The Karoo Desert in South Africa contains more biodiversity than any other arid region in the world. The award-winning Karoo Wilderness Center by Field Architecture is designed to provide resources for visitors to learn more about the land, plants and animals — and it makes smart use of natural resources itself. The project’s most unique aspect is its bowl-shaped roof, which captures and stores precious rainwater. The center holds amenities for researchers and visitors to immerse themselves in the ancient landscape, and it features a holistic environmental design that produces all of its own energy and processes all of its own waste.
The center consists of three clusters— researcher residences, a visitors center and restaurant, and a conference room, library and classroom. A dramatic view is highlighted from each space with generous windows.
The building’s sophisticated roof is reminiscent of the local Aloe Ferox plant. The roof has a large rain catchment tank which serves as a huge heat sink, preventing the daytime heat from infiltrating the building. The elegant system cools the interior with evaporative cooling by absorbing latent heat build up inside. At night cool air is flushed through the building so that its thermal mass can absorb more heat throughout the next day. Hydronic tubes connected to the water supply radiate heat through the ceiling when needed.
The roof is lined with solar electric panels, enabling the entire faculty to run off the power grid. Waste water is processed and reused on-site, so the buildings are self-sufficient in terms of water use as well.
The materials in the building were sourced locally as well — concrete aggregate is produced in the area and its texture and hue reflects the qualities of the landscape. The low-slung buildings are also designed to mimic the strata of the landscape, and the prodigious ceilings reflect the gum-pole ceilings common in the area.
The carefully conceived center responds to the delicate nature of the region and highlights the beauty and wealth of the desert it is designed to celebrate. Construction is set to take places with respect to the rain cycle to minimize disturbance, and dislocated aloe plants will be replanted.