We celebrate resourceful British places where initiative and creativity have combined to produce something ingenious…
No.1 ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower & Slide
Britain’s largest sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, was designed and built by sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond to be one of the most striking legacies of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. A great example of design innovation, the tower was made from 35,000 bolts and enough steel to make 265 double-decker buses. Some 60% of the structure is made from recycled steel, such as washing machines and cars. The tower affords fantastic views over Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and if you like heights, you’ll love the latest addition – the world’s highest and longest tunnel slide which now wraps around the tower. Sliders get to travel down the UK’s tallest public artwork, with London’s dramatic skyscape whizzing by! In the 40-second trip, visitors circle around the tower 12 times, weaving their way through the famous loops and curves of the structure.
No.2 Centre for alternative technology
Seven acres of a once-derelict slate mine in Powys, Wales, are now occupied by a sustainable community, founded here in the mid-1970s. Zero Carbon Britain is the centre’s flagship research project, designed to show that a modern, zero-emissions society is possible using technology available today. There’s a range of interactive displays and working examples of environmentally-responsible buildings, organic growing and sustainability at home. A must-do at the centre is a ride on the water-balanced cliff railway with breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys.
No.3 Crossness Pumping Station
A mesmerising example of Victorian civil engineering, Crossness Pumping Station is a wonderfully-ornate building that has recently been opened to the public following a £2.7m Heritage Lottery Fund-supported renovation. The former pumping station, which houses four massive rotative beam-engines, including the largest working example in the world, has been restored by volunteers working as part of a Trust, set up back in 1988. Sir Joseph Bazalgette began building Crossness in 1858 to address the ‘Great Stink’ – a point when parliamentarians could no longer bear the stench coming from the heavily-polluted River Thames. Now an exciting museum and exhibition space, Crossness welcomes its visitors via a recreated sewage tunnel. Inside, you can learn all about the history of sanitation, the cholera outbreaks in 19th-century London and Bazalgette’s other great engineering works. The pumping station was a magnificent achievement – as is this restoration of ‘London’s Cathedral to Sewage’.
No.4 Footfall harvesting
Commuters and shoppers walking over the elevated pedestrian walkway near to West Ham’s underground station in East London pass over something quite remarkable. Although many walkers may not realise what’s happening beneath their feet, the paved flooring has a five-millimetre flex in the rubber surface which powers the lights above the walkway. With an extra spring in their step, walkers are unwittingly creating kinetic energy which is captured by the smart tiles they tread on, meaning that every footstep contributes towards the electricity needed to light the bulbs above. The UK company behind this innovation, Pavegen, has installed a similar system at London’s Heathrow airport, as well as in other international locations.
No.5 The Eden Project
The Eden Project in Cornwall is a dramatic global garden housed in tropical biomes that nestle in a crater the size of 30 football pitches. Eden is also a gateway into the relationships between plants and people, and a fascinating insight into the story of mankind’s dependence on plant life. It is also a unique resource for education and knowledge towards a sustainable future. You can experience the sights, smells and scale of the rainforests in the Rainforest Biome – the world’s largest greenhouse – and discover the tropical plants that are used to produce everyday products. Travel to South Africa, California and the Med and wander amongst the orange and lemon trees, olive groves and vines of the Mediterranean Biome, and in the 30-acre Outdoor Garden see hemp, sunflowers and plants that could change your future. The Eden Project offices also boast an eco story all of their own. Architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw used newspapers as insulation for the floors, wall and roof, making it one of the best insulated buildings in the UK. The development is also entirely PVC-free.
No.6 Hydroponic walls
Gardens stopped being just the preserve of people’s front lawns long ago. For a while, garden roofs were all the rage. Now, it’s all about walls. Drawing on advances in hydroponics, the facades of a growing number of libraries and offices, shops and hotels, are bursting into flower. One of the firms at the forefront of the “living wall” boom is UK-based firm Biotecture. The company’s “vertical gardens” are flexible, modular living walls, made using a patented hydroponic system that brings a new level of sustainability to vertical green walls through intelligent water management and stable system dynamics. The attractive green walls can be seen gracing the Taj Hotel in central London and the exit wall of Edgware Road Tube Station, as well as university campuses, high-end retail outlets, restaurants and private gardens. Aside from looking enticing, the green walls are credited with reducing air pollution and improving air quality.
No.7 Tomatin Distillery
Three years ago, the Tomatin Distillery, near Inverness, was one of the first Scottish distilleries to install a state-of-the-art, sustainable biomass boiler. The wood pellet-fuelled steam boiler replaced the distillery’s previous heavy-fuel oil usage and produces both heat and steam for the whisky-making process. The installation immediately improved the distillery’s energy efficiency, cutting carbon emissions by 80% or over 4,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. In cutting its carbon emissions, Tomatin was the first distillery in Scotland to achieve the Scotch Whisky Association’s target for 2050 – 37 years ahead of schedule.
No.8 Bridge 5 Mill
Bridge 5 Mill is Manchester’s first Centre for Sustainable Living. This converted silk mill in Ancoats provides a focal point for debate and action around sustainability. Recently becoming part of the Fairfield Trust Group, the Mill is a place where groups can come together in a range of conference and meetings rooms, and make use of the centre’s exhibition area and sustainability library. There are also facilities for eco training and workshops in the Mill, and it is home to a range of social enterprises, charities and campaign groups, all working to create a sustainable world. The Mill was refurbished with reclaimed and recycled materials, eco paints, no PVC, water saving and low-energy fittings. It is one of Manchester’s most sustainable buildings.
No.9 The Garden Bridge
The Garden Bridge project began as a simple idea – a beautiful new garden floating above the River Thames. The Garden Bridge Trust has a mission to turn this idea into a reality. The new 366m-long footbridge will stretch across the River Thames, from the top of Temple underground station on the North Bank to the South Bank, and hold an expansive garden, criss-crossed with footpaths that will weave through the garden, creating a new pedestrian route which will be free and open to all from 6am to midnight. The garden will feature an abundance of plants, trees and shrubs indigenous to the UK, Northern Europe and other parts of the world. These have all been chosen for their biodiversity, bringing wildlife and horticulture to the heart of London. The garden consists of several sequential spaces, designed to reflect characteristics of the rich cultural heritage of the capital’s river and both riverbanks, so that a pedestrian crossing the bridge will walk through an ever-changing seasonal landscape. The Garden Bridge is due to be completed in 2018.
No.10 Holgate Windmill
Situated on a roundabout in a residential area of York, Holgate Windmill is an impressive landmark that stands as a proud reminder of York’s heritage. Some 10 years ago, the windmill was in a very sad state of repair, with chunks of the structure falling off and its unique set of sails having been stripped away. However, it was saved and brought back to its original grandeur by a group of local volunteers who took part in a £550,000 restoration scheme that saw all five giant sails replaced. The 35ft-long sails, each weighing a tonne, allowed York’s last remaining windmill to start grinding corn again and become a magnificent local landmark, visible for miles around. Holgate Windmill Preservation Society teamed up with York Council to save the windmill, with millers teaching the volunteers how to operate the machinery, much of it restored using Lottery funding, so local people can relearn the ancient art of making flour.