Ennead Architects won an international design competition for the Shanghai Yangtze River Estuary Chinese Sturgeon Nature Preserve. Led by Ennead Design Partner Thomas Wong, in partnership with Andropogon Landscape Architects, the project is an ambitious plan to rescue critically endangered species and restore biodiversity to a habitat beset by pollution and the impact of previous construction while raising public awareness and inviting action.
Located on an island at the mouth of the Yangtze River and set within a 17.5-hectare landscape, the 427,000 square-foot nature reserve building comprises a dual-function aquarium and research facility, bringing together efforts to repopulate the dwindling numbers of Chinese Sturgeon and Finless Porpoise with an engagement of the public to build popular support for ecological conservation.
A complex program includes a series of interior and exterior pools for breeding and raising both species mimicking their natural migration into waters of varying size and salinity, as well as facilities dedicated to their research and reintegration to their natural habitat. The project makes the important work of the institution visible to visitors through an immersive aquarium and exhibit experience, bringing them into direct contact with its activities.
The proposed design features dramatic forms that rise in undulating, fluid gestures taking cues from the rippling surface of the river and the iconic landscape of the Upper Yangtze while simultaneously evoking biomorphic anatomy and a vessel-like ark. Gently curving wooden structural ribs radiate around a central spine that joins the three wings of the building into a singular unified expression. Clad in translucent polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), the lightweight enclosure system envelops the interior pools to create a luminous, daylight-maximizing interior.
The design seamlessly integrates highly sustainable strategies, combining a cross-laminated timber structural system, geothermal heating and cooling loops, constructed wetlands of local flora and waterborne plants for rapid carbon sequestration and a process of biofiltration for aquarium water, resulting in a new paradigm of environmental equilibrium. The landscape design reconstructs the shoreline system and the variety of ecoregions throughout the Yangtze River basin, establishing the critical balance between land and aquatic habitats. Suspended walkways and viewing areas circumnavigate the campus and allow visitors to immerse in a completely natural setting away from the dense urban core of Shanghai.