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Wathba Wetland Visitor Center

A Wetland Inverted: Competition Entry (Abu Dhabi) When approaching the design for the Wathba Wetland Reserve visitor center, the first step involved gaining a deeper understanding of the creation of the wetland itself and the ecosystem that came to exist in a location that was previously unsuitable for wildlife to survive. Born from a set of human interventions upon the existing “sabkha” soil, conditions were created that encouraged natural responses from birds, insects and organisms living together in a feedback system. The design methodology followed a comparable “petri dish” strategy to grow a set of programmatic nodes suspending a canopy with subsequent adaptive responses including: structure, natural lighting and passive ventilation. The resultant design for a visitor center, sits simultaneously within the site yet elevated from it; as though a product of its surroundings yet detached in order to provide an objective reference point to appreciate the environmental systems contained within. A structure that intrigues and invites the visitor to explore and understand the foundation upon which the wetland exists. The construction method is based on the latticing of bent-lamination wood arc members. A single curvature mold is able to produce all the units needed with the difference in modules being based on how the members are oriented. Paneling of the subsequent lattice structure is done by tensile elements made from recycled ad banner canvas. Overall, the design gives the whole project: an intricate play of shadows during the day, a glowing cluster of lanterns at night, a crucial permeability for wind so as to avoid the accumulation of aerosol mist, and a dynamic form of containment that allows for gathering yet avoids closed spaces.
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