19 September 2019
Beauty will save the world. But who will save the beauty of the world? Architecture and design, perhaps. A similar thought must have crossed the minds of the planners at Be Breeders – one of the main organisers of small-scale architectural competitions at international level – when the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency commissioned them to run a competition that was, to say the least, inspiring. The aim of the competition was to come up with an original, sustainable and iconic observation point for the more than 4,000 flamingos populating the natural Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, with its quite unique rich and biodiverse ecosystem, comprised of wetlands, salt flats and sand dunes. This oasis is not just the only site in the Persian Gulf where pink flamingos live and reproduce, it also provides a habitat for more than 200 species of birds, 320 invertebrates, 35 species of plants, 35 species of reptiles and 10 of mammals. A true slice of heaven on earth.
The Abu Dhabi Flamingo Observation Tower competition tasked participants with designing a flamingo observation platform – with a maximum floor area of 400 m2 and a maximum height of 12 m - and a boardwalk, to complement the existing network of trails connecting it with the sea, a visitor experience centre and a hide for the birds themselves. The projects had to respect stringent environmental responsibility parameters, energy-efficient construction methods involving minimal excavation and a limited budget of only 200,000 dollars
A large number of architects and studios rose to the challenge. The jury selected three winning entries as well as conferring a BB Student Award, a BB Green Award and six Honourable Mentions. The projects were all quite different, but most shared some common features: the harmony with which they slotted into the surrounding landscape, poetry of concept and the sustainability of the structures.
1st Prize was won by Flamingo Dreams, from Australian architects Bryan Fan and Shelley XU. It is a spectacular observation point reminiscent of the shape of a bird’s nest and of a thicket of grass. The authors also designed a long boardwalk, allowing all visitors an experiential promenade. A steel frame resting on a forest of thin vertical members shelters the flamingos from view, whilst allowing them to be admired through small apertures in the external shell. The nest is comprised of a metal grill with a balustrade covered with interwoven palm leaves.
1st prize - Flamingo Dreams
2nd Prize went to Birdwalk, an almost infinite, covered raised walkway, offering multiple vantage points over the shallow ponds that form in the nature reserve. Designed by a British team composed of Natalia Wrzask, Rolando Rodriguez Leal, José Luis Mulás and Paola Barrenechea, the aim of the project was to have the least possible impact on the landscape. The boardwalk is made up of a modular cement base surmounted by bamboo and oak decking, covered with a semi-transparent fabric that emulates the topography of the landscape.
2nd prize - Birdwalk
3rd Prize was awarded to The Cube, a contemporary pixelated structure, designed by Dutch team Rafail Gkaidatzis and Panagiotis Dimakidis, which impressed the jury thanks to its thousands of observation points created by a simple module. The entire structure comprises an enormous cube consisting of the endless repetition of 12 linear wooden elements, fixed at the corners. A reticular grid, reminiscent of a birdcage, allows for a large number of different viewpoints.
Whichever structure is brought to fruition, there can be no doubt that it will be a haven and a shelter of beauty.
3rd prize - The Cube