The Orokonui Ecosanctuary in Dunedin, New Zealand has the very important job of protecting the surrounding natural habitat from intruding pests and sustaining the flora and fauna of the region. In order to do the job properly, the Otago Natural History Trust built a visitor centre from local materials and shipping containers. Designed by Dunedin-based firm, Architectural Ecology, the visitor centre responds to the local climate and features soaring rooftops to provide shade and protection from the rain, shade screens, rainwater collection and waste water processing.
The ecosanctuary protects native animals and plants and has even helped endangered species find a home. A huge, highly specialized pest-proof fence surrounds the sanctuary to keep out mammals such as possums, rats, stoats, ferrets, cats and mice in order to protect the native species. The visitor centre is open for people to explore the area, learn about native species, and help preserve biodiversity. Inside the centre, there is a conference room, atrium, landscaped gardens and a cafe.
Located on the southern part of the main island, the ecosanctuary is in an area with a “Cloud Forest” microclimate, which means it is often misty. At the same time, the area is known for high winds, summer droughts and snow and ice in the winter. Architectural Ecology designed and built the visitor centre to respond to these local climatic conditions and yet still have minimal impact. The low profile allows the building to fit in with its surroundings and the colors and materials help it blend in with the landscape. Always focused on protecting the animals, even the windows were angled in such a way to reduce reflection and minimize bird strike.
Local wood was used throughout the project, including macrocarpa found on site and milled from old farm trees in the nature preserve, rimu recycled from a town hall in a neighboring settlement, and plywood made from sustainably grown plantation trees. Recycled shipping containers are also used in the project. Wood screens protect the building from overheating and passive solar design is combined with solar hot water heating, efficient lighting and heating to reduce energy use. Lastly, rainwater is collected for use in the building and waste water is treated to a high standard and then used for irrigation.
Images ©Patrick Reynolds