Located in Cornwall, the Eden Project has been home to two large geometric bubble-like Biomes, aptly named ‘Rainforest’ and ‘Mediterranean’, since opening to the public in March 2001. The Rainforest Biome boasts the world’s largest indoor rainforest – spanning 50m high and 16,000 sq m, while the Mediterranean Biome houses more than 1,000 varieties of plant from that region. For the second year running, GLX Productions was tasked with the design and delivery of Biome lighting for the latest rendition of Christmas at the Eden Project.
Over the course of five days, the GLX Productions team of Production Manager and Lighting Crew Chief, Glenn Gridley; Lighting Designer, Zak Nicholson; Lighting Technicians, James Coxon, Catherine Walton, Joe Bower and Embry Koehler oversaw the deployment of over 300 lighting fixtures, 3km of cable and 5km of fairy lights across the site. Checking in with TPi following the completion of the firm’s largest lighting installation at the Eden Project to date, Gridley described how the team had to up their game – and fixture count – to bring some much-needed festive joy to the site, following a difficult 2020.
“The Biome landscapes were lit by Lighting Designer, Zak Nicholson in rich colours to create a compelling world of shadows and light. The centrepiece of the Mediterranean Biome was a giant 1m mirror ball casting a blizzard of snowflake-like points of silvery light across the giant structure using GLX’s new range of CHAUVET Professional Rogue Outcast 1 fixtures, marking the first time the units have been deployed on UK soil.
“The Biomes catch light really well provided you have the right positioning throughout,” Gridley explained. “Due to the Rainforest Biome’s immense height, it looks incredible when lit, but the unusual landscape presents its own set of unique challenges.” With the heat and humidity of a real rainforest, IP65+ rated fixtures were integral to lighting the space. “Coupled with the humid environment, constant watering, birds and lizards – the equipment used had to be IP65+ convection cooled and vacuum sealed to be safe for people, animals and insects.”
Gridley explained that while the Mediterranean structure picks up light easily from the floor due to the inclusion of smaller plants, in the Rainforest, the vegetation is so thick it is borderline impossible to get light from the floor to the roof. To combat this, the GLX Productions team lit locally on the floor to highlight the exotic array of foilage, with 40 LEDJ Spectra Par 7Q8, 35 LEDJ Spectra Flood 18T3 and 30 LEDJ Spectra Par 15Q8 units across the space. “We felt that the LEDJ gear we deployed last year really hit the mark, and the fact that they all survived rainforest terrain for six weeks with no wear and tear went to show that they are solid and reliable units,” Gridley exclaimed. “This year, we bought double the amount!”
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To highlight the intricacies of the plants from below, GLX Productions rigged additional CHAUVET Professional COLORado Panel Q40s and STRIKE 1s from the roof of the biomes. “Where the ‘pillows’ of the Biomes are clear, it means light can be seen on the inside and outside of the structure simultaneously,” Gridley remarked.
Although the Mediterranean Biome required fewer measures, GLX Productions stuck to the theme of IP65+ fixtures. SGM P5s were chosen to light the three largest Washingtonia palm trees and cast blue light across the space. Inside the structure, a cliff face was lit with P5s, a pair of CHAUVET Professional Ovation fixtures and a snowflake gobo. “The remaining 140-plus LEDJ units across the Biome created the perfect backdrop with the amber and magenta hues for the giant mirror ball suspended from the structure.” This was lit with four CHAUVET Professional Rogue Outcast 1 Hybrid fixtures, which are “pretty quiet and super punchy,” Gridley added. “They also break away from the mirror ball at points and shine snowflake gobos on the pillows before coming back again to break it up a little.”
Following the first UK lockdown, the grounds provided timed entry tickets in line with social distancing and health and safety guidelines. “Throughout the second lockdown, botanical gardens had to close; this fell in the middle of our load-in, which made the process much easier. Usually, we load in overnight across a week, but we could work during the day and evenings this year.” It was so easy in fact that the team was a day-and-a-half ahead of schedule.
The team wore relevant PPE on site. Instead of operating in teams, it was a much more distanced affair, with designated areas for crew. “We used an app called Basecamp to help manage the project as a whole. The client could see the progress and on-site electricians could see where we needed power because they had our power plans easily accessible, which they could assign to their crew to do too,” he added. “It meant contact could be limited but kept the real time update of the progress, which was cool and a nice interface. going forward, we’d use it again.”
With the Eden Project home to many thousands of plants, GLX Productions worked closely with the horticultural teams to ensure the gear was carefully placed. “The end result saw an enticing trail of vivid complimentary colours which will remain in the memories of those who had the pleasure of visiting Eden Project before the latest lockdown restrictions were imposed in the UK,” he reported. “The designer, Zak Nicholson, has really made the space come alive this year. The colour choices were complimentary to the foliage and the space, everywhere you looked were these amazing vast spaces of colour. It looked stunning.”
Unlike much of 2020, the project was plain sailing for the GLX team. “It’s been an interesting year to say the least. We took the plunge to focus on outdoor lighting a few years ago so we have expanded our arsenal of IP65+ rated equipment to fit clients’ needs,” Gridley noted.
“Fortunately, some outdoor projects have been able to go ahead despite the various lockdowns, so having a warehouse of IP65-rated gear has made 2020 somewhat bearable. We have lots of exciting plans on the horizon in 2021, mainly towards the end of the year, but we’re definitely looking forward to it. The Eden Project is a unique space. There’s nowhere else in the world like it.”
This article originally appeared in issue #258 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: John Taylor Photography for GLX Productions