Six amazing biodomes of the world

Buildings come in many different formats. Most of them are lived or worked in, but, some are designed to support life.

Biodomes fall into that category. These fascinating structures are self-sufficient eco-systems. They are designed to replicate the outdoor environment.

There are many different types, and as you will see, they are fascinating buildings. These interesting looking domes and conservatories are triumphs of both engineering and architectural design.

Who invented the biodome?

Here, we take a look at the most interesting of the ones that have been built across the world, but first, a few words about how this unusual and unique type of building came to be.

Most modern eco-domes are made using Texlon ETFE cladding systems. The inventor of this system is a world-famous sailer called Stefan Lehnert.

While experimenting with ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) as a material to use to make sails, he realised that it could actually be used to create robust plastic buildings that let life-sustaining sunlight in. DuPont created ETFE, in 1930, for use by the aeronautics industry.

Lehnert took the material and adapted it slightly. He then created large plastic cushions filled with air that could be used to create Buckminster Fuller-style geodesic domes.

1. An early example – Burgers’ Zoo, Arnhem, The Netherlands

One of the earliest large-scale eco-dome structures to be built is the tropical one at Burgers’ Zoo and Safaripark in the Netherlands. It was built in 1982 with the direct involvement of Lehnert.

This 800 square meter construction was his first project. It is not strictly speaking a biodome, more of a roof, but the fact it was the first time this building method was used means it deserves a place on this list.

2. The new mangrove biodome at Burgers’ Zoo

The project was a huge success, so much so that in 2017, the zoo opened a second one. This time, the plastic dome enclosed an area of 3,000 square meters (32,292 square feet). It covers a fascinating Mangrove swamp environment.

3. The Eden Project, Cornwall, UK

One of the most famous biodomes in the world is the Eden Project in Cornwall. This structure is made of a steel frame and thermoplastic. It was designed by the architect Nicholas Grimshaw in partnership with the engineering firm Anthony Hunt and Associates.

There are two biomes on site. The Tropical Biome is 55 meters tall (180ft) and covers an area of 15,590 square meters (170,000 square feet). It is a humid space that supports plants from all kinds of tropical forests.

The second smaller dome covers 6,540 square meters (70,000 square ft). It is still an impressive 35 meters (115 feet) tall.

Both domes are heated by an innovative system that utilises an underground heating main. The amount of air that enters and leaves the domes is controlled by a computer.

4. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The spectacular Gardens by the Bay is a unique project that was constructed on reclaimed land. Eventually, these unique gardens will cover 101 hectares (250 acres) of the Marine Bay area of Singapore. A big feature of this unique green space is the conservatory complex.

These two cooled conservatories look stunning when viewed from a distance. Each of the two beautiful clam shaped structures covers an area of around 1 hectare (2.5 acres) each.

The largest column-less greenhouse

The Flower Dome is the largest column-less greenhouse in the world. Wilkinson Eyre, a London based architectural firm, came up with the unique design for this dome and the others in the Gardens by the Bay complex.

They incorporated several important innovations into the Flower Dome. These are designed to minimise the building’s environmental footprint; for example, the roof collects rainwater, which is then circulated and used for cooling.

A spectacular indoor waterfall

Inside the Cloud Forest area there is a spectacular 35 meter (115ft) waterfall. It cascades down the sides of a plant covered mountain, which is also encased in the biodome structure. It makes for a truly amazing sight and a very impressive piece of architecture.

5. Biosphere 2, Arizona, USA

This interesting structure is the world’s biggest earth system science facility. The complex covers 1.27 hectares (3.14 acres).

Unusually, this is a glass and steel structure. Interestingly, the frame and glazing are made by an associate of Buckminster Fuller, who, as you have already read, developed the geodesic dome design that so many modern biodome architects use to create plastic ecodomes.

Parts of this structure look almost square – very different to the dome-like designs you normally see.

This unique building was designed to enable the development of ecosystems that could be set up and maintained in space. A successful two-year mission that ran between 1991 and 1993 proved conclusively that it was possible to live in a man-made eco-system. However, due to a dispute, the second mission, which started in 1994, ended prematurely.

Equally surprising is the fact that the structure was earmarked for demolition. With the help of public funding, the University of Arizona was able to step in and buy it. Today, it is still being used for small-scale scientific research projects.

6. Amazon Spheres, Seattle, USA

There is a growing trend for large companies to incorporate green spaces and living plants into the design of their headquarters and workspaces. As an example, Airbnb had a 1,226 ft green wall incorporated into its San Francisco headquarters.

In 2018, online retailer Amazon opened three spherical conservatories to its employees and a limited number of members of the public. The three structures are built at the foot of the 521-foot Amazon Tower II headquarters. Incorporated into the spheres are meeting areas, tables and benches, which means that employees can choose to work in this lush, green and natural environment.

The tallest dome is four stories high. Currently, the three spheres are home to 40,000 plants that have been collected from 50 countries.

The future of biospheres

There are new biospheres being built all the time. The vast majority are being used as visitor attractions and as a way to conserve the flora, fauna and animals of a specific ecosystem. Without a doubt, these amazing buildings look fantastic, but they also have an important role to play in our lives.

Posted by Mark
October 3, 2018

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