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Astounding Designs Revealed for Port Douglas’ Living Coral Biobank

THE world’s first dedicated coral conservation facility will be located at the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef in Port Douglas, North Queensland, Australia. The Living Coral Biobank aims to secure the long-term future and biodiversity of corals worldwide which are under severe threat due to climate change.
coral biobank

Designed by Australian architects Contreras Earl Architecture, with leading engineering and sustainability consultants Arup and Werner Sobek for the Great Barrier Reef Legacy, the primary goal of the Coral Biobank is to keep alive and nurture over 800 species of the world’s hard corals.

The new building typology “a living ark” will be the only dedicated facility of its kind in the world. Through its innovative design and engineering, it will be a world leader in next-generation renewable energy design, creating optimal conditions for coral storage while minimising energy consumption and solar gain.


“The Living Coral Biobank is the only project that can secure the living biodiversity of the world’s coral species immediately,” says Dr Dean Miller, Living Coral Biobank Project Director and Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy.

To ensure this priceless living collection is held in perpetuity for generations to come we need the world’s most advanced facility that also promises to use only renewable energy sources and function with optimum efficiency, while also creating an unforgettable visitor experience – and that’s exactly what this design delivers!

Dr Dean Miller, Living Coral Biobank Project Director and Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Legacy


Rafael Contreras said “this project brings with it a profound responsibility to consider the impact of architecture and the construction industry on the natural world. As one of the world’s major contributors of CO2 emissions and associated climate change, it is essential that the construction industry be encouraged by architects towards carbon neutrality. The Living Coral Biobank is an opportunity to set a global benchmark for sustainable outcomes and zero-carbon goals as well as creating a world-leading conservation and education facility. The ambition for this project is to create a beacon for environmental awareness – a centre of hope, learning and wonder.”

A childhood spent growing up in Cairns and exploring the beauty of our oceans and marvels of the Great Barrier Reef has had a profound impact on me as an architect. It was a formative part of founding a practice with the ambition to create architecture that interacts with nature in symbiotic and complimentary ways without detriment to the environment.

Monica Earl, Contreras Earl Architecture
coral biobank entry plaza
Entry plaza Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration
coral biobank wet labs
Wet Labs. Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture / SAN architectural illustration


While the corals will be the primary building user, the 6,830 sqm multi-function centre will also host exhibition areas, an auditorium and classrooms as well as advanced research and laboratory facilities over four levels. Providing an important education resource for Port Douglas, the wider region and specialists worldwide, the Living Coral Biobank will enable visitors to get up close to live specimens in aquarium displays, learn about coral ecosystems through exhibitions and events, and observe coral husbandry experts going about their daily work in a protected wet lab environment. In addition, the facility will also have a unique 200-person function space.


The building’s sculptural form is inspired by the ‘mushroom’ coral – a hard coral identified by distinctive protective radial fins. The Living Coral Biobank’s facade is conceived as a series of organic undulating concrete fins clustered closely at ground level to offer protection from adverse tropical conditions including threats of flood. As they progress upwards the fins twist and unfurl, allowing natural light and ventilation of the upper levels while providing solar shading. The fins pull apart progressively towards Level 4 to provide a culminating visitor experience of a naturally-lit exhibition and education space.


The morphology also responds to the need to conserve the corals at lower building levels in a highly controlled environment as well as the requirement for biosecurity to prevent cross-contamination. Contreras Earl Architecture is collaborating with Arup and Werner Sobek to integrate a holistic sustainable strategy that reduces energy consumption by tactically dividing the building into six compatible climate zones over four levels, with adjacencies minimising energy resource use for climatic control. Aspiring to the biosystems of the coral reefs themselves, the building will aim to be self-sufficient and carbon-neutral.

I am absolutely blown away by the new, modern design released for the Living Coral Biobank. This iconic design will be a recognisable structure which people will automatically relate back to Port Douglas.The unique architecture has the right feel for a globally significant and cutting-edge coral reef conservation facility to be based right here in Port Douglas. I believe the proposed state-of-the-art centre will enhance Douglas Shire’s reputation as a leader in reef conservation through innovation and science. With their drive and enthusiasm, the team at Great Barrier Reef Legacy are not only going to deliver a world-class preservation project, but give Port Douglas another special attraction for visitors to enjoy. Our community has a real opportunity to own this project while making a really positive difference to the environment and the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

Douglas Shire Mayor Michael Kerr
port douglas coral biobank
Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture

The Living Coral Bio Bank will help create a legacy so that future generations may enjoy the Great Barrier Reef. This landmark building will offer state-of-the-art facilities, with innovation and sustainability at its heart, creating a resilient development that will benefit research and make a fundamental difference to the survival of one of the natural wonders of the world.

Richard Vincent, Associate Principal Arup


Architectural manipulation of light plays a significant role in defining the visitor journey. The experience begins at the entry plaza – a terraced forum space, providing transition space from the humid tropical heat of surrounding landscaped gardens and continues via a grand stair to the Level 2 Central Viewing Platform, from where visitors can observe the wet lab specimen tanks in a protected environment below.

Public spaces across the building’s main levels are visually connected through a central atrium, with the illumination generating a surreal atmosphere through the building’s levels much like the depths of the sea. At lower levels brightness and colour is introduced through reflections from the wet lab tanks, while cool light emanates from aquarium tanks positioned on Level 3. The fluorescence of the corals also contributes to the experience. Guests attending evening events and conferences will be surrounded by glowing coral species in the only function space of its kind.


The Living Coral Biobank resonates with Contreras Earl Architecture’s belief that sustainability should inform every design decision – from concept through to the choice of materials and details and onwards to construction processes. The design strives to emulate the exactness of nature where nothing is random but every characteristic has a specific purpose. It is responsive to context, climate, the user and its function to protect 800 species of coral.

Read our earlier article about the launch of the project here.

coral bio bank
Credit: Contreras Earl Architecture

Sustainability is at the core of our approach towards design and engineering. It’s rare to find a project which allows us to promote sustainability both with regard to our services and to the building’s functions at the same time. Therefore, we are delighted to be part of this important enterprise.


Thomas Winterstetter, Managing Director, Werner Sobek
port douglas coral biobank design

The Biobank building will be of immense importance for coral conservation and the community of Port Douglas. As an education, research and design experience, it will contribute to the town’s resilience, development and enhance its worldwide recognition as the gateway to the world’s ever-more precious resource that is the Great Barrier Reef. The Climate Council applauds this wonderful initiative.

Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate CounciL


Key Biobank Sustainability Facts


The building is focused on achieving a zero-carbon footprint and has been designed to reflect the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The sustainability targets for the project are as follows:
• Carbon Zero Development
• 6 Star Green Star v 1.3 D&AB
• Uses Passiv Haus Principles
• Integrates the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals


Energy Efficiency


• External shading calibrated for facade optimisation and minimising solar heat gain.
• High performance glazing, well insulated, air-tight envelope.
• Operable windows for natural ventilation
• Efficient ventilation with heat recovery (low air speed ventilation).
• High thermal inertia of the exposed concrete surfaces.
• Night-time radiant cooling.
• Underfloor air distribution efficiently delivers air directly to occupants.
• Desiccant air handling unit which uses solar energy for its regenerating heat coil.
• Good daylight penetration with daylight sensors for public areas at L4.
• Efficient central cooling and heating plant.
• Sensor network and real-time monitoring to manage active and passive strategies to minimise energy consumption


Energy Source


• All electric building – no fossil fuel on-site.
• Sea water cooling and heat-pumps.
• Photovoltaics
• Battery storage
• Solar thermal panels hot water generation.
• Off-site renewables – power purchase arrangements.



The Project Team


Architect / Contreras Earl Architecture


Rafael Contreras and Monica Earl combine their unique cultural perspectives and international expertise in a boundary-pushing multi-disciplinary practice based in Australia. Together, with a team of international and local collaborators, we challenge conventional thinking in design, materials, construction processes and city- making. We look to biological systems and nature’s complex structural patterns, learning from their blueprints to forge new architectural ground. Our aim is to contribute to the evolution of architecture and our design process is driven by the careful analysis of contemporary life and the desire to create buildings that coexist with the built and natural environment. By using advanced technologies, we are liberated from traditional building practices and forms and free to explore ideas that respond to the era where we live in order to create a better future for our urban and natural environment.


Client / Great Barrier Reef Legacy


Based in Port Douglas the Great Barrier Reef Legacy is a global leader in marine conservation, accelerating actions vital to the future survival of coral reefs. It was formed by a dedicated team of professionals in marine science, conservation, tourism, education, and multi-media to address the urgent need to ensure the long- term preservation of the Great Barrier Reef. After only four years of operation, Great Barrier Reef Legacy has a proven track record of delivering positive and cost-effective outcomes for the Reef and community including marine research and tourism expeditions, innovative citizen science and world-class documentaries, supporting research projects from major universities and government organisations and providing solutions for educators and the global community to rapidly act on climate-related issues for coral reefs. It is a not-for- profit charity, holding Australian and United States Tax Deductible status. It has raised over $1 million dollars through public, private and corporate funding.


Engineer and Sustainability Consultant / Arup


Arup is the creative force at the heart of many of the world’s most prominent projects in the built environment and across industry. Our desire to shape a better world is fundamental to everything we do. We adopt a holistic approach to any project, which enables us to offer an integrated design service to our clients. Sustainability is a driver in all of our designs and we seek to minimise environmental impacts, maximise economic and social benefits and embed efficient consumption of natural resources. Comprehensive solutions and excellent technical capabilities are the foundations of our success.


Façade Consultant / Sobek


Werner Sobek is internationally synonymous with engineering, design, and sustainability. Our company is active across the globe and is home to more than 350 employees. Our staff originates from more than 40 countries and speaks just as many languages. We work on all kinds of structures and materials. We particularly pride ourselves on the sophisticated designs we develop for load-bearing structures, technical building services, and facades. Our aim is to create a built environment that is breathtakingly beautiful while also serving the interests of future generations. We want to make emissions-free structures for more people with less material by producing exceptional designs, innovative structural solutions, and holistic concepts that minimise our impact on the environment.

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