Abu Dhabi unveils stunning eco-lodge designs for revamped nature reserves

A lichen-covered twisting structure for the Al Wathba Reserve and desert eco-lodges built of sand impressed judges

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Italian and Czech architecture teams have won a competition to design a visitor centre at a wetland reserve and eco-lodges at an oryx reserve in Abu Dhabi.

A team from the Czech Republic ranked first in a competition to design the Abu Dhabi Flamingo Visitor Centre in Al Wathba Wetlands Reserve.

The competition is the second by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, following the one conducted for the Flamingo Observation Tower.

Designs were required to blend into the landscape and winning entries will be considered for construction.

The original approach to sustainability and building life cycle is remarkable

The reserve is known for its large population of the greater flamingo species, with as many as 4,000 living there during autumn and spring.

The wetlands are home to more than 250 species of birds, 37 plant species and a wide range of aquatic life.

The entry of the Czech Republic team, 'To See and Not Be Seen', is a flowing structure of intertwining loops that evokes rock formations in the desert.

It has a reddish pink hue like the flamingos that flock to the reserve every winter.

The facility will also include information and training centres, a small cafe, car park and viewing area to observe wildlife.

The twisting structure of concrete, designed by Petr Janda, Anna Podrouzkova and Katerina Tsponova, is unobtrusive and would be covered with lichen to keep the building cool and blend it into the landscape.

The judges called it "an icon in a subtle manner.

“The project's conceptual framework of ‘seeing while not being seen’ is remarkable. The proposed structure behaves as part of a living habitat rather than a building.”

It is partially open to the elements, with a shaded viewing area for birdwatchers and an interior surrounded by indigenous grass, climbers, reeds and small aquariums.

Joy as Greater Flamingos continue to breed at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve
Greater glamingos flock to Al Wathba Wetland Reserve for breeding. Courtesy: Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

An Italian team was placed first in the competition for Mega Dunes Ecolodge, which will provide guest accommodation in the Arabian Oryx Protected Area in western Abu Dhabi.

The 5,900 square kilometres desert reserve is home to the largest population of Arabian Oryx in the world.

Architects Giuseppe Ricupero, Egidio Cutillo, Stefania Schiro and Enrico Capanni won for their entry 'Heritage Machine', which evokes desert ruins eroded by wind and battered by sand.

Each unit provides accommodation for two people with sweeping views of the desert landscape and the chance to observe the Arabian Oryx species.

The agency is considering creating about 25 eco-lodges to encourage visitors to see the majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Each pod can be built on site using technology to minimise the use of heavy equipment that can damage the landscape.

The thick walls of the pod would be made with local sand that can disintegrate slowly over time.

The rest of it can be dismantled and moved to other locations, leaving no permanent trace of the building in the area.

The Italians' entry impressed judges with its natural cooling system and “ephemeral” design that dissolves back into nature.

“The ideas of physical memory, and an original approach to sustainability and building life cycle is remarkable,” said the judges’ statement.

“Physically, the gradual transition from the exterior to the interior world through a series of thresholds, and the grand roof canopy of the common hub large enough to form its own micro-climate, are low-tech but powerful architectural gestures that respond to local environmental constraints.”

Sustainability, energy efficiency and respect for fragile environments were critical criteria for judges in both competitions. Finalists were selected from more than 350 entries.