Khor Kalba Turtle and Wildlife Sanctuary

Hopkins Architects
11. May 2021
Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

Situated on one of the most sensitive and biodiverse nature reserves in the Gulf, the Khor Kalba Turtle and Wildlife Sanctuary comprises a cluster of rounded building forms that creates a sanctuary for rehabilitating turtles and nurturing endangered birds, connecting with local initiatives and expertise.

Project: Khor Kalba Turtle and Wildlife Sanctuary, 2021
Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Client: Sharjah Environmental Protected Areas Authority (H.E. Hana Saif Al Suwaidi, Chairperson; Peter Jackson FRIBA, Architect Advisor to HH The Ruler’s Office)
Architect: Hopkins Architets
  • Principal and Lead-Designer: Simon Fraser
  • Director: Andrew Ardill
  • Project Director: Tim Sheridan
  • Project Architect: Angus McDougall
  • Project Team: Stefan Hache, Joanne Yu, Larry Buraga, Sara Madbouli
Structural Engineer: e.Construct, Dubai
MEP Engineer: Godwin Austen Johnson, Dubai
Architectural Lighting: Lux Populi
Acoustics: Gillieron Scott Acoustics Design
Landscape: Spencer, Dubai
Exhibition Designers: Mojo Ink, Dubai; Managed by: Sophy Cave Design, Dubai; Aquaria & Life Support Systems: Panaque, Italy
Main Contractor: Hardco Building Contracting
Precast Concrete Specialist Subcontractor: Dubai Precast
MEP Subcontractor: Al Muhanad Electro-Mechanical Contracting
Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

Commissioned by Sharjah’s Environmental Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), the complex will also provide education and visitor facilities to increase environmental awareness and engagement with conservation programs. It will revive the environmental significance of the critical work being undertaken by the EPAA and will serve as an operational base for research and the monitoring of the protected Kalba reserve’s natural resources, as well as those of the wider east coast area of the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

Seven interconnected pods and tensile structures create a visitor center, with a terrace and panoramic views towards the mangrove forests and distant mountains. Facilities include  aquaria, exhibition areas, visitor amenities, staff offices, veterinary facilities, classrooms, gift shop, and a cafe. A carefully set out nature trail encourages visitors to explore the reserve’s rich biodiversity of indigenous mangrove forests and mud flats and the species it supports including turtles, stingrays, gazelles and the rare Arabian Collard Kingfisher. 

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

The geometry of the pods is inspired by urchin exoskeletons and purposefully echoes those of the Buhais Geology Museum, with which the Sanctuary is paired. The pods have been designed as prefabricated concrete structures to minimize disruption to the existing terrain, with concrete foundations which are simple robust discs, elevated to protect them on this tidal location.

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

The modular buildings invite the landscape into the spaces, using framed panoramic views out and rays of natural light from above. The pods are clad with segments of white scalloped precast concrete referencing the shells found on the local shoreline and creating subtle variations of light and texture. An array of steel ribs accentuates the sculptural cantilevered forms and completes this robust cladding system, itself designed to withstand the site’s unforgiving coastal conditions.

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

Visitors approach a dramatic, semi-enclosed ribbed pod which serves as an orientation space and features glazed openings orientated towards key views. A palette of light coastal tones softens the interior which is illuminated by skylight ocuili.

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

Passive design principles were prioritized throughout construction, to protect the interior spaces from the desert heat and lower the overall operational energy required.

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres

The pods' precast concrete shells, ribs, and in-situ foundation discs provide a well sealed, exposed thermal mass across their floors, walls, and roofs. A waterproof membrane and insulation running within the cladding cavity, is continuous across the pods surface.

Photo: Marc Goodwin Archmospheres
Drawing: Hopkins Architects
Drawing: Hopkins Architects
Drawing: Hopkins Architects
Drawing: Hopkins Architects
Drawing: Hopkins Architects
Drawing: Hopkins Architects

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