The House of Wisdom by Foster + Partners is the newly constructed library and cultural center that is based on the idea of a “digital future.” It has been conceptualized to portray what a 21stcentury library would look like. 

The two-storey structure is located on the Sharjah International Airport Road, ten kilometers from the city center with a beguiling look of geometric simplicity, tastefully done to draw attention to its planar surfaces that define its very being.

New Library And Culture Centre With Large Floating Roof In Sharjah completed by Foster + Partners - Sheet1
The House of Wisdom ©Chris Goldstraw  
New Library And Culture Centre With Large Floating Roof In Sharjah completed by Foster + Partners - Sheet2
Aluminium Screens ©Chris Goldstraw

The Built Form by Foster + Partners

The rectilinear glass structure is complemented by a flat roof cantilevering by a 15-meter wide overhang from all sides of it. The 15-meter wide overhang helps shade the transparent building facades from the city’s harsh sun rays, whilst its perforated Aluminium screens of varying densities help filter the low sunlight at dusk. 

Movable bamboo screens provided indoors allow occupants to control glare as well as their privacy. They can either be opened up to establish a visual connection with the green outdoors or shut closed as per their user’s desire. 

New Library And Culture Centre With Large Floating Roof In Sharjah completed by Foster + Partners - Sheet3
Courtyard ©Chris Goldstraw

Spatial Analysis

Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a double-height reception area with a large central courtyard which brings daylight into the structure flooding the insides with as much sunlight as possible. 

Designed as a beautifully landscaped outdoor area, the courtyard functions in more ways than one, by creating a space for quiet and contemplation as well as one meant for social events and gatherings. The ground floor houses large spaces for exhibitions, a café, archival areas, a children’s play area, collaborative spaces, and a reading area with facilities such as an Espresso Book Machine which prints and binds books on-demand.

New Library And Culture Centre With Large Floating Roof In Sharjah completed by Foster + Partners - Sheet4
Staircase ©Chris Goldstraw
New Library And Culture Centre With Large Floating Roof In Sharjah completed by Foster + Partners - Sheet5
Upper floor ©Chris Goldstraw

The structure is built as a column-free space to allow for free movement, reinforcing the quality of its expansiveness. It has four central cores which support the roof and are structured in such a way that it eliminates the need for columns. 

Of these, the two cores which are located closer to the entrance contain large sculptural staircases that guide people towards the upper floor. On the upper floor, there are a series of pod spaces meant for reading, that are suspended above the courtyard, reading lounges, an area meant only for women, and a prayer room.

Apple Park Visitor Centre ©Foster + Partners
The House of Wisdom ©Chris Goldstraw

Synonymity with other buildings made by Foster + Partners

The glass interface created by Foster + Partners is synonymous with some other structures by them such as the Apple Park Visitor Center. It has a floor-to-ceiling glazed appearance which is curved along the edges and an extensive roof complementing the space below. This carbon-fiber roof appears to be floating in the air as the walls below are dematerialized by the use of glass. 

The architectural language of the two structures is remarkably similar in terms of the basic structure and form without delving deeper into the intricacies of it all.

The Extent of its Transparency

The structural façade of the building by Foster + Partners is mostly made of glass to create transparency so that there is a connection between the indoors and the outdoors. The vast interior courtyards as well the gardens outside are landscaped in a way to bridge the boundaries between the built mass and the pockets of open areas. 

The aim is to prevent the users from feeling like they are stuck within a confined space with narrow openings to allow for a view towards the outside which is how the usual libraries are conceived. The built mass is punctuated with voids to create a seamless volume of interspersed spaces that allow for both a visual as well as a physical cross-over of spaces, bringing the outdoors inside and vice-versa. 

The library is not treated as an extension of a reading nook but as a central function giving rise to a lot of subsidiary functions and spaces making it a hub of sorts.

The Scroll ©Foster + Partners

The Landscaped Gardens and the Iconic Piece of Sculpture

Amongst the landscaped areas- the campus mainly contains two outdoor gardens. One of them is called a ‘knowledge garden’ and the other a children’s garden complete with water features. The knowledge garden is a more geometrically shaped garden that appears more formal in its appearance. It is named so because it houses a beautiful piece of public art called The Scroll by British sculptor Gerry Judah. 

The piece is an artistic interpretation of ancient Arabic scrolls, made from laser-cut rolled steel plates, treated to prevent erosion during sandstorms. It stands tall as a single spiral rising towards the sky. It comes across as a large icon, emblematic of the cause and purpose the building serves thus marking its presence very significantly on-site.

This unconventional library design by Foster + Partners is grand and elaborate whilst remaining simple and elegant- a harmonious balance of creativity meeting structural compatibility that leaves its audience awe-inspired every time they turn to look at it. 


Meghna Sanyal is a final year student of architecture. She is an absolute conversationalist and finds happiness in the process of translating that into written verse. She aims to demystify the subject of architecture by making it more accessible to everyone through her writing.