Viewing the Botanics in a different light

Interior Design student’s project highlights potential for one of the oldest and most-loved buildings at Edinburgh attraction

Date posted

24 May 2018


Last updated

15 May 2020

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is one of the most-loved attractions that the city has to offer, with thousands of people visiting the greenspace every year.

Its Tropical Palm House has been a mainstay of the garden since 1834 and is one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in Edinburgh’s ever-changing landscape.

But for one Edinburgh Napier interior design student, she’s hoping to show the potential of the building in a different light through an innovative degree show project.

Alexandra Groza – who unveiled her conceptual plans for the space at the University’s Showtime Degree Show this week – has taken inspiration from the garden’s own successful run of light shows to modernise the building – without altering any of its existing exterior structure.

Her design has added a new space to the building, built under the existing house. The space is mainly dark – given its underground nature – and could potentially give the garden the ability to display bioluminescent plants and animals to its visitors.

Most bioluminescent organisms are found in the ocean and include fish, bacteria and jellies, but some are found on land including fireflies and fungi. These attractive organisms produce and emit light naturally, with their transparent skin helping light up their environment.

Researchers in the States are also currently looking at how bioluminescent plants can be created safely, with glow-in-the-dark plants and glowing trees that would eventually replace streetlights not a million miles away from becoming a reality.

The new underground space is linked to the existing space by a stunning spiral staircase, with its structure taking inspiration from the shape of a floating jellyfish.

The bioluminescent theme is replicated throughout the building, with a range of semi-transparent materials used to finish the new space. Even the floor tiles take influence from the fins of fungi such as mushroom.

Alex's design...

Alexandra’s bold plans for the space have been captured in an intricate model that is being showcased at the University’s degree show, with the design already creating discussion with visitors and attendees.

Alex said: “The use of light is a major part of my project. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the success that the gardens have had through hosting its popular light shows. The new space I’ve created potentially gives the opportunity to bring bioluminescent organisms into an environment where people can see them and learn more about them. These are some of the most beautiful species in the world so to be able to bring them into a space where we can learn more about them would be fantastic.

“The spiral staircase allows the whole space to be viewed, right from the top of the glasshouse to the new underground space. The elevator that runs through the middle on the staircase would also benefit from translucent lighting – I think there’s something very calming about my proposed design.

“I’m obviously not a scientist but I was instantly intrigued by bioluminescence and I’m using my newfound knowledge of it to help shape me as a designer. It’s important to take inspiration from a wide variety of sources and the use of glowing materials and lights is one that I’d be keen to continue to explore.”

For Alex, her transition into the interior design industry has been a unique one. After initially studying PR and Communications back home in Bucharest, Romania, she worked at fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. It was here – through interviewing a number of designers – that her interest in interior design was realised.

After undertaking a 10-month intensive interior design course in her native Romania, the 35-year-old moved to Edinburgh to study the subject at Edinburgh Napier.

She added: “It was really through interviewing designers and exhibitioners during my time at Harper’s Bazaar that I realised that interior design was what I wanted to do. I had always wanted to study overseas at some point too and after completing a course and undertaking some smaller freelance work back home, I applied for Edinburgh Napier – and here I am!

“Edinburgh is incredibly different to Bucharest. It’s much smaller but it’s a fantastic city to live in – I’ve really enjoyed my time here and I would love to stay a bit longer and work in exhibition or public design.”

Study Design at Edinburgh Napier