In the driving rain, the Eden Project in Cornwall is a trying experience. Situated in an old china clay quarry, the site contains several giant ‘biomes’ (hi tech greenhouses) as well as sweeping landscaped outdoor spaces. Being sunk below ground does provide shelter from the wind, but the rain is pervasive. Still, even on a grey day you can see why it’s one of the countries top attractions, popular with school children and retirees alike.
The biomes each hold a self contained story: a Mediterranean zone, Tropical, then the inevitable ‘discovery’ centre with it’s eco story. Make no mistake, Eden is incredible: a masterpiece of physical and mechanical engineering with it’s landscaped post industrial position, it’s ultra modern geometric biomes and bold architecture and it’s clever use of space, partitioned and sub divided to create literally hundreds of tiny, personal vistas and landscapes, each telling a story.
But it’s also a great learning space because it forms a backdrop to various scientific, educational and artistic expressions. There are various dedicated education spaces, exploring recycling, eco building, environmental planning and conservation, but also a circus in residence, music in the evenings, sculpture and poetry, a vibrant mix of the scientific through the arts and even a liberal does of philosophy.
It’s an entirely man made landscape: first industrial, then derelict, now finally post industrial educational and artistic. The journey of the space itself is fascinating, but the way the space is now used across disciplines more so. I like the notion of an engineered space that is partly outdoors, partly indoors, like a university with lecture theatres, seminar spaces, cloisters and grounds, graduating from inside to out. There are mixtures of formal and informal learning and teaching experiences.
It strikes me that this crossover space is something of an analogy for what’s happening in the wider world of learning: with physical spaces becoming less formal, be it for working or learning, less differentiated. With conversations and experiences happening more spontaneously, with new vistas opening up around us. Eden is a semi formal space for learning: it can be consumed purely for pleasure or, equally (and in the same visit) viewed as a story, or an educational resource.
This physical space, with overlaid stories and resources and people is an exciting departure from what we have seen before and it feels worth thinking about how learning is changing in this type of place.