Work has been completed on the Khor Kalba Turtle and Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Commissioned by Sharjah’s Environmental Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) and situated on Kalba Creek, one of the most sensitive and biodiverse nature reserves in the Gulf, the complex comprises a cluster of rounded building forms, creating a sanctuary for rehabilitating turtles and nurturing endangered birds.
Designed by Hopkins Architects, the sanctuary will also provide education and visitor facilities to increase environmental awareness and engagement with conservation programmes.
Seven interconnected pods and tensile structures create a visitor centre, with a terrace and panoramic views towards the mangrove forests and distant mountains.
Facilities include aquaria, exhibition areas, visitor amenities, staff offices, veterinary facilities, classrooms, gift shop and a café.
A nature trail encourages visitors to explore the reserve’s rich biodiversity of indigenous mangrove forests and mud flats and the species it supports including turtles, stingrays, gazelles and the rare Arabian Collard Kingfisher.
The geometry of the pods is inspired by urchin exoskeletons and purposefully echoes those of the Buhais Geology Museum, with which the Sanctuary is paired.
The pods have been designed as pre-fabricated concrete structures to minimise disruption to the existing terrain, with concrete foundations which are simple robust discs, elevated to protect them on this tidal location.
Simon Fraser, principal of Hopkins Architects said: “Designing for a site like this is an incredible opportunity.
“The pioneering circular forms we designed for the Buhais Geological Museum, are also perfect for this rich ecological location as they touch the ground lightly.
“We have adapted them using soft scalloped precast cladding made from discarded shells found in the local area which responds to the marine environment and which softens the external appearance of the project to harmonise with its surroundings.”
The modular buildings invite the landscape into the spaces, using framed panoramic views out and rays of natural light from above.
The pods are clad with segments of white scalloped pre-cast concrete referencing the shells found on the local shoreline and creating subtle variations of light and texture.
An array of steel ribs accentuates the sculptural cantilevered forms and completes this robust cladding system, itself designed to withstand the site’s unforgiving coastal conditions.
Visitors approach a semi-enclosed ribbed pod which serves as an orientation space and features glazed openings orientated towards key views.
A palette of light coastal tones softens the interior which is illuminated by skylights.
Passive design principles were prioritised throughout construction, to protect the interior spaces from the desert heat and lower the overall operational energy required.
The pods‘ precast concrete shells, ribs and in- situ foundation discs provide a well-sealed, exposed thermal mass across their floors, walls and roofs. A waterproof membrane and insulation running within the cladding cavity, is continuous across the pods surface.