View of boulder-like white concrete The Marine Life Institute

Foster + Partners unveils design for coral-reef-like Marine Life Institute in Saudi Arabia

British studio Foster + Partners is designing "the world's first fully immersive experiential marine life centre" at the Amaala resort in Saudi Arabia, which will feature a large man-made reef.

Located in the Triple Bay Marina at luxury tourist destination Amaala, the centre for The Red Sea Development Company will measure 10,430 square-metres. It will be spread over three levels with one underground level and one located below the water level.

Made from glass-reinforced concrete panels supported by a structural steel frame, the institute will have an organic shape that was designed to resemble coral reefs. It comprises four building clusters, with a canopy spanning all of them to create shading.

Foster + Partners' design for The Marine Life Institute
Foster + Partners designed the building to resemble coral reefs

Exhibition displays, including semi-spherical tanks, will be integrated into the building's infrastructure to showcase marine wildlife.

The Marine Life Institute will also house one of the largest man-made reefs in the world, which will be 40 metres long and 10 metres deep.

"We are delighted to be working closely with The Red Sea Development Company to realise this unique project," Foster + Partners head of studio Gerard Evenden said.

"Integrated exhibition displays take visitors on a journey through the Red Sea, as they travel down through the building towards the immersive deep reef 'big reveal,'" he added.

"At the heart of the space a large, suspended semi-spherical tank – a real first-of-its-kind – contains local marine wildlife within a stunning coral exhibit."

The building will be capable of housing up to 650 people and also feature lab spaces that The Red Sea Development Company describes as "futuristic."

Visitors will be able to tour the labs, which will be part of the "conservation-driven" scientific research centre. Other attractions will include augmented reality experiences and underwater Red Sea tours in submersible vehicles.

More than 40 per cent of the site for the Marine Life Institute will be covered in native plans, and the building was also designed with a system to collect runoff water. This is said to prevent erosion and pollution, while also reducing the mains water use.

Night time view of white concrete building in Saudi Arabia
Parts of the Marine Life Institute will be located beneath the Red Sea

In order to protect the nocturnal environment, the institute will have lighting designed to prevent light pollution. Private offices in the building will be naturally lit and feature screens inspired by the pattern of corals that cover windows and skylight.

"With 10 zones that provide everything from augmented reality experiences to night diving, and spaces for the scientific community to effectively progress their environmental projects, the Marine Life Institute is undeniably unique," The Red Sea Development Company CEO John Pagano said.

"Not only will it drive global green and blue innovations, it will also help put Saudi Arabia on the map for travelers seeking trips that enrich their lives."

Bulk earthworks on the project are complete and The Red Sea Development Company is set to begin piling and shoring, before excavating 12 metres below the surface water level to create the institute's Grand Reveal aquarium.

Foster + Partners is also designing an airport for the Amaala resort, which was criticised by climate activist group Architects Climate Action Network. Following the criticism of its aviation projects, Foster + Partners withdrew from the Architects Declare climate group.

Amaala is one of several large-scale developments in Saudi Arabia, along with The Red Sea Project where Foster + Partners are designing the Coral Bloom resort on a dolphin-shaped island. The overall master plan for the chain of 90 undeveloped islands is being led by Kengo Kuma and Foster + Partners.

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, the country has unveiled the latest plans for its Neom development, which include designs to hold the Asian Winter Games in the desert and The Line, a 170-kilometre-long mirrored skyscraper that will be home to nine million people. The city has been criticised for its claims about sustainability and liveability.

Foster + Partners founder Norman Foster was previously a consultant for the mega scheme, but withdrew from the advisory board in 2018 following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The images are courtesy of Foster + Partners.