The cultural capital of UAE, Sharjah is the third largest emirate in the country. The city has kept its rich history alive by blending it into every aspect of its contemporary development. Though not as cleverly curated as its famous sister emirate Dubai, Sharjah offers a plethora of sights and experiences for its visitors. A symbol of culture, intellect, and architectural evolution in the UAE, the city is a true patron of fine arts.
Along with a melange of historic and modern buildings, the town planning of the emirate promises an exciting experience for urban planners. Sharjah is called the ‘happiest emirate’. The main reason for this being the convenient location of amenities. All the infrastructures and daily need services are located within walking distance, helping people to avoid long commute times and in turn, increasing their life and satisfaction.
Here is a list of places architects must visit in Sharjah:
1. Russian Orthodox Church
With the beautiful blue domes, gold-gilded cross, and rich symbolism, the Saint Philip Apostle Orthodox Complex is the largest Russian Orthodox Church in the UAE. The Russian-Byzantine architecture of the church is designed on the lines of Saint Petersburg. With an area of 1800 square meters, the church can host up to 3000 worshippers. Along with being a religious center, the church accommodates an educational, cultural, and social center where activities like exhibitions and language courses are offered.
2. House of Wisdom
Designed by Foster+Partners, the building is a Library and Cultural Center. It is situated adjacent to The Scroll, a public art installation, raised to commemorate Sharjah being named the UNESCO World Book Capital of the Year. The state-of-the-art library is a transparent, rectilinear, two-storied building with a large cantilevered roof that shades the facade from the harsh sunlight. The building also uses deployable aluminum screens only in the late afternoons to avoid glare, allowing visual connection to the outsides for the rest of the day.
3. Al Noor Mosque
Most famous of the 600 mosques in Sharjah, the Al Noor Mosque dominates the skyline of the city with its towering minarets and cascading domes. Built in the classic Turkish Ottoman style of architecture, it also has some influences from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. With floral cornices and arched doorways and windows on the exterior, the interior is decorated with intricate arabesque patterns.
4. Wasit Natural Reserve Visitor Center
Originally a wastewater and landfill site, the area was rehabilitated with huge efforts over many years to transform it into what it is today. Home to 350 bird species and a landing site for 30,000 migratory birds, the nature reserve is a haven for bird watchers, researchers, and architects alike. The buildings were designed to have a minimum visual and environmental impact to maintain the integrity of the Nature Reserve.
5. Blue Souk
It is the central market of Sharjah and one of the most impressive landmarks in the city. The two identical, parallel buildings connected by footbridges are characterized by eight barrel vault roofs and twenty wind towers. Though a two-storied, large scale building, its architecture accurately captures the essence of a traditional bazaar.
6. The Buhais Geology Park Interpretive Center
Designed to resemble the fossils of sea urchins, the interconnected pod structure sits on an area of utmost geological and prehistoric importance. The building’s structure and foundation are designed sensitively to minimize the disruption to the site’s fauna, geology, and terrain. The prefabricated concrete structures are clad in steel panels to shade the precast concrete pods and to complement the different hues of the surrounding landscape. The five interconnected pods host many functions like exhibition spaces, immersive theatre, and a cafe.
7. King Faisal Mosque
One of the most iconic structures in Sharjah, King Faisal Mosque embodies the principles of Islamic and Modern Architecture. Unlike other mosques and religious spaces, the building features minimalism to avoid distraction from the main function of a mosque- prayer, and reflection. Designed like a Jenga tower, each level of the building is rotated to create a multi-pointed star pattern.
8. Masrah Al Qasba Theater
This 300 seat auditorium is housed in a four-storied commercial building. The auditorium was refurbished to embody the natural, historical, and cultural spirit of Sharjah. A high elastic fabric membrane, symbolic of traditional building material in the region, is smoothly wrapped around the walls and the ceilings to create desert dunes like undulations. The fabric also serves the purpose of hiding all the technical installations giving the visitors a serene landscape to forget their everyday life and enter a staged narrative.
9. Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization
The museum building is designed on the lines of the London Museum of Natural History. It features traditional Arab-Islamic design elements in its floor plans and ornamentation. The most impressive feature of this landmark building is its imposing central dome with an intricate fresco painted on the inside depicting the night sky and zodiac signs. The state of the art cultural venue is 200-meter long and houses seven galleries, display areas, and a prayer room.
10. Butterfly Aviary
The ornamental shading roof of the building is the main characteristic feature of the whole of Noor island. Designed as a habitation center for more than 200 butterflies, the Aviary also has spaces for contemplation and recreation. The biomorphic outer shell of the structure, designed on the principles of parametric design, is more than just a visual attraction. It helps to control the temperature of the interiors using the chimney effect. The building has won the ‘World Architecture Award’ in metal for the complexity and clever use of structural members.
This building is a modern skyscraper in Sharjah. The 18 storied building features a glass and granite facade. The tower with a protruding triangular core wall and a fiberglass spherical structure on the top is designed to resemble an Islamic minaret. The building houses public spaces, cafes, auditoriums, and offices.
12. Sharjah Art Museum
With an area of 11,000 square meters, the Sharjah Art Museum is the largest art museum in the Arab States. The wind tower architecture of the building seamlessly combines elements from traditional Arabic-Islamic architecture with modern architecture. The building with its 68 halls and arabesque arches makes it a perfect setting for an art museum.
13. Al Mahatta Museum
The museum is housed in the prior Al Mahatta Airport, which was the first airport in the region. With its modern military-style architecture, the building is exemplary of a 20th-century contemporary fortress. The building is the oldest modernist construction in the region, and is built using traditional, local construction techniques and materials.
14. Mleiha Archaeological Centre
The visitor and exhibition center has been designed to be sensitive to its historical and environmental context. The sandstone walls of the building appear to emerge organically from the red sand landscape. The plan of the building revolves around the circular tombstone in a series of concentric walls. Given the purpose of the building, it is designed to minimize the visual and sensorial distractions of the visitors.
15. Sharjah Heritage Area
Known as the ‘Heart of Sharjah’, the area is the house of several souks, old family homes, museums, and heritage buildings constructed in traditional Arabian-Islamic style. The area captures the true essence of the local architectural style of Sharjah. The crown jewel of the area is the Al Hisn Museum, a former fort, which today showcases the history of the region. The other important places in the area are the Calligraphy Museum and the Bait al-Naboodah Museum.