When the Eden Project opened its doors in 2001, more than anything this extraordinary futuristic, giant greenhouse, became a symbol for Cornish regeneration. Built in a disused china clay pit, from the very beginning Eden harboured dual ambitions of harnessing both old and new, reclaiming land, restoring employment and reinventing environmental cool for future generations.
Anyone thinking they are simply off to visit the world’s largest greenhouse is very much mistaken. Yes, it’s primary function is to educate about man’s dependence on plants. To that purpose it has the two biggest conservatories in the world – the Rainforest biome which is 50 metres high and as hot and humid as the tropics and the Mediterranean biome which has a temperate climate and plants from as far flung places as South Africa and California. Yet with Eden, the plants are only half the story – the phenomenal space age architecture, the incredible sculpture dotted around the site, these are the things you’ll take away with you. The ambition was to create a ‘living theatre of people and plants’ and that is exactly what it feels like. You might stumble across a live band, some street theatre, a story-teller or a full blown choir; the best thing about the Eden Project is that it is constantly surprising. The fact that Eden got built at all, with £40 million of Lottery funding and a similar amount of private investment, comes down to its maverick and visionary chief executive Tim Smit who had previously restored the Lost Gardens of Heligan. After all, it was Smit’s vision that persuaded Sir Nicholas Grimshaw to design the biomes without any guarantee of payment but on the promise that he was creating ‘one of the eighth wonders of the world.’ Now in its 11th year, the Eden Project is multi-tasking with a vengeance. Each summer it holds the Eden Sessions, a series of outdoor gigs that have attracted high calibre artists such as Muse and Oasis. The gigs are totally unique with a relatively small capacity and the unbeatable backdrop of those sci-fi biomes. Last August, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Eden put on the very contemporary NoFit State Circus (like Cirque du Soleil but meant to be even better) and in winter it reinvents itself again as an ice skating venue. See amazing footage of NoFit at Eden here on youtube. Eden is also a social enterprise with its finger in many pies. There’s the Big Lunch – a drive to harbour community spirit and produce sharing by encouraging people to get together for lunch each year - (this year The Big Lunch goes street party tastic as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations) And as a huge boost for the youth of the South West, on 28January The Eden Project will host an arts and music talent show for 13 to 19 year-olds from Devon and Cornwall. It will be the fourth year they’ve run "Bright Young Things" which showcases talented teenagers from the South West with live music, dance, creative writing readings, film screenings, and the best of the art and photography from the competition (continues until 26 February). Hard to believe, then, that the Eden Project is only ten years old - for you think of Cornwall and pretty quickly Eden springs to mind. It’s almost impossible to imagine a time when it wasn’t there.