The Shurooq Investment & Development Authority, better known as Shurooq, teamed up with Jordanian architect Wael Al-Masri Planners & Architects and Dubai-based designer Maja Kozel to deliver new offices in the upcoming UAE development Heart of Sharjah. Located in a contemporary, low-rise building that mirrors the traditional vernacular of its surrounding architecture, the recently completed workspace includes various offices grouped on two levels that surround a courtyard.
Relating to the rare historic documentation of the building that was previously located on the plot and demolished in the 1970s, Al-Masri drew inspiration for the architectural design from a 1950s aerial photograph.
“The old aerial photos of the 1950s and 1960s showed the urban fabric that was existing at that time,” said Al-Masri, “which has largely disappeared due to the subsequent demolition of the historic area as part of the [country’s] modernisation. We traced the outlines of the old buildings and identified the surviving ones that are still present and the ones that were reconstructed since 1990, as well as the new buildings that did not follow the original tracing, in order to come up with new comprehensive base plan that reflects the historic layers.”
According to the architect, because the site of the building had undergone many changes since the 1950s, it wasn’t an ideal plot for a single coherent building, but rather a complex of several accommodation blocks with spaces between them.
“We respected the external boundary,” he said, “and accommodated the new requirements within it, while inserting the inner outdoor spaces in the form of two courtyards to reflect the original scheme as much as possible, and kept the two existing trees – a palm tree and a mango tree.”
The inclusion of the courtyard alludes to regional architectural language. As common spatial elements in the UAE as well as in other Arab countries, courtyards were once considered fundamental to local building.
“The design for this office building respects this typology,” said Al-Masri. “It allows the offices to enjoy the inner courtyard spaces and allows for natural filtered light, and for vegetation in the heart of the building. This creates a peaceful working environment, while allowing the extended use of the outdoor spaces to take advantage of the reduced temperature through shading and vegetation.”
The building’s form mostly consists of a modern concrete structure and blockwork, with aluminium glazing. The walls were coloured white to match the surrounding historic buildings, while wooden screens and pergolas were applied, echoing their use in traditional Khaleeji architecture.
One side of the building also uses an artificial material that mimics coral stone, as real coral stone wasn’t available at the time of construction.
The exterior design philosophy was applied to the interiors as well, with concrete and wood continuing the raw feel of the space, contrasted against the use of smooth black metal. Lighting is also a focal part of the design, informed by both functional and aesthetic values, and complete with pendant lights, indirect lighting and wall lighting set against textured, plastered walls.
“The design employs modern materials and technologies to fit contemporary functions and working conditions,” said Al-Masri, “while respecting traditional planning typologies, massing, building scale, finishes and colours.”
He added, “One important issue for this building was to be humble in its presence as much as possible, through its scale and massing, as well as its inward orientation.
“The first floor is set back from the ground floor and the building boundaries to reduce the height impact of the building on its surrounding urban context. It was important during the design process to satisfy all of the functional requirements, while also satisfying the urban and historic perimeters and restrictions to create a building that can be classified as timeless in its presence and character.”
Shurooq’s Heart of Sharjah is penned to be the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region. Planned over a 15 year period, the project is set for completion by 2025, with the aim of revitalising Sharjah’s heritage district as well as its cultural and social fabric.
The project includes restoring historical buildings and creating new structures that follow the emirate’s traditional architecture, to be transformed into hotels, restaurants, cafe’s, art galleries and markets.