Typically the Aga Khan Award for Architecture is reserved for just that – socially transformative buildings constructed in areas that have a strong Muslim presence. But this year, Aga Khan also recognized Saudi’s Wadi Hanifa Watershed project for its contribution to society.
And it really is a watershed moment for the country whose water resources are deeply limited. Wetlands throughout the Middle East have suffered from poor management, leading to negative consequences for both the environment and public health. But Saudi Arabia’s sparkling initiative demonstrates that recreation and ecology can flow in harmony.
After years of deterioration, Wadi Hanifa has been restored to its former glory as an attractive, balanced ecosystem. The Moriyama and Teshima and Bur Happold were tasked with transforming a turbid zone overflowing with construction debris into a safe watershed that could double as a healthy recreational facility.
To achieve this, they removed 1.25 million cubic meters of construction debris, cleaned up other industrial waste, restored the local habitat, and cleaned up the basin’s polluted water. They also reorganized a system of roads and power lines that were infringing upon the surface area.
By installing stone weirs, the team managed to encourage the growth of necessary microorganisms that in turn increase oxygen levels, resulting in reductions of certain kinds of harmful bacteria. Combined with a downstream Periphyton Benthic Substrate Devices (APBS), this bioremediation project treats wastewater the way nature intended.
And it’s beautiful, giving local Saudis and tourists a respite from an endless desert. Now that! is what we call sustainable.
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