Contreras Earl Architecture has revealed its design for the world-first coral ark. Located at the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef in Port Douglas, North QueenslandAustralia, the conservation facility “aims to secure the long-term future and biodiversity of corals worldwide which are under severe threat due to climate change”.

Dedicated to the future of corals worldwide, the Living Coral Biobank, designed by Contreras Earl Architecture, with leading engineering and sustainability consultants Arup and Werner Sobek for the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, is the first facility of its kind. Focusing on taking care of 800 species of the world’s hard corals, the new building is a “living ark”, with next-generation renewable energy design, creating optimal conditions for coral storage while minimizing energy consumption and solar gain.

Courtesy of Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration
Courtesy of Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration

Securing the living biodiversity of the world’s coral species immediately, the 6,830 sqm multi-function center will also host exhibition areas, an auditorium, and classrooms as well as advanced research and laboratory facilities over four levels. Moreover, “the Living Coral Biobank 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”.

Commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, the project responds to context, climate, the user, and its function to protect 800 species of coral. The volume, inspired by the mushroom coral, takes a series of organic undulating concrete fins, on the façade, “clustered closely at ground level to offer protection from adverse tropical conditions including threats of a flood”. On higher levels, the fins twist and unfurl, allowing natural light and ventilation while providing solar shading. On another hand, the visitor’s’ journey is defined by an architecturally manipulated play of light.

Courtesy of Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration
Courtesy of Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration

This project brings with it a profound responsibility to consider the impact of architecture and the construction industry on the natural world. As one of the world’s major contributors to 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 center of hope, learning, and wonder. — Rafael Contreras

Courtesy of Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration
Courtesy of Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration

Responding to the need to conserve the corals in a highly controlled environment as well as the requirement for biosecurity to prevent cross-contamination, sustainability is at the core of every design decision, aiming to be self-sufficient and carbon neutral. In fact, the structure was divided into six compatible climate zones over four levels, with adjacencies minimizing energy resources used for climatic control. 

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