Art & culture oasis

Location      Sharjah, UAE
Total GFA    10,000 sq.m
Status          Competition entry
Client           Barjeel Art Foundation

Tamayouz Excellence Award

Finalist Rifat Chadirji

Principle Architect

Mouaz Abouzaid

Strategically located in the Tarfa district of Sharjah, the Barjeel Art Museum functions as an art and culture oasis for the city. Just by looking at the orientation of three important sites in the architecture of the museum, we notice how the project is aimed at regenerating the local urban fabric, bringing connectivity through physical and visual means, and providing a nexus for culture and learning. The museum’s heritage axis points towards the old city–known as the Heart of Sharjah–while the cultural and knowledge sections are aligned towards the city’s cultural centre and its respective university.

While surrounded by the fabric of everyday life in the forms of residential areas and highways, the building acts as a serene location within the city. On entry, the visitors move from the ordinary and mundane to a new realm–that of experiences, knowledge, and creativity. The museum itself is divided into parts that contrast with one another in terms of visitor movement, and purpose for activities happening in the space. The main hall and reception, built out of solid natural stone, function as the gathering point for visitors, connecting through glass bridges to smaller buildings, galleries containing exhibits, workshop spaces, and an amphitheatre. The enclosed spaces, in service for more intimate events, complement the fluid circulation of visitors in corridors and plazas throughout the museum’s open areas. The public spaces, complemented by outdoor light and shade, offer an arena for artists to engage with their audience, and a realm for community interaction. The juxtaposition of the internal and external environments opens the possibility for each individual to create their own quest for unique experiences in the Barjeel Art Museum, with no formal directions necessary to point the way to exhibits.

Sharjah’s history and location Sharjah is the third largest of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, covering approximately 2,600km2 of land. Additional to its geography, Sharjah holds a great meaning of cultural history having been rewarded in 1998 with the title “Cultural Capital of the Arab World” by UNESCO. The history of Sharjah dates back approximately 5,000 years to when it was one of the wealthiest towns in the gulf region. At that time, the population of the city was very low, and existing majorly through trade, farming, hunting, fishing, and pearl diving.

When the British arrived in the 17th century, Sharjah had a major turning point and started trading with Qawasim (the forefathers of the current Sharjah ruling family). But at the end of 18th century, the relationships between Qawasim and the British deteriorated as they blamed each other for attacks and misbehaviours. The year 1820 presented itself with peace treaties signed to assure maritime peace, security, and protection of the British against any attacks for the following 150 years. During this time, the city flourished with the help of coastal trading and pearling,

and due to this alliance with the British, in 1932, Sharjah became the staging point for the Imperial Airways flights connecting Britain to India.
Nonetheless, British presence in the city officially ended with the formation of the UAE. On December 2nd, 1971, Sharjah became part of the United Arab Emirates as a founding member, and preserves today the rich history of the region.

Identity, history, and ambition condensed in a single building


A Space is physical it has dimensions, it is located somewhere, it experiences change through time and it inhabits memory.

subtracting the plot 02
Programmatic adjancies 02
total built up area 10,500 sq.m
building orientation 03
the museum is fundamentally oriented and defined by three core axes
designing by subtract 04

Graving a new path through the landscape

linking the lower levels 05
Defining the plaze and outdoor corridors
Emphasising the entrance 06
The highest structure on the site
connectivity 07
Stitching the city together through visual, mental and physical connections

Urban Fabric Regenration

The museum itself is engraved into the ground, appearing as an organic appendage to the natural landscape. A concept best expressed as “design by subtract” focused on strengthening core and natural elements of a given space, allows for connections from lower levels to top floors within the building through apertures and skylights. The monolithic design of the Barjeel Art Museum is distinctive yet has its own innate complexity.

The city is an environment in which much of our new architectur is placed. It is a context for living and working in contemporary society.