Creating Edens and Inspiring Change: Jane Knight
July 8, 2013
As the only landscape architect on a 400-person staff charged with “inspiring people to care about the natural world,” Jane Knight has no shortage of interesting work. She recently visited LAF, shared the Eden Project story, and discussed her evolving role in her self-described dream job.
What is the Eden Project?
Eden Project is an educational charity and social enterprise based in Cornwall in the southwest corner of England. It is based in a former China clay mine that was transformed into a global garden and visitor attraction, opening in 2001. It features the largest rainforest in captivity and a Mediterranean landscape both captured within huge, bubble-like greenhouses set in temperate gardens. Eden’s mission is to create memorable experiences that inspire people to care about each other and the natural world and, to date, has attracted more than 14 million visitors. From this base, Eden also does transformational projects, both big and small, to show what people working with nature can achieve.
You've been at the Eden Project for over a decade. Can you describe how your role has changed and evolved over the years?
Eden Project is aptly named — we are an unfinished project that will continue to evolve in response to changing environmental concerns. We also need to constantly change to keep visitors returning (they are our main source of income) and in response to visitors’ feedback. My role has therefore evolved to reflect all these things. In the first years after opening, we had twice as many visitors as the design capacity, so I had to design ways to increase the capacity of the site. I provide landscape design input to big new capital developments within the main Eden site and surrounding estate. I also work in collaboration with artists and our interpretation and horticultural teams to develop exhibits to add interest and richness to the visitor experience.
Increasingly, I work on projects ‘out of Eden’ where I share our experience to help others develop their ideas and projects. This work is hugely varied and has taken me to nearly all corners of the globe! I have worked with a UK charity and community in Kosovo to develop a Peace Park, developed concepts for a new botanic garden in northern Chile, worked with our post-mining experts to develop a new sustainable economy on former diamond mining areas in a global biodiversity hotspot in South Africa, in the UK I have created vegetable growing projects in prisons and worked with former homeless people and addicts to create gardens. I also work on consultancy projects to advise on the development of Eden-like projects around the world. There is never a dull moment!
As the only landscape architect on a 400-person staff, what unique insights do you bring?
I am constantly applying my professional skills in a range of different ways, and the most obvious is to solve practical design problems. I work with over 40 horticulturists and botanists and my design skills allow their expert knowledge to be applied to greatest effect. In a place where there is no shortage of new ideas, I need to quickly assess the practical feasibility of projects and new installations and how they can contribute to the visitor experience without compromising Eden’s bold, contemporary master plan. And when ideas hit the ground, my project management skills are called for. Landscape architects are keen collaborators, and Eden must be the ultimate collaborative environment; it has bought together a huge range of disciplines, and we all work together on a day-to-day basis to ensure the outcome of our work is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here at LAF, we talk a lot about landscape performance — the environmental, economic, and social value of projects. What are the some of the key benefits of the Eden Project that you’ve been able to document?
As an environmental project, we want to lead the way on sustainability and, as a for-profit business (with all funds going to our charitable Eden Trust), we also operate commercially. Our decision making is always against the sustainable triple bottom line so we know the trade-offs involved. We are a complicated business that includes landscape and horticulture, as well as catering, events, and retail. We monitor our sustainability performance across the organization with particular focus on areas of key concern – waste, energy and social inclusion. Eden Project’s Annual Report includes a sustainability report under the headings: people, planet, and profit.
We are aiming for waste neutral and work with the mantra — reduce, re-use, recycle and re-invest (in recycled products and materials) which is reflected in all our procurement. 67% of our waste is recycled or composted.
We are constantly working on energy reduction — from sophisticated monitoring of our biome heating systems to internal campaigns to ‘switch it off’. This has resulted in a 26% reduction in carbon emissions from our baseline year of 2007-08.
Inclusivity for all our visitors is a key focus and one that I’ve been particularly involved with. We aim to create an accessible and sensory-rich experience for everyone, and despite our location in a physically challenging site, we have won several plaudits from national disability groups.
How can others get involved or help to further the Eden Project mission?
As an organization that relies largely on visitor-related revenue for its existence and development, we need lots of visitors — please come and see us! Our website www.edenproject.com may give others ideas for projects and engaging communities on sustainable futures. We also publish books and have produced several DVDs on the Eden Project – our founder and CEO, Tim Smit’s book Eden is particularly interesting and inspiring. Like all charitable organizations, we are always seeking new sources of revenue and funding so, of course, donations are always welcome. And, not least, we are actively looking to develop new Eden’s in other parts of the world, and are looking for like-minded partners to work with. Please contact us with ideas.
Any opinions expressed in this interview belong solely to the author. Their inclusion in this article does not reflect endorsement by LAF.