Project will reimagine libraries for the 21st century, authority says
Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) has said that work is its final stages at the emirate’s House of Wisdom library project, which is set to open in April 2020.
In a statement, the authority said that the House of Wisdom is situated near The Scroll, the monument designed by the UK-based artist, Gerry Judah. The project aims to reimagine libraries for the 21st century, based on the principle of flexibility, it added.
The two-storey archive is the traditional library, containing an initial 40,000 books, where members can research and read in relative peace and quiet, the statement said. This will then expand to a collection numbering 105,000 when fully operational. There will also be an extensive collection of books in Braille.
Designed by the British architectural design and engineering firm, Foster + Partners, the essence of the structure’s unique design is the large floating roof with 15-metre cantilevered overhangs. This serves to protect the large, transparent building from the elements of nature. In order to achieve more shading on the bottom portion, specially manufactured bamboo shades can be manipulated to increase or decrease the coverage from the sun. The glass feature also serves to underline the fact that it is a ‘beacon of knowledge’ in the way it lights up its surroundings at night, the architects added in a statement on their website.
Gerard Evenden, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners added: “Long considered primarily as repositories for books and periodicals, the role of libraries in the life of contemporary communities is set to be reimagined for the 21st century. The House of Wisdom conceptualises the library as a social hub for learning, supported by innovation and technology.”
Located on the Sharjah International Airport Road, ten kilometres from the city centre, the two-storey building embodies a sense of clarity and lightness, with a large floating roof cantilevering on all sides of a transparent rectilinear volume. The 15-metre-wide overhang shades the façades throughout most of the day, while aluminium screens with differing densities filter the low sun in the evenings. The movable screens are deployed only during the late afternoon, when the sun is at its lowest, preserving the visual connections with the landscaped gardens.
Visitors enter the building 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, evoking the layered canopies cultivated. The ground floor contains large spaces for exhibitions, a café alongside a children’s educational space, and the archive and a reading area with facilities such as a book espresso machine that prints and binds books on-demand.
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 contemporary interpretation of the ancient Arabic scrolls as a single, spiralling sculpture that loops towards the sky.
Using a form of geometry called ‘developable surface’, the curved shell was created from rolled steel plates, cut by lasers guided by computer control, welded together and painted with multiple layers to protect the steel from sandstorms and weather erosion.
“Gerry’s sculpture is a perfect complement to the minimalist geometry of our building. We look forward to the building’s completion, which will give the local communities and scholars a new space for shared learning and innovative research, set within a beautiful landscape,” added Evenden.
Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Head of the Sharjah World Book Capital, SWBC, Advisory Committee and Vice President of International Publishers Association, IPA, conducted a detailed inspection visit of the library project on February 11. The project itself was unveiled on April 23 last year, which was the day Sharjah officially began its yearlong journey as UNESCO World Book Capital 2019.