x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Five pearls for desert centre

The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre in Al Ain is the first development to receive highest honours for its sustainable design.

ABU DHABI // A structure designed to be among the capital's most sustainable buildings is taking shape on land designated for conservation by Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of he UAE.

The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre, part of the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, is the first development to receive the highest design rating under the emirate's sustainable building guidelines.

The centre, which is expected to open by the end of the year, will blend elements of a museum, a gallery and a science centre, and will promote nature, the environment and sustainability through interactive exhibits.

"We are trying to focus on all the practices that Sheikh Zayed called for - saving the planet, saving endangered species of both animals and plants, and protecting the natural environment," said Amna al Otaiba, the head of the environment and sustainability section at the wildlife park.

"People are now talking about protecting the environment and sustainability, but Sheikh Zayed was talking about this a long time ago. The centre will provide education about these ideas and also the history of the region and the natural habitat."

The learning centre received a five-pearl rating, the highest possible, for its design under Estidama, the emirate's green building guidelines.

All new communities, buildings and villas must be designed to meet one-pearl requirements before they can receive a permit to proceed. Government-funded projects must receive at least two pearls.

The ratings system is applied to each of three phases of a project. The centre earned a five-pearl rating for its design but also hopes to win the honour for its construction and operation.

It uses solar power, energy-efficient windows and light fixtures, and toilets that conserve water. Waste reduction and recycling are also incorporated into the building's design.

A pre-cooling air conditioning system takes in air and channels it underground where the sand and soil cool it naturally.

Falah al Ahbabi, the general manager of the Urban Planning Council, which oversees the Estidama programme, called the centre "a tribute to the late Sheikh Zayed and his commitment to the natural and cultural life of the UAE".

"By achieving the highest pearl rating, the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre will be the catalyst for all upcoming sustainability-driven projects," Mr al Ahbabi said.

The spiral-shaped building also has the appearance of a sculpture, following the contours of the nearby Jebel Hafeet.

"I think Sheikh Zayed would be proud of what we're trying to present to the people," said Ms al Otaiba. "We are building Sheikh Zayed's idea, translating his vision. I think he would be happy to see that vision become a reality."

She said Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, were expected to attend the centre's opening.