16 Jun 2006
5 Great Things About the Eden Project #4. Education.
It is one thing to build the Biomes, the structures, the plantings and so on, but once you have got the people there how do you maximise the opportunity to raise their awareness on environmental issues without being too in your face, too preachy or too judgemental? I was really impressed by how the Eden Project does this. Most of the environmental information that you get as you go around comes in under the radar. The messages are subtle but thought provoking. Its power was, I felt in its gentleness.
When you walk around the Humid Biome for instance, the labelling of the plants is great (for example see the one for peanuts, left). It gives enough information to stimulate people, but not so much as to send them to sleep. Observing how other people interacted with it was very interesting, they’d find some fact on the description and say to the person with them “hey look at this…”, or “wow, I didn’t know that…”. Many people’s lives nowadays involve very little interaction with plants, and this place reestablishes that sense of wonder in relation to plants. It is unfortunate of course that people can pass oak and lime trees everyday on their walk to work and not even notice, and then are amazed by a pepper tree at Eden, but I guess it is a start. The way the Humid biomes is subtly feeding you information about climate change and habitat loss is very skillfully done.
In the new Core building were some very imaginative interactive displays. One I really liked was a whole long wall (see right) made up of old fridges, with loads of magnetic letters on. People could spell out their own words or messages with the letters, and it certainly kept a lot of kids busy for quite a while. As far as I could see all of the contributions were absent of expletives, which I thought quite amazing given the high level of teenagers busily arranging letters.
Another exhibit in the Core building appealed to my cob building gene. I guess what they did was get lots of children to make handmade clay tiles, and impress their handprint in them. These were then stuck onto the wall in what I thought was a very beautiful mosaic. Children enjoyed walking along and seeing if their hands fitted into the hand prints. A very imaginative and beautiful feature. Not quite sure what it taught them, if anything, but it was very attractive.
The information boards around the place were very clear, and well presented. Here is an example from the roof of the Core building which explained the photovoltaics on the roof. All very smart and clear. Amazing roof, by the way. Like anything, it is of course easy to criticise the educational aspect of the Eden Project. Does anyone go home from Eden thinking that they need to prepare for Energy Descent, they really ought to do that permaculture course they’ve heard about, really that lawn has to go? Almost certainly not.
The Eden Project is certainly ‘light green’, but it does that very well. Certainly the term ‘peak oil’ or ‘powerdown’ appears nowhere on any of the posters or exhibits at Eden. However, where I think its skills lie is in connecting people to the idea that the Earth is beautiful, is incredibly diverse and precious, that it is in peril and that we are each a part of the solution of putting that right. That message it does very well. And where I think it does that so well is in how the message is presented.
Eden doesn’t put anyone on the spot, it doesn’t challenge people, it subtly feeds you ideas under your radar. It is a visually stunning, efficient, friendly, interesting and professional place. People feel at ease and relaxed there, and it is when people feel relaxed that they are at their most receptive. Give people the feeling that they are being judged or that there is a big ‘message’ they are supposed to get and they switch off. Eden’s power is in the way it communicates its ideas, which it does very powerfully. We could all learn a thing or two from how they do it.