In recent years, the landscape of the UAE has witnessed a remarkable transformation in the field of architecture, with dazzling skyscrapers and innovative designs dotting the urban sprawl.
While Dubai and Abu Dhabi have taken the spotlight with their iconic structures, there’s a hidden gem in the heart of the UAE that has quietly been shaping its architectural identity – Sharjah.
Sharjah, the third-largest emirate in the UAE, has undergone a significant architectural evolution, blending tradition with modernity in a unique manner. This transformation has solidified its position as a destination for those seeking an authentic cultural experience amidst a modern urban environment.
To celebrate Sharjah’s architectural prowess, we have unveiled the top seven most uniquely designed buildings in the emirate. These structures are a testament to the creativity and vision of architects who have transformed Sharjah’s skyline.
1. BEEAH Headquarters
Situated within the Al Sajaa desert, this expansive 9,000-square-metre structure was conceptualised in 2013 by the studio’s visionary founder, Zaha Hadid, with the intention of mirroring the undulating contours of the neighbouring desert sand dunes.
Today, it stands as the corporate office for Beeah Group, a company specializing in environmental management, and has been realized by Zaha Hadid Architects following her passing.
Powered by its solar array and equipped with next-generation technologies for operations at LEED Platinum standards, the new BEEAH Headquarters has been designed to achieve net zero and will be the group’s management and administrative centre.
The headquarters is the latest milestone for BEEAH Group as they continue to pioneer innovations in sustainability throughout the UAE. BEEAH Group’s new headquarters demonstrates how technology can scale sustainable impact and ultimately serve as a blueprint for tomorrow’s smart, sustainable cities.
2. Kalba Ice Factory
An abandoned industrial ruin in the southern outskirts of the city, Kalba Ice Factory was built in the 1970s, the brutalist concrete structure, enclosed by the saw-tooth silhouette of a corrugated metal roof, was once a fish feed mill and ice storage facility.
It was acquired by Sharjah Art Foundation in 2015 and used as a venue since Sharjah Biennial 12. The factory was recently retrofitted by Lima-based 51-1 Arquitectos for exhibition purposes as well as temporary residence facilities, a pavilion-style restaurant and a shaded walkway.
The area is next to Kalba Creek (Khor) and the Al Qurm Nature Reserve, a mangrove and wildlife sanctuary, home to rare bird species, sea turtles and mammals. Kalba is an exclave of Sharjah on the Gulf of Oman, flanked by the Emirate of Fujairah in the south and a second Sharjah exclave, Khorfakkan, in the east.
According to the archaeological record, Kalba has been a site of human settlement since 2,500 BCE, its historical layers suggesting early contact with Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the northern Arabian Gulf. Briefly under Portuguese colonial control in the seventeenth century, Kalba was recognised by the British as a sheikhdom in 1937 before it was integrated with Sharjah in 1951.
3. Khor Kalba Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary
Hopkins Architects, a British design studio, has conceived a collection of prefabricated concrete pods as the architectural solution for the Khor Kalba Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary, situated on the eastern coast of Sharjah in the UAE.
Commissioned by Sharjah’s Environmental Protected Areas Authority, this sanctuary and visitor center find their place at the periphery of the Kalba nature reserve.
The primary goal for Hopkins Architects was to create a network of interlinked structures that would be in harmony with the site’s natural surroundings. This location is nestled alongside the Indian Ocean, adjacent to a lagoon, and enveloped by dense mangrove vegetation.
Created as a base for research and monitoring of the reserve and to provide information to visitors, the structure occupies seven interconnected circular pods.
Informed by fisherman’s baskets, the low structures were designed to be unobtrusive within the protected setting.
4. The House of Wisdom
Located on the Sharjah International Airport Road, ten kilometres from the city centre, the two-storey building embodies a sense of clarity and lightness, with a large floating roof cantilevering on all sides of a transparent rectilinear volume.
Its rectilinear form and the distinctive roof that overhangs by 15 metres in all directions are designed by Foster + Partners to complement its desert surroundings. Movable bamboo screens at a low level are deployed by the building users, to provide privacy or to control glare. When not in use the bamboo screens are left open, preserving the visual connections with the landscaped gardens.
While characterising the concrete and steel building, the cantilevered roof also helps shade the library’s large transparent facades from the city’s hot climate.
This works in tandem with fixed aluminium screens that filter the low sun in the evenings and movable bamboo screens inside that occupants can use to control glare.
5. The Flying Saucer
SpaceContinuum Design Studio, based in the UAE, has joined forces with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) to undergo a remarkable transformation of a 1970s restaurant in Sharjah. Originally established in 1978 as a French restaurant and patisserie, the iconic Flying Saucer has undergone a meticulous renovation to emerge as an avant-garde arts centre.
The SAF, known for orchestrating the emirate’s prestigious art biennial and collaborating with the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, has taken the visionary step of repurposing this local landmark.
Having endured a stint as a supermarket in the 1980s and later serving as a chicken restaurant in the 2000s, the Flying Saucer was acquired by the SAF in 2012. The recent transformation involved a careful stripping away of layers to unveil the restaurant’s original and distinctive silhouette.
An attached annex was dismantled, removing its grey and orange aluminum cladding to reveal the remarkable 32-pointed concrete dome, elegantly supported by triangulated and intersecting columns. Internally, false ceilings and partitions were removed, resulting in a spacious, uninterrupted area crowned by the impressive 7.3-meter-high dome. This expansive space is poised to host major art installations, further solidifying its significance as a hub for artistic expression and cultural exploration in Sharjah.
6. Buhais Geology Park Interpretive Centre
Hopkins Architects has successfully completed the Buhais Geology Park Interpretive Centre, situated on what was once a prehistoric sea in the emirate of Sharjah, UAE. This unique visitor center is nestled in the desert, approximately 30 miles southeast of Sharjah city, adjacent to the Jebel Buhais archaeological site within the expansive Al Madam plain.
The building itself draws inspiration directly from the region’s geological history, particularly the fossils of sea urchins found in the area. The primary structure of the centre comprises a group of interconnected circular pods made of reinforced concrete, with their exteriors adorned in bronze-coloured steel cladding.
Visitors are welcomed through a bridge that leads to a reception area, providing access to the primary exhibition halls housed within two of the circular pods. The first pod is enclosed, offering an immersive experience, while the second provides panoramic views of Jebel Buhais.
These interconnected spaces eventually lead to a theatre, featuring a large window that also overlooks the rocky outcrop, further enhancing the visitor experience.
7. Al Faya Lodge and Al Bait Hotel
Developed by Sharjah-based Shurooq, the Al Faya Lodge and the Al Bait Hotel offer hospitality that connects travellers with Sharjah’s rich and layered history.
Al Faya Lodge, an exquisite hotel and saltwater spa nestled amidst the crimson sands of the Maliha desert to the east of Sharjah, has earned nominations in two categories of the awards program: Guestrooms and Renovation, Restoration, and Conversion.
This exceptional hotel represents a remarkable transformation. It was formerly a disused petrol pumping site, where a collection of abandoned structures has been converted into a boutique hotel featuring five luxurious rooms, a saltwater spa, and an outdoor swimming pool.
The renovation was masterfully executed by the London- and Dubai-based architectural firm, Anarchitect. Al Faya Lodge is conveniently situated in proximity to the Jebel Buhais archaeological site, where the recent completion of a visitor centre by Hopkins Architects has added to the cultural and historical significance of the region.
On the other hand, the Al Bait Hotel is a renovation of a group of historic homes situated next to a functioning souk, and is intended to connect travellers with Sharjah’s past.
The primary objective of Al Bait is to offer a genuine glimpse into the way people once lived. Instead of merely converting it into a conventional museum, the aim was to provide guests with the opportunity to actually spend a night in one of its rooms and truly immerse themselves in that historical lifestyle.
The essence of Al Bait lies in transporting visitors on a unique journey, one that can only be fully appreciated by staying at the Al Bait Hotel in Sharjah.