The vision of Adjaye Associates of the new campus as a springboard, connecting and expressing Africa’s, the African diaspora’s, and the Arab world’s rich histories, have come to fruition with the Africa Institute.

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Monolithic campus for The Africa Institute in Sharjah designed by Adjaye Associates - Sheet1
©Adjaye Associates

The Africa Institute is located at the corner of the Post Office Roundabout in the Al Mankah neighbourhood of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, It is the only institution of its sort in the Arab world dedicated to advanced African research, study, and documentation.

The 31,882-square-meter campus is an interdisciplinary academic research institute founded in 2018. The Institute will welcome its first cohort of M.A. and PhD students in the discipline of African diaspora studies in 2023. International conferences, art exhibitions, concerts, and public activities have all been hosted by the institute. The new facilities, which are expected to be completed in 2023, will take the form of a red concrete volume with a variety of spaces, including auditoriums and libraries.

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The downtown Sharjah Institue was designed by Adjaye Associates as a bastion, centred in the cityscape and extended through a sequence of open, yet connected, five high-rise structures that would define Sharjah’s skyline.

Monolithic campus for The Africa Institute in Sharjah designed by Adjaye Associates - Sheet2
©Adjaye Associates

This red-hued concrete structure arrangement is viewed as a single institution that mediates between the varying scales of the neighbouring urban grain in its urban setting. By creating an enclosed campus with a quintuple of monolithic that range in height from four to seven stories. These monoliths are joined by a system of open-air internal courtyards accented by enormous overhangs that provide shade and cooling relief. The low-carbon concrete structure complements the desert typology, which necessitates a thoughtful and contextual response. While water features and native planters are included in all open-air areas to increase air circulation and provide natural cooling. 

Taking cues from Gulf, Timbuktu, and Hausa architecture, where trabeated solid brick facades commonly cover an internal courtyard, the ground floor is characterised by the court, Adjaye Associates created a negotiation of the passage between the city and the built environment 

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Monolithic campus for The Africa Institute in Sharjah designed by Adjaye Associates - Sheet3
©Adjaye Associates

The key aspects of the campus building, such as Teaching, Learning, and Administration, are housed in four clearly distinguishable volumes that hover above the ground level and span the short side of the court. Class halls and seminar rooms, as well as a research library and climatized archive facility, a flexible auditorium and performance space, a restaurant and café, and a bookstore, will be housed on the campus, which will incorporate facilities of various characteristics and scales. Each of the structure’s four facades has an entrance point to welcome visitors and connect the new campus to other nearby institutions and public pathways. 

The Africa Institute’s main place, Africa Hall, will be included in the project’s fifth and southernmost block, which will be restored. The Africa Hall, the fifth floating volume, closes the courtyard to the south and greets visitors from beneath a large overhang, evoking a regional language that necessitates the expression of shadow.

Monolithic campus for The Africa Institute in Sharjah designed by Adjaye Associates - Sheet4
©Adjaye Associates

A unified basement integrates plant and storage needs with public programmes like a lecture theatre underground. The interior spatial organisation of the complex cultivates an integrated atmosphere for intellectual exchange across and in between the separate building blocks, which is supported by plinths and connected by a network of interconnected patios and support areas. 

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Salah M. Hassan, the Africa Institute’s founding director, is presently leading the organisation alongside institute president Hoor Al Qasimi.

“We chose David Adjaye to design this crucial institution’s first purpose-built home because of his experience constructing buildings that support learning, cooperation, and community building,” Al Qasimi explained. “In 2017, we began working together to design The Africa Institute’s vision and the building that supports its important mission. The Africa Institute will become a hub for knowledge-building and learning for people in the region and our partners across Africa and around the world for years to come because of David’s ability to design such a magnificent sequence of various spaces and a welcome feeling of the place.” 

The context within the city develops as a newly concentrated space of learning, thanks to the extension of the courtyard typology imbued with an extended public realm. The Africa Institute, a centre for intellectual engagement between the Arab world and Africa, features architecture that reimagines how the public landscape and academic landscape meet.

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©Adjaye Associates

In 2000, British-Ghanian architect Adjaye, who won the RIBA Gold Medal for 2021, established Adjaye Associates. The Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi that will include a church, mosque, and synagogue, is another project the studio is working on in the UAE.

References

Adjaye Associates. 2021. The Africa Institute – Adjaye Associates. [online] Available at: <https://www.adjaye.com/work/the-africa-institute-2/> [Accessed 22 August 2021].

Author

Spoorthi Nagaraj is a freshly graduated architect who is intrigued about urban studies and sociology. She is an architect by the day and a writer by the night. Her passion towards equity, resilience and sustenance is what flows through the content she writes.

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Rethinking The Future Awards 2022