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Two endangered pink-backed pelican chicks hatched at the Wasit Wetland Reserve in Sharjah. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Wasit Wetland Centre, Sharjah’s pioneering environmental protection project, has won the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2019.

Wasit Wetland Centre in Sharjah is a design that transformed a wasteland into a wetland and functioned as a catalyst for biodiversity and environmental education. While its indigenous ecosystem has been restored, it has also proven to be a popular place for visitors to appreciate and learn about their natural environment. The facility developed by Environment Projected Areas Authority (EPAA) was completed in 2015.

Wasit Wetland Centre was one of the 20 projects shortlisted early this year for the award. Altogether, six projects from around the world have been declared winners to receive the award.

Farrokh Derakhshani, Director of the Award and Irada Ayupova, Minister of Culture of Tatarstan announced the award winners at a press conference on Thursday in Kazan, Russia.

NAT 190720 Wasit Nature Reserve 2-1563630587438
Wasit Nature Reserve is the third Protected Area in Sharjah to be listed by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands after Mangroves Protected Area in Kalba City and Sir Bu Nair Island Protected Area. Image Credit: Supplied

The winners will be honoured at a ceremony in Kazan, Russian on September 14 this year. The six winners of 2019 Aga Khan Award will share the $1million (Dh3.67 million) cash award. The last award ceremony was held at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain in 2016.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is one of the oldest major awards in the field of architecture. It selects projects – from slum upgrading to high-rise “green” buildings – that not only exhibit architectural excellence but also improve the overall quality of life.

Aga Khan Award winner announced
Irada Ayupova, Minister of Culture of Tatarstan and Farrokh Derrakshani, Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture announce the winners of the 2019 Award at a Pres Conference in Kazan, Republic of Tartarstan on Tuesday. Image Credit: AKDN

The Award rewards architects, but also identifies municipalities, builders, clients, master artisans and engineers who have played important roles in the realization of a project.

Wasit Wetland Centre, Sharjah

Wasit Wetland Centre is part of a much larger project to clean up and rehabilitate an ancient chain of wetlands along the coast. The Centre aims to provide information and education about this unique environment – and to encourage its preservation. The architecture of the centre uses the existing topography of the site to minimise the structure’s visual impact. Upon arrival, visitors are led underground along a pathway into a linear gallery with a transparent wall that allows them to observe birds in their natural habitat.

The centre also has shops, restaurants, lecture halls and offices. Eight bird observation structures are built around the wetland route. The site offers a safe place for reproduction for local fauna and migrant birds, and a unique opportunity to learn about and connect to nature – while serving as a green lung for the inhabitants of Sharjah.

The sites will now undergo a rigorous investigation by experts who visit and evaluate each project on-site. Their reports are the basis for the Master Jury’s selection of the eventual laureates.

Five other winning projects:

Bahrain’s Revitalisation of Muharraq Project:

The project highlights the World Heritage site’s pearling history, was first initiated as a series of restoration and reuse projects. The project evolved into a comprehensive programme that aimed to re-balance the city’s demographic makeup by creating public spaces, providing community and cultural venues, and improving the overall environment.

Bangladesh’s Arcadia Education Project:

Located in South Kanarchor, Arcadia Education Project -- a modular structure – incorporates space for a preschool, a hostel, a nursery and a vocational training centre – that takes a novel approach to a riverine site that is often flooded for five months every year. Rather than disrupting the ecosystem to create a mound for building, the architect devised the solution of an amphibious structure that could sit on the ground or float on the water, depending on seasonal conditions.

Palestine’s Palestinian Museum, in Birzeit:

The project crowns a terraced hill overlooking the Mediterranean and is the recipient of the LEED Gold certification because of its sustainable construction. The zigzagging forms of the Museum’s architecture and hillside gardens are inspired by the surrounding agricultural terraces, stressing the link with the land and Palestinian heritage.

Russian’s Public Spaces Development Programme, in the Republic of Tatarstan:

This programme to date, has improved 328 public spaces all over Tatarstan. The ambitious programme sought to counter the trend toward private ownership by refocusing priorities on quality public spaces for the people of Tatarstan. It has now become a model throughout the Russian Federation.

Senegal’s Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit:

The project is located in Bambey, Senegal where a scarcity of resources led to the use of bioclimatic strategies, including a large double roof canopy and latticework that avoids direct solar radiation but allows air to flow through it. By employing locally familiar construction techniques and following sustainability principles, the project succeeded in keeping costs and maintenance demands to a minimum, while still making a bold architectural statement.

What is the Aga Khan Award

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by the Aga Khan in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of communities in which Muslims have a significant presence.

Since the Award was launched 42 years ago, 116 projects have received the award and more than 9,000 building projects have been documented.he Aga Khan Award for Architecture is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). It currently operates 1,000 or so programmes and institutions in 30 countries − many of which date back over 60 years, and some over 100. It employs approximately 80,000 people, the majority of whom are based in developing countries. The AKDN’s annual budget for non-profit development activities is approximately US$ 950 million. Its economic development arm, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), generates annual revenues of US$ 4.3 billion, but all surpluses generated by its project companies are reinvested in further development activities, usually in fragile, remote or post-conflict regions.