27 February 2012

The Eco-Rainforest - Energy

  This project is based on the 'biomimetic' design principle of mimicking natural systems: specifically the way that most of these operate in closed loop cycles in which the waste from one organism becomes the nutrient for another.
The client asked for conceptual ideas for a carbon-neutral botanical visitor attraction on a site in the north of England. Part of the site was being used as a landfill facility so the team proposed redirecting the biodegradable portion of the waste into biodigesters that were set into the walls of the building. The decomposition process would provide a carbon-neutral source of heat for the greenhouse to supplement gains from the passive solar design.
Through the landfill tax system, the scheme would generate substantial revenues thereby transforming a huge problem into an economic opportunity.
 Similarly to the Eden Project, the site for this scheme was another challenging one in that it was being operated as a landfill facility. Visiting a landfill site drives home the absurdity of this activity - taking valuable minerals and resouces out of the ground, turning them into short-life products and dumping them back in the ground. We wanted to respond to this in some way rather than designing a building to sit beside the landfill that would eventually be covered and lanscaped.
 We were aware of the "Cardboard to caviar" project by the Kirklees and Calderdale Green business Network (GBN) which brilliantly demonstrated the potential of "industrial ecology" - creating man-made systems that mimic nautral systemps. In this project, the organisers turned a low value wate material (cardboard) into a high value product (caviar) and earned money on the way. By turning a linear, wasteful system into a cyclical closed loop system they derived far more value from the same inputs. This inspired us to try and create something as ingenious on our project.
The other key source of inspiration for us was the pineapple sheds at Heligan Gardens. There was a period in British history when there was a craze for growing pineapples and numerous methods were devised for growing them. The Heligan example is one of the most ingenious; using the decomposition of manure as the sheat source for the enclosure. This reinforced the idea of using waste imaginatively and we realised that we could derive heat by composing the biodegradable portion of what is normally disposed of into landfill.
The first sketch was very similar to the pineapple sheds - we proposed a building with large walls made from rubble waste loaded into gabion units and a south facing glass roof so that for much of the year the building would be self-heating just using passive solar gain and the large thermal mass of the walls. Within the walls would be large vertical biodigesters that could provide heat for the enclosure during the colder times of the year.
Similary to the way that our lungs are richly articulated to maximise surface area, the plan form of the building is elaborated in order to create more wall surface  as it is the walls that are creating the heat for the building. The form is based on three overlapping circles and all the circles aroun the perimeter are the biodigesters.
In order to create the most dramatic visitor experience, the entrance is at hig level allowing a view over the tree canopy. Then, by means of paths around the perimeter and light-weight walkways through the tree-tops, vistiors can explore the vertical dimensions of the rainforest and learn about the ecological niches at each leve. The route eventually leads to the forest floor and the foot of the waterfall.
On the exterior, the glass roof is celebrated as a crisp planar surface sitting on top of a sculptural masonry base. The building could process all the biodegradable waste from a city of a million people and, by diverting this from landfill would benefit from landfill tax generating (11m pound a year) (representing a reutrn of investment of 8%). Apart from being a visitor atraction the scheme could also operate as a productive greenhouse growing tropical fruit and vegetables with a fraction of the ecological footprint of imported produce.

Posted by: Jaume Torras Andrés


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