Over 350 species of bird have made their home at this wetland centre, built by local firm X Architects on a former rubbish dump in the United Arab Emirates (+ slideshow).
Open since November, the Wasit Natural Reserve features a mix of sand dunes, salt flats and lagoons, framed by three slender building volumes and a network of woven canopies.
It invites visitors to observe a variety of different birds in a natural habitat, but also helps to educate them about these species. Additionally, it provides facilities for researchers and accommodates a veterinary team.
Located in the Emriate of Sharjah, north of Dubai, the 4.5-square-kilometre site was originally a dump for both rubbish and waste water. The project to rehabilitate the area started back in 2005, and involved removing over 40,000 square metres of rubbish.
Dubai-based X Architects was charged with designing buildings for the site without compromising its functionality as a nature reserve.
To achieve this, the team divided the programme up into three areas, and created long slender volumes for each. Each volume overlaps its neighbour, creating a huge H-shaped plan that frames different zones.
Aviaries slot in between the building, creating dedicated areas for birds including herons, ibises and seedeaters.
"The architecture of the centre blends with its surroundings and uses the existing topography to minimise the visual impact on the natural scene," explained X Architects.
The building's entrance leads into an underground gallery that extends east to west across the site, and is entirely dedicated to observing the wildlife. At the far end, a cafe offers a view out to the largest pond.
All other facilities are contained in the third block, which runs across the gallery near the entrance. It includes lecture halls, exhibition spaces, offices, breeding areas and a gift shop.
"After years of efforts to bring the non-migratory birds back to the site, Wasit Natural Reserve is now home to 350 species of birds, a landing zone for 33,000 migratory birds and a breathing lung to Sharjah city," said the design team.
"The facility became a heaven for bird watchers and researchers."
The reserve also includes over 35,000 trees that help to purify the air, ensuring the area will continue to attract birdlife for many years to come.
Client: Environmental and Protected Area Authority
Architect: X Architects
Design team: Ahmed Al-Ali, Farid Esmaeil, Mirco Urban, Pariya Manafi, Dana Sheikh, Abdullah Bashir, Waleed Al Mezaini, Christian Geronimo, Brian Abarintos, Eyad Zarafeh, HaiderAl Kalamchi
Masterplan/environmental consultancy: Scope Architecture