- Client Team: H.E. Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Chairperson of Environment and Protected Areas Authority, Sharjah, Peter Jackson FRIBA, Architect Advisor to HH The Ruler’s Office, Sharjah
- Hopkins Architects (Key): Simon Fraser, Principal and Lead-Designer; Andrew Ardill, Director; Tim Sheridan, Project Director; Angus McDougall, Project Architect
- Hopkins Architects (Other): Stefan Hache, Joanne Yu, Larry Buraga, Sara Madbouli
- Exhibition Designers: Mojo Ink, Dubai; Sophy Cave Design, Aquaria & Life Support Systems
- Pre Cast Concrete Specialist Subcontractor: Dubai Precast
- Mep Subcontractor: Al Muhanad Electro-Mechanical Contracting
- City: Sharjah
- Country: United Arab Emirates
Text description provided by the architects. Situated on one of the most sensitive and biodiverse nature reserves in the Gulf, the Khor Kalba Turtle and Wildlife Sanctuary comprises a cluster of rounded building forms that creates a sanctuary for rehabilitating turtles and nurturing endangered birds, connecting with local initiatives and expertise.
Commissioned by Sharjah’s Environmental Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), the complex will also provide education and visitor facilities to increase environmental awareness and engagement with conservation programmes. It will revive the environmental significance of the critical work being undertaken by the EPAA and will serve as an operational base for research and the monitoring of the protected Kalba reserve’s natural resources, as well as those of the wider east coast area of the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
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 shops, and a café. A carefully set out nature trail encourages visitors to explore the reserve’s rich biodiversity of indigenous mangrove forests and mudflats 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.
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 dramatic, 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 skylight ocuili.
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.