House of Wisdom

The new library and culture centre in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

06 Apr 2022

Photograph of The Scroll Sculpture in The House of Wisdom.

All Photos Credit Copyright ©Chris Goldstraw

Architects Foster + Partners say the new library and culture centre in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, which opened to the public in March 2021, is “a forward- looking conception of what a library should be in the 21st century 

Light and Shade

The House of Wisdom is an iconic two-storey building ten kilometres from the city centre, at the heart of a new cultural district. It was designed to embody a sense of clarity and lightness - whilst shielding users from the full glare of the desert sun. There is large floating, transparent roof but also a 15 metre-wide overhang to shade the building’s facade, along with fixed aluminium screens to filter the evening rays, and moveable bamboo screens at low level.

The design responds to its desert setting, creating a cultural oasis for the local community. The straight, minimalist lines of the building complement the dunes, and the surrounding gardens echo the oasis theme. To the south there is a knowledge garden and children’s playground, with a more formal garden to the north featuring The Scroll - an artwork by British sculptor Gerry Judah described as “a contemporary interpretation of the ancient Arabic scrolls as a single, spiralling sculpture that loops towards the sky”.

Bringing the Outside In

Inside, four core blocks that support the floating roof conceal back-of-house and service spaces. A double-height reception hub with a central courtyard welcomes visitors and provides light to the interior. The courtyard is densely-planted and provides outdoor space for social gatherings or quiet contemplation. The building, throughout, has been designed to connect with the outside.

The column-free ground floor provides plenty of exhibition space, a children’s education space, archive and reading area, and café

Photograph of mezzanine in The House of Wisdom

 Another photograph of the mezzanine area in The House of Wisdom

A large sculptural staircase leads to the mezzanine floor where a series of “pod spaces’ are suspended above the central courtyard. The upper floor accommodates more exhibition space, reading lounges, a prayer room and a women-only area.

Omnicentre of Culture

Billed as the new omnicentre of culture, the House of Wisdom was commissioned to fulfil a promise to “promote reading and ease access to knowledge to all members of society and in doing so, become a progressive society that are the catalysts of harmonious coexistence”. It is described as a home for books and ideas exchanged between people and cultures of all ages - and a place where education and entertainment are not exclusive to each other.