||On barren desert in Saudi Arabia, engineers
and scientists are to build a stately pleasure dome to
house the 'garden of ages'.
It will re-create the 400-million-year-old history of
our planet's plants, trees and flowers.
The dome - near Riyadh - will cover more than 24 acres and
become the world's largest indoor garden. Plants from key
botanical epochs will be grown and displayed in seven sections
inside two interlocking, crescent-shaped enclosures. The project
- run on renewable energy and using a minimum of water - is
intended to revitalise tourism.
"Visitors will journey through time - from the Devonian
period 410 million years ago, through eras like the Carboniferous
to the Pliocene and the present day" - said the
dome's designer, Nick Sweet of architects, Barton Willmore.
"There will even be a Jurassic Park - but, without dinosaurs.
"Essentially, we are going to take a single piece of
land and show how it has been transformed - as plants have
evolved and diversified throughout Earth's history - and some
of those changes have been dramatic. This part of Saudi Arabia
may be parched and burning hot today - the temperature was
54°C last week - but there were times when rivers flowed
and cool forests flourished here. Visitors will be able to
experience all of that."
Designing an ambitious venture - such as the King Abdullah
International Gardens - has not been easy, however. Keeping
the gardens' various eco-systems cool in the blistering Saudi
summer heat has been a major headache. "We cannot just
stick-in a huge air conditioner to pump in vast amounts of
cold air" - Sweet said. "The running costs would
be huge and it would send out the wrong ecological message.
"Instead, we have built especially high domes. At some
points, they will reach more than 120ft. Hot air will rise
to the top and trap cool air at the bottom. We will then need
relatively modest amounts of air-conditioning to cool the
gardens at ground level."
Each of the seven environments inside the £100m building
- which will become the world's largest Teflon construction
- will be powered by renewable sources - mainly solar and
wind - while water will be stored in underground reservoirs
beneath the domes.
|"Visitors will start their floral time-walk
at the Devonian period - 410 million years ago"
- said Dr Paul Kenrick, a paleobotanist at the Natural
History Museum, London and the project's scientific adviser.
"In those days, no plants grew above knee-height.
So, we will use mosses and lichens and grow them on rocks
round huge artificial geysers ...
"... After that" - he added - "visitors will
experience the Carboniferous period, the Jurassic Park
consisting of light woods of coniferous trees, the Cretaceous
era - when the first flowers flourished, the Zenozoic
age when the first grasses appeared and, finally, the Pliocene
epoch, with riverbeds and light woodland.
"The last section is simple" - he said. "That
will be called the garden of choices. Visitors will see how
our planet might end up - burnt and scorched or cool and moist
- depending on the way we respond to the challenge of climate