Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Situated at the corner of the Post Office Roundabout in the Al Mankah neighborhood of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, The Africa Institute by Adjaye Associates with WSP for Sharjah Art Foundation is understood as a single institution that mediates between the different scales of the adjacent urban grain.
Once inside, a shared internal courtyard punctuates the space and provides a clear programmatic distinction.
The Africa Institute has recently been awarded a 2022 International Architecture Awards Honorable Mention by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
Taking its cues from the Gulf, Timbuktu, and Hausa architecture where trabeated solid masonry façades often shelter an internal courtyard, the ground floor is defined by the court which negotiates the transition between the city and The Africa Institute.
The project contemplates how one lives and learns, stimulated by this region where the language of the courtyard becomes a central form in which climate and construct cohabitate.
There are four clearly identifiable volumes floating above the ground floor which span the short side of the court and house the main elements of The Africa Institute such as the teaching, learning, and administration.
The Africa Hall—the fifth floating volume—closes the courtyard to the south and welcomes visitors from under a generous overhang, further evoking a regional language that requires the articulation of shade.
The introduction of large overhangs efficiently reduces solar heat gains and contributes to the overall building performance without the employment of large, technical infrastructure.
Underground a unified basement combines plant and storage requirements with public programs such as a lecture theatre.
Supported by plinths and connected by a network of patios and support spaces, the interior spatial organization of the complex cultivates an interconnected atmosphere for intellectual exchange with unobstructed site lines across and in between the individual building blocks.
The exterior identity of this low carbon concrete structure is defined by four unobstructed, primarily solid façades which are designed to limit direct sunlight exposure.
The heat absorbed from the structural walls is released at night when temperatures within the desert drop.
The court-facing façades are punctuated by small square openings; where wide horizontal openings reflect the communal program of classrooms, function areas, and the library are located.
Each of the court façades repeats the same elements in a different order creating a series of differing elevations which reflect the distinct character of the five volumes whilst maintaining the integrity of the ensemble.
Through the extension of the courtyard typology infused with an extended public realm, the space expands within the city as a newly centralized space of learning.
A site of intellectual exchange between the Arab World and Africa, The Africa Institute presents an architecture that redefines the ways in which the public, the regional landscape, and the landscape of academic excellence exist in conversation and support of one another.
Project: The Africa Institute
Architects: Adjaye Associates
Architect of Record: WSP
Lighting Consultants: Studio Fractal
Structural Engineers: WSP
Theatre Consultants: Charcoalblue
Client: Sharjah Art Foundation