Museum of Biodiversity – Panama
The Eco WonderThe density of plant life in Panama is greater than in Brazil or China. Such incredible variety inspired local leaders to erect a new Museum of Biodiversity-aka the Bridge of Life-on a conspicuous site at the Pacific mouth of the Panama Canal. Designed by iconoclast Frank Gehry, the Bridge of Life will be as colorful as a parrot’s plumage. Once it opens in 2010, the Panama City Museum will house an original edition of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”, and will feature twin semi-cylindrical aquariums, and “Panamarama”, a three-story, fourteen-screen film space. What’s Behind It Sensing the need for a new national icon, the Panamanian nonprofit Fundacio΄n Amador is developing the museum with Gehry, the surrounding botanical park with New York’s Edwina von Gal and the educational exhibits with Toronto design guru Bruce Mau. The Smithsonian Institute and Panama’s national university are also advising. Eco-touring Tips Soberania National Park, a lush rainforest preserve, is just minutes away. Many visitors stay at Canopy Tower, an observatory in the tropical park, amid the roar of howler monkeys and the blue flash of Morpho butterfly wings. More than 1,500 islands dot Panama’s coasts, making it a kayaker’s paradise.
Menara Mesiniaga – Malaysia
The Eco Wonder The 15-storey Menara Mesiniaga stands as one of a handful of eco-friendly high-rise buildings designed by architect Ken Yeang. Full of open-air sky gardens with mature trees and tropical breezes, Yeang’s eco structures, most of which are found in his home country of Malaysia, are unlike any other tall buildings in the world. Menara Mesiniaga’s canopied sunroof, distinctive louvers, and open-air garden balconies give occupants the sense of being outdoors in airy spaces planted with tall trees and dappled with sunlight. From inside, floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the surrounding area. What’s Behind It Yeang’s bioclimatic design, better known as passive low-energy architecture, makes these towers work. The architect gained international renown by touting a future with “hairy” and “breathing” buildings, a reference to his patented ventilation techniques: high-rise vegetation sprouting from balconies and open-air lobbies with picnic areas and playgrounds. Yeang believes that skyscraping cities are vital to our future, reducing sprawl while contending with booming populations. To work, they must bring in nature, fresh air, and sunlight where it’s least expected. Eco-touring Tips To witness the natural inspiration for Yeang’s architecture, stay at the Taman Negara eco-resort, nestled deep in the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, northeast of Kuala Lumpur.
Nysted Havmøllepark – Denmark
The Eco Wonder The Dutch are known for windmills, but it’s the Danish who now claim the world’s second-largest offshore wind farm, located in shallow but navigable waters six miles off the shore of the bucolic southern coastal town of Nysted. Gently rotating blades reach out more than 130 feet from their colossal 225-foot posts. Seen from the sky, the 72 sleek, marine-gray towers rise from the ocean in neat rows, marking out a parallelogram. What’s Behind It Denmark leads the globe in the push for renewable energy. More than 5,000 turbines on land and 200 offshore produce about one-fifth of the country’s energy. The Nysted project, a joint venture between several European companies led by DONG Energy, has an annual output of 595 million kilowatt-hours, enough to supply 145,000 homes. Three out of every four Danish wind farms are owned by individuals or cooperatives. Eco-touring Tips Visitors can sail in the unrestricted waters around the Nysted wind farm using sailing directions found on the farm’s website. Frequent tours leave from Nysted, where sports fishing is another popular local pastime. Onshore, the Rødsand area is well-liked for its dunes, seaside campsites, game reserves, and a European Union bird sanctuary. In addition, don’t miss the Egholm Ulvecenter, a wolf park, and museum.
California Academy of Sciences, United States
The Eco Wonder With its steep, undulating 2.5-acre living roof, the glass-walled California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco looks like it rose from the ground. Covered with 1.7 million wildflowers, strawberries, and herbaceous perennials, the roof serves as a habitat for birds and San Bruno elfin butterflies, an apt topper for a natural history museum, planetarium and aquarium rolled into one. What’s Behind It Designed by Italian modernist architect Renzo Piano with Monterey green-roof design firm Rana Creek, the USD 488 million building is shooting for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating—a first for a museum. Built mostly of recycled materials, the natural showplace heats and cools itself with almost no external energy. Inside, there are more than 20 million living and preserved animal species from 170 countries, displaying nature’s diversity. There’s even an alligator swamp and rainforest. Eco-touring Tips The Academy opens this fall in Golden Gate Park. Nature lovers can plan picnics and hikes in the 1,000-acre park. San Francisco, a global capital of eco-chic, offers a near-endless selection of urban pleasures. Pick up a map from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s impressive selection and two-wheel it wherever you go.
Star Axis, New Mexico, US
The Eco Wonder Part land art and part astronomy lesson, Star Axis occupies a remote plot in New Mexico near Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Conceived as a naked-eye observatory connecting people to the heavens and earth, the project has been underway for more than 30 years. The result, with its pink granite solar pyramid and a star tunnel precisely parallel to the Earth’s axis, will be 11-storeys high and a tenth of a mile wide—a majestic and monumental bridge between land and sky. What’s Behind It Charles Ross, a physics-student-turned-sculptor from New York, conceived of Star Axis in 1971. His idea was to create chambers and tunnels so people could experience the Earth’s spinning and movement in various time frames, from one hour to one season to one 25,920-year cycle of procession. Ross is well known for celestial works—his prism installations at Harvard University create spectrum light that changes with the Earth’s rotation. Eco-touring Tips To look 13,000 years into the future, plan ahead. Star Axis is not officially open yet (the target date is 2010), though much of it is complete. The site is on Chupinas Mesa, where the Sangre de Cristo Mountains meet the eastern plains; check staraxis.org for updates.
Dongtan – China
The Eco WonderCalled by its designers “the world’s first purpose-built eco-city,” Dongtan will be powered entirely by renewable energy sources and supplied with battery or fuel-cell vehicles and solar-powered water taxis. It is to be located on Chongming Island in the Yangtze River Delta near Shanghai and house up to half a million people by 2050. Attractions will include a park, a science exhibition, educational center, and wildlife conservation. What’s Behind It The Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation is developing the site with contractors who use a mix of traditional and innovative measures like low-energy airconditioning and green roofs. Dongtan will use half the water and create one-sixth the waste of a comparable city, even with 20 acres set aside for producing native foods.
Eden Project-United Kingdom
The Eco Wonder The biome conservatories of the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, are more than visually stunning. The giant geodesic domes made of inflatable plastic-like “pillows” enclose millions of plants, 5,000 species in all, laid out in botanical gardens that reveal how the plant kingdom supports human life. Billed as the world’s biggest conservatory, the otherworldly structures are also arguably the most environmentally advanced. Just one biome, the Humid Tropics section, covers four acres under a 180-foot-tall canopy and is replete with butterflies, birds, and lizards. Yet the Eden Project’s main mission is for visitors to have fun, which explains why more than a million people enter the recyclable foil bubbles every year. What’s Behind It Millionaire record producer Tim Smit worked on another area attraction, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, before he envisaged his Eden, working with co-founder and architect Jonathan Ball, and horticultural gurus Peter Thoday and Philip McMillan Browse. Smit later enlisted British enviro-architect Nicholas Grimshaw to design the biomes. Eco-touring Tips By train, bus or car it’s four and a half hours from London to the Eden Project in the southwest. Cyclists earn discounted tickets and line-jumping status at the biomes. Nearby activities include hiking the Camel Trail and Dartmoor National Park, plus Heligan’s Lost Gardens.