Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2019.
Part of a much larger initiative by Sharjah’s Environment and Protected Areas Agency to clean up and rehabilitate this ancient chain of wetlands along the Persian Gulf coast, the Wasit Wetland Centre aims to supply information and education about this unique environment and to encourage its preservation.
In designing the visitor centre, the architects took advantage of the site’s natural topography to minimise its visual impact by making it appear submerged into the ground. Visitors descend a ramp to arrive at an angled intersection between two linear elements of the building: one, to the sides, containing services and administrative offices; the other, ahead, a long viewing gallery flanked by aviaries where birds can be seen in their natural habitat. At the far end of the viewing gallery, a third linear element, running perpendicular, houses a café and multipurpose space with views out over the open wetlands.
A cantilevered steel truss roof over the viewing gallery avoids the need for peripheral columns, allowing seamless glazed façades. The interior is deliberately minimalistic throughout, placing the full focus on the surrounding nature: informative displays are the only adornment on the supporting central wall. The façade glazing is slightly tilted, to enhance reflections of the landscape for the birds while minimising reflections for people looking out. The floor being lower than the ground outside, a continuous concrete sill provides a place to sit and contemplate birds at their level. To counter the very hot desert climate, the roof is well insulated and the glass is shaded by its overhang. Some fabric shading is also provided over the aviaries. Rainwater harvested from the roof is discreetly directed to specific areas of the landscape via carefully placed spouts that are camouflaged by landscape elements.
Six bird hides scattered around a lake created in the middle of a 200,000m2 site follow a unified aesthetic but are each individually designed for their context, and employ some recycled wood and plastic in their construction, reinforcing the ecological message.
What had become a waste dumping ground has had its indigenous ecosystem restored, and is proving a popular place for visitors to appreciate and learn about their natural environment.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture - Aga Khan Award for Architecture