Facilities Management Middle East
WISDOM IN FM
Dara Towhidi, partner at Foster + Partners, reveals how FM played a crucial role during the design stage of Sharjah’s newly opened library House of Wisdom
There is a feeling of immense tranquillity and peace when you enter the newly opened House of Wisdom (HoW) library in Sharjah. Situated near the University City of Sharjah, the newly opened HoW, designed by Foster + Partners, is set on an elevated platform spanning 12,000 square metres and comprises 15 lobbies and halls spread across two storeys offering an immersive space for learning, sharing, creating, and accessing knowledge.
During a brief conversation with a partner architect at Foster + Partners, Dara Towhidi says that facilities management was “one of the many significant factors that came into play during the designing stage of the project so that we could fully develop an iconic library that pioneers in harnessing an environment that integrates people, place and technology”.
He says: “Our mission behind the development and launch of the House of Wisdom was to conceptualise and create
a construct that was founded on the pillars of functionality, comfort, safety, sustainability and efficiency.
“FM’s advanced stage concepts helped establish House of Wisdom as a place where people can work, play, learn and live under safe, comfortable, productive and sustainable environment. Through FM, we factored in a number of steps during the design stage of the project and those included mitigating environmental impact during and after the construction phase, guaranteeing compliance, ensuring safety measures across all facilities, personnel and people, establishing efficient operation measures and concepts, and leveraging technology as solutions for establishing a solid, unique and innovative infrastructure to the House of Wisdom project.”
HoW was built to commemorate the emirate’s yearlong tenure as UNESCO World Book Capital 2019.
Developed by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), HoW offers access to a new way of knowledge exploration with books in varied languages and formats, vast digital resources, a fabrication lab with 3D printers to build prototypes of experimental projects and cutting-edge technology to print and bind books within minutes.
The two-story structure features a large floating roof cantilevering on all sides of a transparent rectilinear volume. The 15-meter-wide overhang shades the façades throughout most of the day, while aluminium screens are designed to filter the low sun in the evenings.
Talking about the aluminium screens, Towhidi says: “We designed the screens to be set in front of the glazing such that there is a gap between the two. This allows access for cleaning and maintenance using a Mobile Elevated Working Platform (MEWP).”
On the sustainability features of the building, Towhidi adds: “The shading strategy is a key part in the sustainability story. One of the first questions we asked ourselves was, how do we maintain good natural light and environment without allowing too much sun and heat into the building? We wanted to do this by passive means where possible, which inspired the idea of the large overhanging roof that shelters the building during the hottest parts of the day. Fixed external screens are used to prevent the sun from entering the building in the mornings and evenings with a final layer of internal BMS-controlled blinds to prevent any glare. At ground level, manually operated bamboo screens allow the occupiers to personally manage light levels to their comfort. The façade and
FM’S ADVANCED STAGE CONCEPTS HELPED ESTABLISH HOUSE OF WISDOM AS A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE CAN WORK, PLAY, LEARN AND LIVE UNDER SAFE, COMFORTABLE, PRODUCTIVE AND SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT.
structure were designed to have a very low thermal mass to allow the building to respond quickly to temperature changes. The large flat roof has been designed to incorporate the potential for photovoltaic panels to be installed in the future.
“We also wanted to extend time during the year when we could keep the building cool using only natural ventilation. We visited the historic centre of Sharjah and saw how some spaces around the small, shaded courtyards there remained open even as the temperatures rose. Shade and ventilation were crucial to our strategy at the House of Wisdom, where the central courtyard is open to the sky and the perimeter doors open, drawing air through the courtyard to cool the entire building.”
The building has been designed in accordance to the Sharjah Fire & Life Safety codes with sprinklers throughout and advanced fire suppression systems in critical areas of the building such as the server and specialist equipment rooms.
The landscape surrounding House of Wisdom is divided into two sections: The South Garden hosts the Japanese garden, as well as a children’s playground while The North Garden includes a reflective pool with fountains, a cactus garden and The Scroll Monument.
The monument was designed by the UK artist, Gerry Judah, and is a contemporary interpretation of the ancient Arabic scrolls as a single, spiraling sculpture that loops towards the sky. Using a form of geometry called ‘developable surface’, the curved shell was created from rolled steel plates, cut by lasers guided by computer control, welded together and painted with multiple layers to protect the steel from sandstorms and weather erosion.
The library will be home to 305,000 books, of which 200,000 are in the digital format and 11,000 comprising books in varied languages. The library also includes lecture halls, reading lounges, exhibition spaces, a dedicated children’s educational area, a central courtyard, a café, a restaurant, and outdoor gardens.