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The so called "Flying Saucer" was constructed in the mid-1970s, and modified over the decades to house various businesses, starting as a one-stop-shop restaurant, newsstand, tobacconist, gift shop, patisserie and delicatessen.
In 2012, this architectural landmark, was acquired by the Sharjah Art Foundation, and used as a venue since 2015 (see some exhibitions below). After finishing a major renovation project, which began in 2018 and continued the work started by the Foundation in 2015, the new Flying Saucer was reopened on 26 September 2020.
The renovation, led by SAF and SpaceContinuum Design Studio, helmed by Studio Founder Mona El Mousfy, has restored the original character of the building, removing the added annex and moving all support functions to the underground in order to restore the building to its original silhouette and enhance the open character of the interior gallery space.
This intervention also includes two new additions designed to complement the building spatially and programmatically and support its function as a community hub and resource. The first is an exterior Platform, an open, outdoor public space designed to act as a spatial and programmatic extension of The Flying Saucer, that will host social events, performances and outdoor art installations.
The second major addition is the underground Launch Pad, a community space that houses:
- The ‘Green Crater,’ a sunken circular courtyard filled with lush vegetation and natural light
- A convivial, multi-activity café overlooking the ‘Green Crater’
- An extensive curated library
- Various programmes including film screenings, workshops, performances and readings to be held in the open café or library spaces or in one of several enclosed ‘pods,’ including the ‘Meeting Pod’ designed for smaller convenings; the larger, multipurpose ‘Activation Pod’; or the ‘Craft Pod’ equipped for art workshops and hands-on activities
Together, these dynamic spaces will invigorate the building with a wealth of new programmatic possibilities, not only as an architecturally vibrant exhibition venue but also as a hub for gathering, creating and learning. Reviving the flexibility, centrality and rich socio-cultural history of this iconic building, this new transformation aims to re-integrate The Flying Saucer within the daily lives of Sharjah residents.
Sitting at the intersection of several residential areas near the centre of the city, The Flying Saucer—with its distinctive design as well as spatial and key location in the heart of urban life—has long been inscribed in the collective cultural memory and place identity of Sharjah residents. Constructed in the mid-1970s and opened in 1978, the building’s architecture draws from a combination of space-age and Brutalist influences that permeated the period. Notable elements of its design include a wide circular dome floating above a ring of eight columns, a star-shaped canopy projecting beyond a fully glazed panoramic façade and light and open interior space supported by angled V-shaped pillars.
Initially conceived as a French-inspired store combining a restaurant, newsstand, tobacconist, gift shop, patisserie and delicatessen, The Flying Saucer has undergone a series of functional and design transformations over the past several decades. As the building changed hands—becoming a supermarket and then a fast food restaurant—its architecture was modified through the incorporation of an annex, interior partitions and a false ceiling that hid the concrete dome and ceiling structure from the inside. The peripheral structural pillars were also cladded with silver aluminium panels.
Nowhere Less Now3 [flying saucer], 2020
Site-responsive installation by Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent to mark the reopening of the newly restored The Flying Saucer building, 26 September - 26 December 2020.
1980 - Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates
13 February - 14 May 2016. Exhibition curated by Hoor Al Qasimi for the National Pavilion UAE La Biennale di Venezia at the 56th International Art Exhibition in 2015.
Sharjah Biennial 12, 2015
5 March - 5 June 2015. Various works and interventions by Hassan Khan. Curator: Eungie Joo. Associate Curator: Ryan Inouye
Sharjah Biennial 13, 2017
10 March - 12 June 2017. At this venue, works by Daniele Genadry, Deniz Gül, Mochu, Roy Samaha, Mandy El Sayegh, Massinissa Selmani, Ross Simonini. Curator: Christine Tohmé.
© Text based on information from Sharjah Art Foundation, 2020.
© Photos: Sharjah Art Foundation
Main institution for contemporary arts, organizer of the Biennial and other world class events.
Opening: February 2023. Curator: Hoor Al Qasimi, concept by Okwui Enwezor. Working group: Collaborators of Enwezor.