by Jincy IypeJul 08, 2023
Mexico and London-based architecture practice AIDIA STUDIO has conceptualised a pragmatic set of 25 finned luxury cabins that emerge from the Rub’ al Khali Desert in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Named The Rub’ al Khali Oculus, the design proposal follows a biomimetic approach, inspired by the ability of desert organisms that ‘self-shade’ via features built in their anatomy that reduce their internal temperature, in order to adapt and survive in the desert’s extreme climatic conditions.
Sixty radial shading panels dress each curved cabin, creating a dense lattice cover that improves its performance through self-shading, mimicking desert cacti species which have thick outer skins, foldings and fins that diffuse heat and solar radiation. “To design a habitable pod for the desert, we devised a domed form which morphs into different configurations depending on the time of the day, climate and the programmatic needs of users, such as star gazing or wildlife spotting,” explains Natalia Wrzask, Co-Founder, Director, AIDIA STUDIO.
The adaptive skin of each domed cabin functions as a versatile shading system, contracting and retracting as needed. During the heat of the day, the skin retracts sideways along the spheroid’s periphery, opening the pod to reveal the front deck. The skin system plunges down at the topmost point, revealing a frameless acrylic dome that offers clear views of the starry skies at night. The paneled shell can also be configured to be fully or semi-closed for privacy, filtering heat while allowing light in. The award-winning drawing board project aims to employ sustainable materials such as certified wood and organic fabrics of natural, earthy colour palettes to blend in with its surroundings.
Built across 3,500 sqm, the Oculus’s open plan suite faces desert plains, and the native flora and fauna. A skylight placed above the pod’s north side brings in natural light to the entrance, while a generous bathroom and adjoining wardrobe is placed at the end of the hall. This space is cladded with opaque wood that provides privacy and shields the pod from sandstorms. A lounge for relaxation, a study corner and a telescope take up space in the expansive living room.
The 25 cabins are planned and laid out in a constellation form in a hub in the middle of a gravel plane, backed by a tall dune that shields them from wind and sandstorms. The hub has a similar radial design as the pods, “to convey a coherent design language and to achieve an economy of scale in the manufacture of all assemblies,” and is divided into four independent buildings that host a function each - reception and guest toilets, reception lounge, restaurant and kitchen and staff functions. The standard cabins have an area of 50sqm while the VIP ones have been designed across 80 sqm, with rustic and comfy furniture dotting the place.
Since the site has no shortage of sunlight, the Rub’ al Khali Oculus incorporates highly flexible dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC), which would be produced by sewing textile electrodes into the shading fabric. “Due to the ability of the DSSC cells to produce photovoltaic electric power even in low level lighting, the power produced should be sufficient to support the power needs of each cabin. They will also be equipped with a water tank that includes a filtration and recycling system,” informs Rolando Rodriguez Leal, Co-Founder, Director, AIDIA STUDIO.
The Oculus can be constructed from 30 modules prefabricated off-site, which can then be easily assembled to build a self-supporting structure. The modular shading panels will also be manufactured off-site and prepared for bolting onsite. “The cabin is grounded through thirty adjustable pillars allowing installation in different ground conditions. The construction process should be quick and with minimal disturbance to the natural environment,” informs the practice.
Name: The Rub’ al Khali Oculus
Location: The Rub’ al Khali Desert in Abu Dhabi, UAE
Area: 3,500 sqm
Architect: AIDIA STUDIO
Design team: Natalia Wrzask, Rolando Rodriguez Leal