Residences: creating a space for UAE’s ornithologists

Over 350 species of bird have made their home at this wetland centre, built by local firm X-Architects on a former rubbish dump in the United Arab Emirates

A waste-water and rubbish dump in Sharjah may seem an unlikely home for a nature reserve. Yet, with swooping tent structures that mimic bird wings, as well as lush greenery and lagoons, the Wasit Nature Reserve couldn’t be further from its original iteration.

The rehabilitation process of the damaged ecosystem started over a decade ago.

Over 40,000 square metres of rubbish was removed and 35,000 trees were replanted, with the ultimate aim of healing the land from the effects of toxic chemicals and conserving Sharjah’s status as a link in the ancient chain of historical wetlands along the Gulf coast.

Dubai-based X-Architects took on the challenge of the reserve’s design, seeking to encourage stillness and to complement, rather than overpower, the acres of reserve around them. 

To minimise the visual impact on the existing topography, visitors are led underground on their arrival, into a linear gallery. A fully transparent wall allows the visitors to become part of the birds’ natural environment without disturbing them in any way.

As for the stars of the show – after years of efforts to bring the non-migratory birds back to the site, the reserve is now home to 350 species of birds and a landing zone for 33,000 migrate birds. Watching as Goliath herons or minuscule waders pick their way across salt flats and over sand dunes, the ultimate feeling is one of peace – and, perhaps, relief at the return of nature.