Network of Point Interventions at Larnaca Salt Lakes

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Design Thesis Project in the Department of Architecture, University of Patras, June 2012

Michalis Piroccas, Architect

Tutor: Panos Dragonas

Second place in the 2012 “Graduate Architecture Award”

Larnaca salt lakes are located in the southwest of the city of Larnaca. The area is a complex habitat, consisting of the Great Lake, the lake Orphani, the lake Soros and the lake Spiros. It is the second largest of the 4 coastal halophytic systems in Cyprus. The uniqueness of the area is enhanced by the fact that it contains the only super-salty lake in Cyprus, Aliki. The ecosystem is part of the “Natura 2000″ network, while the Great Lake has also been included, since 2001, in the list of Wetlands of International Importance under the provisions of the Ramsar Treaty.

The landscape is characterized by low altitude and low topography, while the area is near the old Larnaca airport, the picnic area of Tekke, the mosque of Hala Sultan and the Pattichion Auditorium. The Salt Lake was a major source of salt for Cyprus until 1980 when salt production stopped, due to the contamination of the habitat from the adjacent urban infrastructures. Since the Great Lake is not a colony of migratory birds, but just a stop, time is divided into 3 periods. The first period runs from December to March, the second from April to May and from October to November. The third from June to September. Characteristic of the first period is the large amount of water and migratory birds. The second is characterized by the presence of water without the existence of migratory birds and the third period is characterized by the presence of water for a short period of time and the appearance of salt. A common feature of all three periods is the fact that people seem to be undesirable as there is no proper access to the habitat. The proposal, by maintaining the characteristics of the 3 time periods and through 3 seasonal routes, aims to make people “compatible” with the habitat.

The proposal is a combination of 3 seasonal routes which take into account the characteristics of each period and lead the visitor to important points for each season. The 1st route, which is the longest route, is active during the time period between December and March, while one part of the route is active during the summer. This period is characterized by a great concentration of birds, so the route is focused on birdwatching. The 2nd seasonal route is active during October, November, April and May and can be done by water since the absence of birds during these months allows the entry of man into the water. The 2nd route comprises 2 main stops that lead the visitor towards the non migratory birds. The 3rd seasonal route is revealed due to the evaporation of water. It is active from June until September and is an extension of the 1st route. The path is formed within the water basin by placing stones and is revealed during the summer season, the season of salt harvesting. So this is the route that leads to the salt flats, where people can watch the revival of salt harvesting.

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First point of intervention is the tower, placed at the beginning of the path and directly opposite of the Environmental Centre. Due to its size and position, the tower acts as a “decoy” and invites the visitor to the habitat. Its role in the operation of the route is quite significant as it marks the starting point, invites the visitor and offers views on important points of the area. Through these views, the visitor can understand the importance of the proposal in general and the importance of the wetlands for the city of Larnaca.

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After the tower and along the proposed route the second construction appears, which is a wooden pier. The Pier is the starting point of the second seasonal route and if we are at the pier during October, November, April or May, visitors can take a canoe. This route can be done by water since the absence of migratory birds during these months allows the entry of man into the water. The pier has three structures internally, related to water and the fluctuation of water level. The second seasonal route comprises two main stops. The route and the two main stops lead the visitor towards the non migratory birds and the halophytes. The first stop is next to the bridge for birdwatching and next to the herds of non migratory birds. The second stop leads the visitor to the bird nests and the halophytic crops. If we are not in the months that activate the floating path we continue on the first seasonal route. Along the way we see the Hala Sultan Mosque where the path (first seasonal route) gives us the option to visit it.

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After the Mosque one may find the birdwatch bridge. It is placed on the first seasonal route and in an area where the artificial islands enhance the habitat and increase the population of birds in that region. The entrance to the bridge is made from the existing structure, built from the British to divert the incoming stream. The wooden panels are removable and offer flexibility and ease of birdwatching. The bridge is made of the specific wooden panels because the human figure scares the birds. These units mar the human figure and so the birds do not perceive the human presence. The units that are placed at the top can be dragged upwards, while the third part that is located at the bottom can be rotated and create an outer seat. If the conditions permit it (very low concentration of birds), the visitor can sit outside and enjoy the view of the artificial islands and the birds. If the concentration of birds is increased, the panels remain in their “original” vertical position and the visitor can look through the existing openings in the wooden units.  Also the bridge leads the visitor to the opposite shore of the salt lake. This prevents the pedestrians from entering into the salt lake. Thus the destruction of halophytes and the disturbance of the animal community is avoided.

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Moving on through the bridge, and still walking on the first seasonal route, the visitor arrives on the opposite shore. On the opposite shore one may find the halophytic crops. The crops are placed in the area where today, farmers cultivate cereal using heavy machinery, which is detrimental to the wetland. The proposed halophytic crops are placed away from the coastline and therefore away from the areas where the birds nest, while the cultivation is done without the use of machinery and with the participation of volunteers and visitors. In the crops the visitor comes in touch with a wide variety of halophytes. The volunteers and the visitors can cultivate the halophytes that are going to be used to restore the habitat, while at the same time the visitors get educated about the halophytes and their characteristics (resistance to salt and water). The visitors can move between the crops through the dirt paths that exist between the cultivated land. The paths are formed gradually through frequent use and this prevents the formation of paths with incompatible materials.

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Close to the crops, in the area known as the “TONGUE”, bird observatories are placed. This region was selected because is the region that counts the most nests. The central region as the most important point is formed as a place for observation and education. This region is used to date as a farmland. The activity is incompatible with the landscape and it is proposed to cease. Due to the high concentration of nests in the area, the path that leads to the observatories is dug so that the visitor will not be perceived by the birds. The visitor enters into the observatory from the bottom, using the ladder inside the trench, while the shades alter the shape of the human body so that the human figure cannot be understood even when people are located within the observatory. The observatories are lightweight structures, formed by a metal frame and covered by wooden horizontal blinds. They are structures for one or two people. The proposed observatories are located approximately 20 meters from each other to avoid large concentration of people and to reduce noise in a sensitive area such as this.

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Next intervention in the region is the Observation Tower that is mounted on the peninsula of the salt lake. The tower consists of two parallel cores. The first core has a stairway and is enclosed by blinds, while the second one is the continuation of the staircase and allows certain views at certain points (through the absence of the shades). The structure is formed by three parallel arrays of pillars. The tower is placed on the highest point of the region and acts as an observatory for the region and the city. The tier on the exterior of the tower faces the area where the birds are fed, while the last level (observation platform) provides oversight of the whole region. The location and height of the tower make this building as a sign of navigation in the wetland and is visible from every point of the proposal.

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The last stop of the first route are the sloping surfaces. The sloping surfaces are placed in front of the second stream that enters the wetland. This creates a game between the visitor and the water, the water level determines which surface is accessible and which not. From this point, visitors can follow the trail that leads them to the exit after crossing the bridge that is placed at the feeding area. However, if the visitor is here in June, July, August or September due to the evaporation of water the path of salt is revealed in front of him. The path is formed within the water basin by placing stones and is delimited by placing floating islands.

The floating islands are placed inside the wetland, near the areas where urban development destroyed the vegetation. In this way we manage to restore the vegetation and the birds find a place to nest. The base of the islands is made of grid and allows water to enter for plant growth. Plant residues enter into the water offering food for the water species that are the main food of migratory birds. In this way a kind of chain between the birds, the halophytes and the fauna is created. When the water evaporates the islands “sit” on the ground without crashing the fauna that lives into the soil as the bottom of the islands keeps a distance from the ground.

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Part of the proposal is the revival of salt harvesting. The process begins with the celebration of a festival that takes place on the last week of July, when the route is revealed and the water has evaporated. During the ceremony people shape the “salt flats” and the salt harvesting starts. The ceremony signifies the end of the previous annual cycle of the wetland and the beginning of the next. At the same time a contest will be conducted, where visitors will compete for the best salt sculpture. By the end of the 5th week (duration of salt harvesting in the past) the salt is removed from the wetland and destroyed as is unfit for consumption. The process of harvesting and the removal of salt contributes to the gradual restoration of the wetland as a large volume of contaminated material is removed from the site. Over the years this process can lead to positive results and the salt can become suitable for consumption.

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posted in Design Thesis Projects by panosdragonas

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