House of Wisdom by Foster + Partners creates a hi-tech ground for knowledge

The rectilinear learning centre in Sharjah, UAE, expresses clarity with its floating roof and translucent facade, and adopts a “book espresso machine” that prints books on demand.

by STIRworldPublished on : Mar 13, 2021

House of Wisdom, designed by Foster + Partners, recently opened its doors to the public in United Arab Emirate's "digital future city", Sharjah. Located on the Sharjah International Airport Road, House of Wisdom has a massive overhanging roof and a translucent façade that “embodies a sense of clarity and lightness”. The two-storey structure comprises a library, café, prayer room, an internal courtyard garden, spaces for events and exhibitions, shared and individual reading lounges, an educational and play space for children, as well as parking areas. It also features a high tech, "book espresso machine" that can print and bind books on demand.

The project seeks to be the catalyst for a new cultural quarter in the city of Sharjah, and is aimed at becoming the central focus of the UNESCO World Book Capital celebrations, an annual event that promotes reading in the city that the event is hosted in.

The House of Wisdom project seeks to spark a new educational and cultural quarter in the city| House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners| STIRworld
The House of Wisdom project seeks to spark a new educational and cultural quarter in the city Image: Chris Goldstraw

The roof of the rectilinear volume cantilevers 15m in all directions to shade the façades which receive a lot of sun throughout the day. The translucent skin will also be affixed with perforated aluminum panels of varying densities to filter the evening sun. Adjustable bamboo screens are placed at the lower level to control glare and add privacy. When these are not in use, the bamboo screens are left open, “preserving the visual connections with the landscaped gardens,” shares the firm. The form reaches a height of 16m, spans 60m in its length and has a capacity of 1,500.

“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,” says Gerard Evenden, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners.

  • Sculptural staircases leading visitors to the upper floors of the library| House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Sculptural staircases leading visitors to the upper floors of the library Image: Chris Goldstraw
  • Reception area at the House of Wisdom| House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Reception area at the House of Wisdom Image: Chris Goldstraw
  • Mezzanine floor of the House of Wisdom| House of Wisdom Library designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Mezzanine floor of the House of Wisdom Image: Chris Goldstraw

House of Wisdom greets visitors at the library’s western, light-filled, double-height reception courtyard. Dense greens placed here induce a semi-comfortable outdoor environment for relaxation and social events. The ground floor includes expansive spaces to host exhibitions, the café which sits adjacent to a children’s educational room and the archive and a reading area with the fun espresso book machine.

Four cores that contain service spaces support the overhanging roof, which makes it possible to form a large, column-free floorplate. The two cores closest to the entrance host two hefty sculptural staircases that usher people upto the mezzanine floor. The interiors of the floor that floats above receives natural light from the central courtyard, and features a series of pod spaces. Here one can find a mix of both contemplative and collaborative areas, including exhibition rooms, reading lounges, prayer rooms and a space demarcated only for women.

  • Aluminium screens filter the sun rays during daytime| House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Aluminium screens filter the sun rays during daytime Image: Chris Goldstraw
  • Perforated aluminium screens have been installed at the library by Foster + Partners| House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Perforated aluminium screens have been installed at the library by Foster + Partners Image: Chris Goldstraw

The landscaping has been planned in two sections – a 'knowledge garden' and children’s playground to the south that features many native species and a water pocket. These are placed beside a more formal, geometrically arranged garden to the north which contains The Scroll – a new piece of public art by British sculptor Gerry Judah that sits next to the library. This silvery steel sculpture spirals towards the sky as a contemporary interpretation of ancient Arabic scrolls.

  • The Scroll, designed by British sculptor, Gerry Judah | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The Scroll, designed by British sculptor, Gerry Judah Image: Chris Goldstraw
  • Stunning water feature at the front of the House of Wisdom | House of Wisdom Library designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Stunning water feature at the front of the House of Wisdom Image: Chris Goldstraw
  • Knowledge garden at the House of Wisdom | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Knowledge garden at the House of Wisdom Image: Chris Goldstraw

“The straight, minimalist lines of the building complement the dunes of the desert, set within a lush landscape. 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” Evenden concludes.

  • Presentation drawing site plan | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Presentation drawing site plan Image: Cecilia Shiels and Hazel Eynon, Courtesy of Foster + Partners
  • Site Plan | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners
  • Ground Floor Plan | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Ground Floor Plan Image: Gregory Gibbon, Courtesy of Foster + Partners
  • Mezzanine Floor Plan | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Mezzanine Floor Plan Image: Gregory Gibbon, Courtesy of Foster + Partners
  • Elevations | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Elevations Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners
  • Section | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners
  • Cladding section detail | House of Wisdom designed by Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Cladding section detail Image: Gregory Gibbon, Courtesy of Foster + Partners

Project Details

Name: House of Wisdom (Sharjah Digital Library)
Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Site Area: 40,000 sqm
Year of Completion: 2020
Client: Shurooq
Architect and Interior Design: Foster + Partners
Design Team: Gerard Evenden, John Blythe, Dara Towhidi, Ricardo Abreu, Rafael Alcantara, Eugenia Bandera, Souraya Fathallah, Matas Belevicius, Qishan Huang, Dimitri Chaava, Alvaro Ferrandiz, Joe Paxton, Juan Pommarez

(Text by Sharmin Oanali, intern at STIRworld.com)

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