Sharjah’s Brutalist “Flying Saucer” gets a restoration and site-specific art show

Up, Up, and Away

Sharjah’s Brutalist “Flying Saucer” gets a restoration and site-specific art show

A historic panoramic, extraterrestrial all-in-one venue in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, known as the “Flying Saucer,” has been renovated and repurposed by the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) and will soon reopen to the public as a venue for displaying SAF exhibitions.

The concrete pavilion, originally opened in 1978 as an all-in-one style shop and restaurant in downtown Sharjah. A ring of V-shaped columns supports the outer edge of the building alongside full-height glazing, while an internal band of eight columns holds up the structure’s center. Two layers of alternating concrete petals make up the roof, centered around a 23-foot-tall concrete dome, lending the building its so-called flying saucer look. In later years, an incongruous annex was added to the Flying Saucer, its exterior columns were clad in reflective aluminum, and a drop ceiling and partitions were installed to divide up the interior space.

The SAF acquired the building in 2012, and for the 2015 Venice Biennale, stripped the saucer back down to its concrete and removed the partitions to stage 1980-Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates. For the second round of renovations, started by the SAF and the UAE-based Space Continuum Design Studio in 2018, the annex was demolished and its administrative functions were consolidated underneath the building. A new concrete plaza, dubbed the “Platform” was added and will be used as a public gathering place and to stage outdoor exhibitions. Underground, a new venue called the “Launchpad” (keeping with the space theme) holds a library, programmatic spaces, and offices, the “Green Crater,” a subterranean planted courtyard, and a multipurpose cafe positioned over said crater.

Interior of a concrete gallery supported by eight columns
At the heart of the Flying Saucer, where the dome apexes to 23 feet. (Danko Stjepanovic/Courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation)

With the Flying Saucer itself restored to gallery status (the panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of natural light and provide views of the city from every position, now that the space has been emptied), it will now be used to stage an exhibition about the building itself.

Beginning on September 26, the multimedia show Nowhere Less Now3 [flying saucer] from artists Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent will use “the architectural elements of The Flying Saucer to narrate an alien’s landing on Earth and subsequent attempts at understanding human patterns through geometry, gestures and movements,” according to a press release from the SAF. This installation is the third iteration of Nowhere Less Now. In the next few months, the SAF will put out materials for self-guided architectural tours so that visitors can learn about the heritage of the Flying Saucer and its subsequent transformations.

“The Flying Saucer has been beloved by generations of Sharjah residents since its opening in the late 1970s. It was important that we not only preserve its characteristic structure but also restore it for our community as a space for convening, learning and creating,” said Hoor Al Qasimi, director of the SAF in a press release. “While preserving the original building’s distinctive qualities, the project also adds a new layer of vibrancy to the space and allows us to better engage with communities across the emirate—an ethos that guides all of the Foundation’s architectural and historic preservation work. We are thrilled to reopen The Flying Saucer with Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent’s new multimedia installation that will activate the space and respond to its architecture.”

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