Housed under a cantilevered roof surrounded by landscaped gardens, the library and cultural centre is the latest addition to the UAE city
In Sharjah, UAE, the Foster + Partners-designed House of Wisdom – a library and cultural centre – has opened to the public. Located outside the city centre, between the steadily expanding Sharjah International Airport and the American University of Sharjah, the project seeks to be the catalyst for a new cultural quarter in the growing city.
The two-storey building is defined by a large ‘floating roof’ cantilevering on all sides of a glazed rectilinear volume. The 15m-wide overhang shades the facades from the intense sun throughout most of the day; these facades also have fixed aluminium screens in a zigzag profile with differing densities, which filter the low sunlight in the evenings while providing rhythmic articulation to the exterior.
Visitors enter the building via a double-height reception, beyond which is a verdant courtyard at the centre of the building, bringing daylight into the interior while providing space for social events or relaxation. The ground floor contains areas for exhibitions, as well as a cafe, a children’s educational space, the archive and a reading area.
Four cores – containing back-of-house and service spaces – support the structure’s roof. The two cores closest to the entrance contain sculptural staircases that guide visitors up to the mezzanine floor. The upper floor hosts a series of ‘pod’ spaces overlooking the courtyard, which can be used for reading, collaborative working, or exhibitions. There is also a prayer room and a women-only area.
Landscaped gardens surrounding the building are divided into two sections – to the south is a knowledge garden and children’s playground, which has several native plant species and a water feature, while to the north is a more formal, geometrically arranged garden containing a public sculpture titled The Scroll by Gerry Judah.
‘The straight, minimalist lines of the building complement the dunes of the desert, set within a lush landscape,’ says Gerard Evenden, head of studio for Foster + Partners. ‘The House of Wisdom is set to be an oasis for the local community, led by research and innovation, at the heart of a new cultural district.’
Photography by Chris Goldstraw