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Vancouver architects bring tropical rain forest to Dubai's desert

Vancouver Architects have helped create a recreational bio-dome in Dubai that allows visitors to step inside a tropical rain forest in the middle of the desert.

A pair of Vancouver architects led the design for a man-made tropical biome in the desert

The giant tree supports many of the tropical life forms that are part of the recreational bio-dome. Visitors can start at the top and walk to the bottom along platforms and bridges, meeting the exotic creatures face to face along the way. (Grout McTavish Architects)

Vancouver architects have helped create a recreational bio-dome in Dubai that allows visitors to step inside a tropical rainforest in the middle of the desert.

The "living machine" was designed by Vancouver's Brad McTavish and Clive Grout and contains thousands of unique tropical species for the project, The Green Planet.

"This one was brought to us by Sheikh Mohammed's development team with the mandate they wanted to create an education and science based facility to inspire Emirati youth to study natural sciences," said McTavish.

The team wanted to provide context for young minds on the fragility of the ecosystem by immersing them in an accessible habitat everyone can interact with. 

Visitors can work their way through the vertical rainforest to explore all different forms of life that live among the strata of a 25-foot-tall Kapok tree. (Grout McTavish Architects)

"The story around the actual experience is that we take you from the flooded rainforest floor, up to the vertical reaches of a large Kapok tree, and then let you experience the flora, the fauna and the species as you rise up and then descend down through the building," explained McTavish.

"All the oil came from a lush, verdant rainforest at one time in the Middle East.

Picking up that train of thought, we worked with zoologists, aquarium specialists, scientists and lots of engineers to create a living machine within the desert that speaks about the most fragile part of the world that needs protection." 

The four-storey bio-dome is built around the largest indoor, man-made and life-sustaining tree in the world, which supports the plants and animals living around it.

A rendering of the project illustrates how the structure works around the giant life-sustaining tree. (Grout McTavish Architects)

The tree, modeled after a 25 foot tall Kapok tree, has been planted with strangler figs, which will grow around the man-made branches and become a living part of the exhibit. 

A winding path that descends along its side allows visitors to come face-to-face with exotic animals like South American toucans and crocodile lizards.

The view looking down from one of the ramps adjacent to the tree shows the path that leads visitors through the exotic biome. (Grout McTavish Architects)

Visitors can feel what life is like in a tropical habitat, because the facility regulates the temperature and humidity levels of the venue to keep the creatures comfortable, which wasn't an easy task for the architects.

The team was faced with a huge technical challenge as it recreated an environment that would support over 3,000 species. 

"When we were designing the building, it became this cube that actually houses a circular rainforest within," said McTavish.

He explains that the cube, based on origami principles of folded planes, represents Earth and the circular biome within represents heaven. 

"The fragile origami cube reflects what the fragile nature of our Earth is today and how it needs to support a beautiful lush garden."

The design is based on origami folding principles to demonstrate the fragile nature of Earth's ecosystem. (Grout McTavish Architects)

The biome is able to sustain itself without power or water from humans, according to McTavish.

It collects and stores rainwater and then produces its own rain, fog and mist to naturally cool the environment within. 

"We're trying to lessen the impact that all the mechanisms that we'd need to create a sustainable environment within the desert by using natural processes."

Calculations right down to the type of glass used and the orientation of the building are taken into consideration for construction, says McTavish, who likens the structure to an outpost on Mars.

The Green Planet science museum opened to the public yesterday and, McTavish says, will offer programming that aims to instill responsibility and a collective awareness of the environment among students.

The building is mostly self-sustaining and is able to generate its own rain, fog and mist to cool its own environment. (Grout McTavish Architects)