Al Ain, Chalabi Architekten, Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre

New images released of Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre

Designed by Chalabi Architekten & Partner and completed in 2013, the Al Ain-based Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre is an award-winning building that houses a research centre for desert and environment-related issues.


The building emerges from the ground in response to the surrounding landscape. The tube structure resting on a base, winds around an open courtyard and finally culminates in a panorama window facing UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Hafeet.


A flight of steps leads to the roof terrace of the base structure upon which the tube structure rests. The stairs continue to the panorama window which constitutes the culmination of the visitors’ journey.

Inspired by the surrounding rugged landscape, the structural form generates a continuous loop in the architectural promenade that evokes a Moebius band. Unlike a flat desert, the building offers a series of experiences in the vertical axis. Spiraling up around a central courtyard, end-users are offered expansive vistas of the nearby land.

According to a statement released by the architects, the building spirals down below grade around a funnel-like inverted courtyard space evoking the “experience of geological layers and underground water sources”.


The CAD generated parametric geometry of the cinema’s wall and ceiling interior cladding offers a stunning canopy to the seating tiers. The panels’ surfaces consist of acoustic plaster sprayed over gypsum boards which are supported on steel frames. The panels are lit by LED strips enhancing thus their organic geometry.

The building has obtained LEED Platinum and Estidama five pearls design rating — achieved through a combination of passive and active measures in saving energy and water consumption, as well as using partially local and recycled materials.

A complete case study will be published in Middle East Architect’s July issue.

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