Making an accessible rainforest canopy walkway at the Eden Project
The canopy walkway is a recent addition in Eden Project's tropical biome, designed to immerse people in the feel of a rainforest. Visitors can now wind their way up to canopy height and get a tree top feel of the rainforest biome. Sensory Trust's work was to help ensure these experiences are available to all visitors of all ages and abilities and we're pleased to be working with Tate Harmer architects and the Eden design team to help with the development of the second phase.
Addressing the challenges of making the walkway accessible - the story so far
Gradients and distance: The most significant challenge was how to deal with the gradients and distances associated with getting visitors up to canopy level from the existing path network. We worked with the design team, exploring different options for path layouts and selecting the one that offered the best compromise between gradient, distance and quality of experience.
There is always a trade off between gradient and distance. We find that distance is often overlooked but it is a really significant issue for many people with limited mobility and who tire more easily, especially in a hot humid environment. Sometimes a slight increase in grade can avoid an unrealistic distance for visitors to walk.
Achieving the best balance between gradient and distance proved the biggest juggling act for us in the design process. It ultimately involved us marking out on site with the contractors, using chalked marks, ropes and canes to get a better sense of the implications of different final grades. This proved an invaluable exercise.
It was also an opportunity to review best locations for seats and to allow for these by designing path widenings to accommodate them.
Path widths and surfaces: Path widths are generous to take account of busy days and two-way movement on some sections. Widenings give visitors the chance to pause without blocking traffic. Surfaces have to be firm and non-slip, not just for visitors with limited mobility but because people are distracted by things around them and not paying close attention to where they are walking.
Seating: Seating is critical. It gives visitors the option to pace themselves and helps mitigate slopes and distances. Part of the on-site marking out involved identifying key locations for seats, sometimes with widenings in the path to accommodate them.
Comfort: Taking paths into the canopy meant visitors would experience increased temperatures and humidity. Water fountains with drinking water were an important feature. cool room. A cool room provides a refuge and is part of the emergency care provision.
Views: A big bonus of the walkway is the chance for bird's-eye views across the biome. The steel mesh walkway sides provides unobstructed views at lower heights, and the handrail was positioned to avoid being at eye level for wheelchair users (a frustratingly common issue overlooked by designers)
The handrail was made of salvaged wood sourced from a local social enterprise employing people with learning disabilities, who came along to see it being installed.