Eden is hoping to pioneer the use of geothermal energy in the area. It is lively, dynamic and interesting, and that does not always go with perfection. We should hail the courage of such projects which have the vision to get most things right and the pragmatism to cope with those that go wrong.