Adjaye Associates reveals design for Africa Institute campus in Sharjah, UAE

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Adjaye Associates reveals design for Africa Institute campus in Sharjah, UAE

Adjaye Associates has revealed its design for the campus of the Africa Institute, a multifaceted, first-of-its-kind academic and cultural hub dedicated to the study, research, and documentation of Africa and the African diaspora in the Arab world.

Located in the heart of downtown Sharjah, the third-largest city in the United Arab Emirates behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the roughly 343,000-square-foot complex is slated for completion in 2023. This creation of the new campus will allow the Africa Institute, an interdisciplinary academic research organization first conceived in 1976 and formally established in 2018, to expand its already wide range of programming including symposia and conferences, art exhibitions, film, and live performances, public education initiatives, and more. Also in 2023, the Institute will welcome its inaugural class of MA and PhD students in its African and African diaspora studies program, as well as its certificate programs in African languages.

As envisioned by Sir David Adjaye, the Ghanaian-British founder and principal of Adjaye Associates, the enclosed urban campus will be comprised of a quartet of monolithic “low carbon concrete” blocks, each between four and seven stories, linked by a series of soaring, open-air interior courtyards. Large overhangs will generate much-needed shade for these outdoor public spaces while the red-hued concrete structure “enhances the desert typology which requires a sensitive and contextual response,” per a news release presenting Adjaye’s design.

rendering of a dance performance taking place on a stage
A performance space at the Africa Institute’s Sharjah campus. (© Adjaye Associates)

Responding to the stifling climate of the region, the spacious sheltered courtyards at the heart of the campus will, in addition to well-shaded seating areas, include water features and native vegetation to boost circulation and improve air quality. Back inside, the campus is set to include flexible auditorium and performance spaces for events of varying types and sizes, a research library with climatized archives, bookstore, a restaurant and cafe, and more.

Entryways located at each of the building’s four main facades will unite the campus with the surrounding urban landscape. A series of public walkways extending from the campus will link the campus to neighboring institutions and attractions, including large shopping mall, that flank Government House Square in downtown Sharjah. Although not all located at Government House Square, other major cultural, research, and educational institutions within the city/emirate include, among others, the Dr. Sultan Al-Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies, Sharjah Research Academy, Sharjah Performing Arts Academy, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, and the University of Sharjah. An immediate neighbor is the headquarters of the Sharjah Architecture Triennial.

The new Africa Institute campus will also be home to a number of site-specific installations spread throughout the building’s public spaces. The specific commissions will be announced later.

a series of large concrete volumes pictured at dusk
Currently housed at Africa Hall, the Africa Institute campus will assume a commanding presence in the heart of the UAE’s third-largest city. (© Adjaye Associates)

“I am deeply humbled for the opportunity to design The Africa Institute in Sharjah, a project which introduces an entirely new type of thinking and mission into the global academic arena,” said Adjaye in a statement. “I envision the new campus as a springboard for the concretization of the incredible history of Africa, the African diaspora, and the Arab world.”

The Africa Institute is currently housed at Africa Hall, which was completed adjacent to Government House Square as a venue for 1976’s Symposium on African and Arab Relations, an international conference that gave way to the Institute and was the first meeting of its kind to “focus on relations between the two regions.”  (Sharjah is home to a significant African diaspora.) Africa Hall, which was rebuilt in 2018, will not be demolished to make way for the new Africa Institute campus but instead, be “upgraded and seamlessly incorporated into the Adjaye design.” The future site of the Africa Institute adjacent to Africa Hall is currently home to a surface parking lot.

The Africa Institute is currently led by Salah M. Hassan, appointed as the Institute’s founding director in 2018, alongside institute president Hoor Al Qasimi.

rendering of a spacious interior courtyard with a reflecting pool and trees
Water features, gardens, and shade-creating overhangs render the campus’s outdoor spaces tolerable despite the desert heat. (© Adjaye Associates)

“We selected David Adjaye to create the first purpose-built home for this vital institution because of his experience in designing buildings that foster learning, collaboration, and community building,” elaborated Al Qasimi. “We started working together in 2017 so that the vision for The Africa Institute and the building that supports its critical mission would be developed hand-in-hand. David’s ability to create such a beautiful sequence of diverse spaces and welcoming sense of place will make The Africa Institute a nexus for knowledge-building and learning that will serve people in the region and our partners across Africa and around the world for generations to come.”