House of Wisdom Cultural Center, Sharjah

The House of Wisdom in Sharjah

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Following its designation as the 2019’s UNESCO World Book Capital, Sharjah kickstarted a citywide endeavor to live up to its coveted title. The city’s massive undertaking culminated a year later, when a sleek, ultra-modern library was inaugurated along the international airport road. Surrounded by a pair of verdant gardens as well as an oddly-shaped monument, the House of Wisdom provides a glimpse to the libraries of the future, a communal learning center rather than a mere book depository.

Since 2001, the UNESCO organization has been awarding cities with the annual title of the World Book Capital. The third most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, Sharjah was declared the WBC of 2019. As part of the program which aims to encourage reading and literacy, makeshift libraries were erected along the city’s beachfront while at the same time, over 10,000 books in different languages were sold at affordable prices throughout the local community of foreign workers.

 

However, the true centerpiece of Sharjah’s WBC campaign was undoubtedly the construction of a futuristic learning complex which serves a modern alternative to traditional libraries. Commissioned by Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, the ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah, the appropriately named House of Wisdom sits at the city’s eastern outskirts, by the airport road.

 

Inaugurated in 2020, the ultra-modern edifice is first and foremost notable for its 15-meter-wide cantilevered roof, hovering over the entrance. Aside from its striking appearance, the overhang also provides a much-needed respite from the notoriously scorching sun. If it wasn’t enough, a series of aluminum shades along the façade help mitigate the direct sunlight during afternoons.


As the emirate spared no expense on the building’s interior part as well, the airconditioned enclave features myriads of amenities that aren’t naturally associated with libraries. In fact, one can find here an upscale café, a healthy-eating restaurant, a couple of learning corners and lounges, multiple collaborative areas, a women-only zone and as you might expect from a self-proclaimed library, also a book repository where more than 100,000 books are stored, physical and digital alike. The different spaces span across two floors and are all centered around a verdant patio, home to a few seating slabs and pygmy palms.

 

In stark contrast to its desert-surroundings, the library is sandwiched between a pair of gardens, each of which is an eye-catching attraction by its own right. Located south of the House of Wisdom is the knowledge garden, where native species of trees and plants are scattered alongside a rectangular pool, the latter of which is fed by an artificial streamlet of water. To the north of the building lies a wide plaza dominated by the “Scroll” monument. Designed by British artist Gerry Judah, the weirdly-shaped sculpture was inspired by ancient Arabic parchments, the distant ancestor of the nearby digitized books.