Foster + Partners design The House of Wisdom – a digitally ready library and cultural centre that has state of the art facilities that include among others, an Espresso Book Machine that prints and binds books on-demand…
The straight, minimalist lines of the building complement the dunes of the Sharjah desert as a large floating roof cantilevering on all sides sits atop a transparent rectilinear volume. The 15-metre-wide overhang shades the façades throughout most of the day, while fixed aluminium screens with differing densities filter the low sun in the evenings. Movable bamboo screens at low level are deployed to provide privacy or to control glare. When not in use, the bamboo screens can be left open, preserving the visual connections with the landscaped gardens.
Located on the Sharjah International Airport Road, ten kilometres from the city centre, the two-storey building has visitors entering from its western edge into a double-height reception hub with a central courtyard that brings light to the interior spaces. This densely planted green area creates a comfortable outdoor environment for social events or quiet contemplation. The ground floor contains large spaces for exhibitions, a café alongside a children’s educational space, and an archive and a reading area.
The floating roof is supported by four cores that also contain all the back-of-house and service spaces, creating a large column-free floorplate. The two cores closest to the entrance contain large sculptural staircases that guide people up to the mezzanine floor. The upper floor hosts a series of pod spaces suspended above the central courtyard, which offer both quiet and collaborative spaces, exhibition areas and reading lounges including a prayer room and a women-only area. Throughout the building, there is an emphasis on establishing and retaining a connection with the outside, looking onto the gardens surrounding the building.
The landscape is divided into two sections – a knowledge garden and children’s playground to the south, which has several native species and a water feature, alongside a more formal, geometrically arranged garden to the north containing The Scroll – a new piece of public art by British sculptor Gerry Judah that is a contemporary interpretation of the ancient Arabic scrolls as a single, spiralling sculpture that loops towards the sky.
In the words of Gerard Evenden, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners: “The House of Wisdom in Sharjah is a forward-looking conception of what a library should be in the 21st century – embracing a digital future while playing a crucial role as a community hub for learning, underpinned by innovation and technology.”