Cambridge building Eden in the east

August 30, 2002

A decade after it seemed to be wilting as funding dried up, Cambridge Botanic Garden has marked its return to rude health with the unveiling of plans for a £16 million visitor centre, writes Steve Farrar.

The development - the university's first purpose-built public building since the Fitzwilliam Museum more than 160 years ago - will attempt to follow the success of Cornwall's Eden Project. It will guide visitors through the plant kingdom's diversity and tackle issues such as genetic modification of crops and conservation.

John Parker, director of the garden, said the centre would explain the importance of plants and how they are key to sustainable living.

The building, which will be on university land adjacent to the garden, will be very environmentally friendly. It is long and thin to maximise natural light. It will be set on an east-west axis, with its south-facing roof set to the optimal angle to carry photovoltaic arrays to provide power.

The centre will be built around a wooden diamond lattice with a cedar-tiled roof insulated with wool from British sheep. Rainwater will be collected to work the toilets. Wood and chippings from the garden will supply fuel for its biomass boiler. The designers say the building should be carbon neutral by 2020, with net zero carbon dioxide emissions.

Fundraising is under way.

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