The five multi-functional SAF Art Spaces in Al Mureijah, Heritage Area, have been inaugurated in March 2013, being used as venues of the Sharjah Biennial 11.

Sharjah Art Foundation’s new spaces are located in the Heart of Sharjah, a central area that is regarded as a distinct urban representation of Sharjah’s built environment cultural identity. SAF Art Spaces is an urban development project with an adaptive re-use approach. The buildings dialogue with both the existing physicality of the urban fragment as well as its history and past use in order to reactivate the area and invigorate the reception of contemporary art, which is befitting within the culturally rich, multi-layered urban context.

The project offers five exhibition buildings, which provide a range of interiors to experience art along with a variety of exterior spaces including courtyards, alleyways, open squares and an inter-connected roofscape. Without being spatially nor programmatically overly determined, each exhibition building has a pronounced spatial quality, scale, and lighting characteristic, producing a spectrum of more contextualised or more abstracted frameworks for exhibiting and perceiving art. In response to the urban context and courtyard typology, the design subtly transforms introverted spaces that in the past supported private residential life around the courtyard into more fluid spaces that make provision for a communal social and spatial experience around contemporary art.

On a conceptual level and in an attempt to retain the place’s historic footprint, the project reinterprets pre-existing or documented architectural traces within the plot and readapts historic architectural elements and materiality to new uses and conditions. The intention is to balance the creation of open, and fluid contemporary spaces with a celebration of unique traditional urban characteristics. The revived traditional aspects of the architecture include thick peripheral walls, meandering alleys and reintegrated rooftops, which were once inhabited outdoor residential spaces. The roof becomes an extension of the urban space providing not only plunging views into alleys, courtyards, and exhibition spaces to intensify the perception of artwork but also provides views across urban layers, with limited vistas of the Creek and Gulf beyond.

Artwork is to be encountered in exterior spaces against a reading of the immediate site, the surrounding landmarks and furthermore the extended site with its historical layers. The result is an integrated experience that transforms and contextualises readings of both artwork and site.

Sharjah Art Foundation Design Team:

Mona El-Mousfy,
Senior Architect, Sharjah Art Foundation Architecture Consultant and Client Representative

Hassan Ali Al Jidah,
Sharjah Art Foundation Operations Director and Technical Client Representative

Sharmeen Syed,
Sharjah Art Foundation Architect and Researcher

Goodwin Austen Johnson
Architecture and Engineering Consultant

Text: SAF Design Team
© Sharjah Art Foundation
© Photos: Haupt & Binder and Sharjah Art Foundation

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