The Living Coral Biobank, the world’s first dedicated coral conservation facility, will be located at the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef in Port Douglas, North Queensland, Australia.
Designed by Australia-based firm Contreras Earl Architecture, with engineering and sustainability consultants Arup and Werner Sobek, the primary goal of the facility is to keep alive and nurture over 800 species of the world’s hard corals. The new building typology—a ‘living ark’—will be the only dedicated facility of its kind in the world. Through its innovative design and engineering it will create optimal conditions for coral storage while minimizing energy consumption and solar gain, Contreras Earl Architecture said in a press release.
While the corals will be the primary building user, the 6830-m2 (73,518-sf) multi-function center will also host exhibition areas, an auditorium, and classrooms as well as advanced research and laboratory facilities over four levels. Providing an important education resource for Port Douglas, the wider region, and specialists worldwide, 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. Additionally, the facility will also have a unique 200-person function space.
The building’s sculptural form is inspired by the ‘mushroom’ coral—a hard coral identified by distinctive protective radial fins. The Living Coral Biobank’s façade is conceived as a series of organic undulating concrete fins clustered closely at ground level to offer protection from adverse tropical conditions including threats of flood. As they progress upward, the fins twist and unfurl, allowing natural light and ventilation of the upper levels while providing solar shading. The fins pull apart progressively toward Level 4 to provide a culminating visitor experience of a naturally lit exhibition and education space.
The morphology also responds to the need to conserve the corals at lower building levels in a highly controlled environment as well as the requirement for biosecurity to prevent cross-contamination. Contreras Earl Architecture is collaborating with Arup and Werner Sobek to integrate a holistic sustainable strategy that reduces energy consumption by tactically dividing the building into six compatible climate zones over four levels, with adjacencies minimizing energy resource use for climatic control. Aspiring to the biosystems of the coral reefs themselves, the building will aim to be self-sufficient and carbon neutral.
Architectural manipulation of light plays a significant role in defining the visitor journey. The experience begins at the entry plaza—a terraced forum space, providing transition space from the humid tropical heat of surrounding landscaped gardens and continues via a grand stair to the Level 2 Central Viewing Platform, where visitors can observe the wet lab specimen tanks in a protected environment below. Public spaces across the building’s main levels are visually connected through a central atrium, with the illumination generating a surreal atmosphere through the building’s levels much like the depths of the sea. At lower levels, brightness and color is introduced through reflections from the wet lab tanks, while cool light emanates from aquarium tanks positioned on Level 3. The fluorescence of the corals also contributes to the experience. Guests attending evening events and conferences will be surrounded by glowing coral species in the only function space of its kind.
This project has been developed in collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Legacy and some of the world’s best scientific minds and educators.