David Adjaye Designs Low Carbon Structure in Sharjah

The African Institute in Sharjah, the first centre of its kind dedicated to the advanced study, research, and documentation of Africa and the African diaspora located in the Arab world commissioned Adjaye Associates to design its new campus in downtown Sharjah.

Since its establishment in 2018, The Africa Institute, an interdisciplinary academic institute and research centre dedicated to the study and documentation of Africa and its diaspora has organised international symposia and conferences, art exhibitions and artist commissions, film and performance series, and public programmes. The new Sir David Adjaye-designed campus has been imagined as a low energy structure with a pink-stoned facade and courtyards in between towers creating spaces for interaction.

When it opens in 2023, this campus will welcome its inaugural class of M.A. and PhD students in the field of African and African diaspora studies and also launch certificate programmes in African languages thus expanding its programme helping shape the next generation of leaders in the field.

Designed by David Adjaye, the architecture creates an enclosed campus with four wings between four and seven stories each. Connected by a series of open-air interior courtyards and punctuated by large overhangs which produce shade and relief from solar heat, the low carbon concrete structure enhances the desert typology which requires a sensitive and contextual response. The open-air courtyards that span the first and ground floors are punctuated by water features and native planters which improve air circulation and provide natural cooling. The 31,882-square-meter (343,175-square-foot) campus will include spaces of differing character and scale for classes and seminars as well as a research library and climatized archive facility, flexible auditorium and performance space, a restaurant and café, and a bookstore. Entryways on each of its four façades will welcome the public and connect The Africa Institute with surrounding institutions and public walkways. The Africa Institute will also commission artists to create site-specific installations throughout the public spaces of its new building, which will be announced at a later date. The campus building is scheduled for completion in 2023.

“The Africa Institute is uniquely positioned to illuminate African and Gulf ties and to expand understanding of African and African diaspora studies as a global enterprise,” stated Salah M. Hassan The Africa Institute Director. “Our mission is to generate and infuse fresh thinking into an existing body of scholarship that largely conceives of the Gulf and Africa as separate entities. In doing so, the Institute will shed light on important yet overlooked historical linkages that shaped the past and influence present events, including forced and voluntary migratory patterns, market-based economic fluctuations, and local and global political changes.”

“We selected David Adjaye to create the first purpose-built home for this vital institution because of his experience in designing buildings that foster learning, collaboration, and community building,” stated Hoor Al Qasimi, President, The Africa Institute. “We started working together in 2017 so that the vision for The Africa Institute and the building that supports its critical mission would be developed hand-in-hand. David’s ability to create such a beautiful sequence of diverse spaces and welcoming sense of place will make The Africa Institute a nexus for knowledge-building and learning that will serve people in the region and our partners across Africa and around the world for generations to come.”

“I am deeply humbled for the opportunity to design The Africa Institute in Sharjah, a project which introduces an entirely new type of thinking and mission into the global academic arena,” said Adjaye Associates Founder and Principal David Adjaye. “I envision the new campus as a springboard for the concretisation of the incredible history of Africa, the African diaspora, and the Arab world.”

The Africa Institute will provide professional training to future generations of critical thinkers in African and African diaspora studies and continue to develop innovative public programming that expands awareness of this critical field within the region and around the globe. The Institute has already launched an annual country-focused season exploring one African country or diaspora community in depth each academic year, beginning with Ethiopia in 2018-19 and continuing with Ghana in 2021-2022. The Institute’s activities also encompass the teaching of African languages, a publications program, and endowed senior and postdoctoral fellowships, among many other initiatives.

The Africa Institute was first conceived in 1976 as part of the “Symposium on African and Arab Relations” hosted by the Emirate of Sharjah, which convened forty-five of the most influential and forward-thinking African and Arab scholars of the day for the first international conference to focus on relations between the two regions. The Africa Institute is currently housed in Africa Hall, which was inaugurated as part of the 1976 conference, and which will be upgraded and seamlessly integrated into the Adjaye design.

The Africa Institute is located in downtown Sharjah at the major crossroads of Government House Square, adjacent to the Sharjah Architecture Triennial headquarters. It joins other educational, cultural, and research institutions in Sharjah, including the Dr. Sultan Al-Qasimi Centre for Gulf Studies, Sharjah Research Academy, Sharjah Performing Arts Academy, Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, Sharjah Art Foundation, University of Sharjah, and the American University of Sharjah, among others.

All Images Courtesy Adjaye Associates.