House of Wisdom, by Foster + Partners, opens in Sharjah, UAE – Publication 03.19.21

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All photos courtesy of Foster + Partners

Foster + Partners recently cut the ribbon for the House of Wisdom in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The project is a modern library concept designed as a transparent, rectangular volume with a floating, cantilevered roof. A new cultural district has been developed in this emirate of Sharjah. 

Sharjah is the third-largest city in the UAE. This is the only emirate that is blessed to be geographically positioned near the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and several port towns. 

In 2019, UNESCO voted the emirate of Sharjah as the World Book Capital.

The tallest focal point of the House of Wisdom is on the north side. It is a modern, vertical, spiraling magnificence of a Scroll sculpture. Ancient Arabic scrolls are protected by rolled steel plates due to the extreme hot climate and sandstorms. The scrolls are positioned centrally in front of the House, inside a formal circle of landscaping, as a “knowledge garden”.

On the west side, a central courtyard welcomes one into the main entrance of the House of Wisdom. A row of glass doors open with a double-height reception and a cohesive blending of public and semi-private spaces. There is an espresso cafe and lounge areas for reading near the abundance of natural daylight seeping through. 

The cantilevered roof projects out and its overhangs offer shading over the glass facade. Movable screens have different densities depending on the position of the sun. The roof is supported by four cores, the two at the front act as sculptural staircases, while the other two function as services. 

The mezzanine level offers public and private spaces including outdoor gardens, exhibitions, a praying room, a women-only room, and quiet “pod” spaces. 

There are a total of fifteen lobbies in the building. Another innovative feature is there are fabrication labs with 3D printers that print and bind books in minutes.

When outside on the south side, a “playground” landscape sets the tone with a water feature for children to thrive within an oasis of native birds, fig trees, palm trees, and much more. The flatness of the roof ties together the sections of landscaping with the flat desert surroundings. 

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The House of Wisdom’s library concept teaches architects a universal lesson in how we can establish a middle ground for different generations of students and scholars. Gerard Evenden, Head of Studio at Foster + Partners describes the project as, “a community hub for learning, underpinned by innovation and technology.”

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