The Oculus is a bold desert hotel concept by the award-winning Aidia Studio and features a series of pods with retractable ‘skin’ inspired by desert organisms. Envisioned to be sited in Abu Dhabi’s Rub’ Al Khali Desert, the designs take inspiration from the extreme beauty of the landscape and the way its indigenous flora and fauna have adapted to the setting. This biometric approach is applied with the practical considerations of how people want to spend time in a desert retreat and the basic need for shelter.
“The design of the Oculus is inspired by how desert organisms are able to self-shade to reduce their internal temperature and in doing so are able to survive the extreme temperatures,” explains Natalia Wrzask, co-founder of Aidia Studio. “So, in designing an inhabitable pod for the desert, we devised a form which morphs into different configurations depending on the time of the day, climate and the needs of users i.e. privacy, star-gazing, wildlife spotting.”
An Adaptive Skin
The Oculus cabins have been given a versatile shading system which contracts and retracts as required; at the crown, the skin system folds downwards revealing a frameless acrylic dome allowing uninterrupted views of the stars at night (the Milky Way spans east to west in the sky). During daytime, the skin retracts sideways opening the front of the pod and unveiling the doors to the front deck. When fully deployed the pod camouflages with its surroundings becoming unnoticeable to the wildlife.
The Oculus provides a spacious open-plan suite. The living area features a lounge for relaxation, a study corner and a telescope. The pod also has a wardrobe, a generous bathroom and skylight to flood the space with daylight. On the exterior, wood cladding provides privacy and shields the pods from the sandstorms.
The Oculus aims to use sustainable materials (such as organic fabrics in natural tones to blend as much as possible with its surroundings) and as the Empty Quarter has no shortage of sunlight, the design incorporates a flexible dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSCs) which would be produced by sewing textile electrodes into the shading fabric. Even in low level lighting, the power produced should be sufficient for supporting the needs of each cabin. The pod will additionally be equipped with a water tank which includes a filtration and recycling system of grey waters.
“The main idea behind the radial shading panels dressing the cabin, is to improve the environmental performance of the building through self-shading,” adds Wrzask. “The design is inspired by nature and several examples of desertic cacti species which feature thick outer skins and fins that diffuse heat and solar radiation.”
Minimal Disruption to the Land
The Oculus can be constructed from 30 prefabricated off-site modules which can be easily assembled to erect a self-supporting structure. Similarly, the modular shading panels are intended to be manufactured off-site and prepared for bolting onsite. The cabin is grounded through thirty adjustable pillars allowing installation in different ground conditions. The construction process should be quick and with minimal disturbance to the natural environment.
Design Team: Natalia Wrzask, Rolando Rodriguez Leal
Location: The Rub’ al Khali Desert in Abu Dhabi, UAE
Total Area: 3500 sqm, 25 cabins, Standard: 50sqm, VIP: 80 sqm