Designs unveiled for “World’s First Dedicated Coral Conservation Facility” In Australia

Australian architecture practice Contreras Earl Architecture together with leading engineering and sustainability consultants Arup and Werner Sobekfor the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, have unveiled the “world’s first dedicated coral conservation facility”, the new building will be located at the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef in Port Douglas, North Queensland, Australia. 

The Living Coral Biobank aims to secure the long-term future and biodiversity of corals worldwide which are under severe threat due to climate change.

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 be a world leader in next-generation renewable energy design, creating optimal conditions for coral storage while minimizing energy consumption and solar gain.

While the corals will be the primary building user, the 6,830 square meter multi-function center will also host exhibition areas, an auditorium, and classrooms as well as advanced research and laboratory facilities over four levels. 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 facade 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 a flood.

As they progress upwards the fins twist and unfurl, allowing natural light and ventilation of the upper levels while providing solar shading.

The fins pull apart progressively towards Level 4 to provide a culminating visitor experience of a naturally-lit exhibition and education space.

The firm notes that the experience begins at the entry plaza – a terraced forum space, providing transition space from the humid tropical heat of surrounding landscaped gardens which continues via a grand stair to the Level 2 Central Viewing Platform, from 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 are 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 weddings and conferences will be surrounded by glowing coral species in the only function space of its kind.

Below are some key sustainability facts about the Living Coral BioBank:

The building is focused on achieving a zero-carbon footprint and has been designed to reflect the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The sustainability targets for the project are as follows:

• Carbon Zero Development
• 6 Star Green Star v 1.3 D&AB
• Uses Passiv Haus Principles
• Integrates the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals

Energy Efficiency

  • External shading calibrated for facade optimization and minimizing solar heat gain.
  • High-performance glazing, well-insulated, air-tight envelope.
  • Operable windows for natural ventilation.
  • Efficient ventilation with heat recovery (low airspeed ventilation).
  • High thermal inertia of the exposed concrete surfaces.
  • Night-time radiant cooling.
  • Underfloor air distribution efficiently delivers air directly to occupants.
  • Desiccant air handling unit which uses solar energy for its regenerating heat coil.
  • Good daylight penetration with daylight sensors for public areas at L4.
  • Efficient central cooling and heating plant.
  • Sensor network and real-time monitoring to manage active and passive strategies to minimize energy consumption.

Energy source

  • All electric building – no fossil fuel on-site.
  • Seawater cooling and heat-pumps.
  • Photovoltaics.
  • Battery storage.
  • Solar thermal panels hot water generation.
  • Off-site renewables – power purchase arrangements.


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