ABU DHABI FLAMINGO VISITOR CENTRE
ABU DHABI, UAE
Set against the beautiful Al-Wathba Wetland and its wildlife ecosystem, what a visitor centre should be goes beyond than just flamingo related experiences: The site has an interesting backstory related to its “unexpected” formation. Also, though flamingo watching is the biggest attraction here, they are migratory birds. Which mean by almost half of the year, visitors get to experience the beauty of the wetland without the majestic pink.
With these consideration in mind, the design attempts to answer two questions: “How can the formation of a space reflects its context and its subject together at once?” and “How can an architecture and its spatial experiences changes accordingly mirroring the natural phenomenon of season?”
As a starting point, the most fundamental element of the narrative: the context (Al-Wathba Wetland) and its historical formation is set against the development of the protagonist (Flamingo Visitor Centre) to form a dialogue and coherency in between. Originally, the Al-Wathba Wetland is not so much of a wetland than a sand dune. Construction of neighbouring truck road causes natural depression that led to water accumulation at the site, and subsequent discharge of over-capacity treated sewage water from adjacent wastewater treatment plant resulted in the formation of the wetland we see today. While the process is a natural accident, it is also in a way man-made. This blurred line between natural occurrence and human-induced landscape is manifested into the architectural gesture of the Visitor Centre.
The man-made natural quality of the context is being translated as numbers of concrete slabs seemingly scattered around the site, jutting out from the ground while randomly leaning on and intersecting with one another in a replication of unforceful natural affair. The unexpected shaping of Al-Wathba Wetland results in formation of a new ecosystem. Synonymously, the intersecting planes form a 3-dimensional space in between with a new definition, both providing habitable environment for the newly introduced species group to the site: flamingos and humans.
As the migration of flamingos happened to site, a new contextual aspect was introduced in the form of temporal changes and a dynamic movement to the once quiescent landscape. Such addition of time space dimension to the site is represented by a set of two perpendicular slabs that apparently protrude themselves out from the clusters of inclined planes, distinguishing from the rest with their implied upright sturdiness. These slabs are set in North-South axis, indicating the motion of which most flamingos had upon the migration - bridging Iran to Al-Wathba. The arrival of flamingos creates an object and space relationship that defines the new language of Al-Wathba landscape. While the boundless wetland (space) becomes the background that highlights the flamingos (objects), this relationship is reversed for the Visitor Centre whereby the intersecting planes (object) becomes the background that houses the activities (space).
The design of the Abu Dhabi Flamingo Visitor Centre can be interpreted as taking cues from the two unique premises that the site offers and working them into its architecture, creating the magic of a space that actively responds to its surrounding. First, by understanding that flamingos are migratory birds, in which the scenery of Al-Wathba Wetland is constantly on change seasonally; Second, by taking notes that Abu Dhabi is being surrounded by desert, in which flat surfaces are always subjected to sand dust accumulation over time. Here, the Abu Dhabi Flamingo Visitor Centre becomes a narrative space constructed from time, material, and natural phenomenon, translating the unique qualities of the setting into its interest. Contrasting the smooth curvature of wetland with the pink elegant stance of flamingos, the building derives itself as orthogonal interpretation of the subjects complementing the surrounding in a poetic interaction.
THE AL-WATHBA CHARM (APRIL - SEPTEMBER)
Flamingo watching in Al-Wathba Wetland is a seasonal experience. At certain months of the year, the numbers of flamingos are at minimal as they migrate to other places, primarily Iran. These hotter months from April to September offer a different kind of Al-Wathba landscape to the visitor in the absence of flamingos. As such, the Visitor Centre has to offer a distinct set of experience to bring out the beauty of the context - as an architecture that changes seasonally.
THE RETURN OF FLAMINGO (OCTOBER - MARCH)
In the season of flamingo watching, the great birds become the highlight of tourist attraction to Al-Wathba Wetland. From October to March, the Visitor Centre will become the intermediate space introduces the visitors to better understanding of flamingos. A space of such narrative nature can benefit from incorporating story telling elements into the design - fostering meaningful expression and enhancing the narrative experience through architecture.