When architect Richard Kirk was tapped to lead the design for the Mon Repos Turtle Centre, he knew that his team at the international architecture firm KIRK would need to tread lightly. The project’s coastal site, located in Bargara, Queensland, is home to one of the most significant seasonal nesting grounds for the loggerhead turtle. To minimize landscape impact, the architects designed the center with a prefabricated glulam timber frame that is wrapped in low-maintenance copper and wood to visually blend the building into the surroundings.

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close-up of building with jutting roofline and a copper facade

As one of Australia’s most important turtle nesting grounds, the Mon Repos beach and environs have been used as a key turtle research center for over 40 years. Starting in 2017, KIRK masterplanned the entire beachside in addition to the redevelopment of the Mon Repos Turtle Centre to fulfill the center’s two main roles: an interpretative center during the day and a briefing center at night during the turtle nesting season. As a result, the landscape needed to be reconfigured with a set of pathways and boardwalks to provide safe and non-intrusive access to the beach after dark.

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two visitors at front desk of turtle research center
tables and chairs under wood ceiling with a pattern resembling a turtle shell

The structure was also designed for minimal site impact. The center is constructed from prefabricated and locally sourced glulam timber. The external folded copper cladding was selected for its ability to withstand the corrosive sea air and seasonal cyclones for a lifespan of over 40 years. The copper as well as recycled tallowwood cladding and screens will develop a patina over time to blend in with the dune landscape. The building houses a large gathering area, an interpretative space with an immersive theater and research office spaces that all have access to natural ventilation and daylighting.

immersive theater with wood seats, a massive blue screen and sand directly under the screen
copper building surrounded by trees

“The superstructure is a 9.6m x 9.6m diagrid,” the architects explained. “This was found to be the most efficient structural design to reduce the overall material use and increase spans between glulam ‘tree’ columns. The diagrid also informed the plan shape, creating a multifaceted series of triangular folds for protected openings to limit light spill while enhancing the mystery of the arrival experience. The diagrid pattern is celebrated throughout the interior and implies the intricate patterns of the turtle carapace.”

+ KIRK

Photography by Scott Burrows via KIRK