February 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
You’ve probably heard of or seen the Eden project in Cornwall, UK but I wanted to review it briefly from an architecture perspective.
First off, obviously, it’s a series of domes using mostly hexagonal faces (some pentagons are used, but it doesn’t make much difference) made of ethyl tetra fluoro ethylene (ETFE) foil which is to say in very layman’s terms heavy plastic. The coolest part (I think) is that they weigh less than 1% of glass in the exact same dimensions and have much better insulation properties (as air is a horrible heat conductor when isolated in cells). So, they let in the same amount of sunlight and weigh far less, this means the steel doesn’t need to support nearly as much and so the entire building becomes much lighter; Michael Pawlyn says “…structure is actually lighter than the air contained within the buildings themselves.”
Since they allow more natural light to come in, it also saves on heating in the winter (they should combine with the old passive house concrete slab methodology) which would be more energy efficient (perhaps only because these are greenhouses and sustain a tropical climate 24 / 7. Houses would need cooling in the summer, depending on where you live)
So, we have this fantastic solution to making super strong, super light buildings that lets in tons of sunlight (which is good for humans as much as plants), why don’t we make buildings out of them?
Domes, although awesome and futuristic are horrible for space issues. They’re great for virtually everything else (there are a few built in Florida that are naturally hurricane proof) but if they’re perfectly spherical then they are by definition half as tall as they are wide and in city building, that makes for a horrendously inefficient use of space compared to the cookie-cutter two story town houses that are put up by the hundred. To build a dome within the thin strip lots of today’s cities the dome would only be one story tall, in the middle, and shorter towards the sides. This isn’t ideal, of course.
Still, many futurists thought they were fabulous and from a purely aesthetic point of view I have to agree.
If you have a large plot of land I definitely recommend looking into the advantages of dome homes as compared to regular box houses; it’s a truly remarkable structural shape.