The design for a facility facility which will help to safeguard the survival of coral reefs around the world has been unveiled.

Designed by Australian architects Contreras Earl Architecture along with engineering and sustainability consultants Arup and Werner Sobek for the Great Barrier Reef Legacy project, the Living Coral Biobank will be built in the tropical north Queensland town of Port Douglas situated on the coast nearby the northern section of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Set to be the world’s first facility which is specifically dedicated to the preservation of coral reefs, the building will form a ‘living ark’ and house up to 800 species of hard corals collected from around the world along with their algal and bacterial symbionts.

Its aim will be to keep coral species alive until conditions within their natural environment improve in light of threats such as climate change, severe storms and coral diseases.

The building will also host exhibition areas, an auditorium and classrooms as well as advanced research and laboratory facilities over four levels along with a unique function space catering for 200 people.

Entry Plaza Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration

A significant design feature is the building’s sculptural form, which is inspired by the ‘mushroom’ coral – a hard coral identified by distinctive protective radial fins.

Its façade is conceived as a series of organic undulating concrete fins. These are clustered closely at ground level to resemble the need for protection from adverse tropical conditions including threats of flood and twist and unfurl as they progress upwards to allow natural light and ventilation for the upper levels while providing solar shading.

Toward the top level (Level 4), the fins pull apart to provide a climactic visitor experience involving a naturally lit vision and exhibition space.

This arrangement also responds to the need to conserve the corals at lower building levels in a controlled environment as well as the requirement for biosecurity to prevent cross-contamination.

To reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain climatic conditions for each species, the designers are working on a strategy whereby species with similar climatic requirements will be grouped together in an arrangement involving six climate zones over four levels.

Meanwhile, the building will aim to be energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral.

Finally, the visitor journey will be guided by artificial manipulation of light.

At the entry plaza, a terraced forum space will provide a transition space into the facility from the humid tropical heat of surrounding landscaped gardens.

This continues via a grand staircase to the Level 2 Central Viewing Platform, from which visitors will be able to observe the wet lab specimen tanks in a protected environment below.

As public spaces across the building’s main levels connect visually through a central atrium, illumination will generate a surreal atmosphere through the building’s levels much like the depths of the sea.

At lower levels, reflections from wet lab tanks will introduce a sense of brightness and colour. On level 3, aquarium tanks will give off cool light.

The fluorescence of the corals will also contribute to the experience. Guests attending evening weddings and conferences will be surrounded by glowing coral species in the only function space of its kind.

The design responds to a belief on the part of Contreras Earl Architecture that sustainability should be embedded into design decisions from concept through to material choice and construction process.

It also responds to an exactness of nature in which each characteristic has a specific purpose.

Wet Labs  Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration

As mentioned above, the facility is the focal point of the Living Coral Biobank project,  which is part of the Great Barrier Reef legacy program and aims to preserve and ensure the survival of vulnerable coral reef species in light of growing environmental challenges.

It is being created amid concerns that current approaches to coral protection are not working and that vulnerable species on reefs around the world are being lost with each coral bleaching event.

Unlike many other organisms, corals are able to be kept alive in the right environment indefinitely as most form colonies which are able to grow for thousands of years.

The facility will help to ensure the survival of the species until scientists are able to devise strategies to ensure their viability on reef systems.

The biobank will also provide an education resource not only for specialists but also local and international visitors.

It will enable visitors to get up close to live specimens in aquarium displays, learn about coral ecosystems through exhibitions and events and observe coral husbandry experts going about their daily work in a protected wet lab environment.

The new facility will house 800 hard coral species from around the world (image source: Great Barrier Reef Legacy)

Dr Dean Miller, Living Coral Biobank Project Director and Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy, said the facility’s importance should not be understated.

He commended the design, which delivered on project requirements.

“The Living Coral Biobank is the only project that can secure the living biodiversity of the world’s coral species immediately,” Miller said.

“To ensure this priceless living collection is held in perpetuity for generations to come we need the world’s most advanced facility that also promises to use only renewable energy sources and function with optimum efficiency, while also creating an unforgettable visitor experience – and that’s exactly what this design delivers!”

Rafael Contreras Morales, founding director of Contreras Earl Architecture, said it was important to deliver a sustainable facility in light of the need to address global warming and to protect coral reefs.

“This project brings with it a profound responsibility to consider the impact of architecture and the construction industry on the natural world,” Contreras said.

“As one of the world’s major contributors of CO2 emissions and associated climate change, it is essential that the construction industry be encouraged by architects towards carbon neutrality.

“The Living Coral Biobank is an opportunity to set a global benchmark for sustainable outcomes and zero-carbon goals as well as creating a world-leading conservation and education facility.

“The ambition for this project is to create a beacon for environmental awareness – a centre of hope, learning and wonder.”

(Top image: The Living Coral Biobank Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration)


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