Photo courtesy of Aidia Studio

An award-winning design for modern Arab art in Sharjah

The design of what could become the newest addition to Sharjah’s cultural landscape has won the Tamayouz Excellence Award’s Rifat Chadirji Prize for designs that respond to local challenges and regional architecture. The winner, Mexico City-based Aidia Studio, aims to create a home for the Barjeel Art Foundation’s collection of modern Arab art.

Architects Rolando Rodriguez-Leal and Natalia Wrzask imagined a broad, low structure evocative of a fortress, with consecutive gallery spaces unfolding inside, around a courtyard carved out below street level.

To protect the artwork from the sun, light is filtered by a complex geometric canopy inspired by Emirati weaving techniques and reminiscent of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s iconic roof structure. Before founding their studio, Rodriguez-Leal and Wrzask were part of Ateliers Jean Nouvel’s core team of architects designing the Louvre Abu Dhabi. 

From the courtyard, the canopy contrasts with the museum’s simple forms for the effect of a mashrabiya, a traditional element of Middle Eastern architecture used as a window or spatial partition. Filtering the light that enters while still inviting a breeze, the canopy activates interior walls as the sun “dances across them throughout the day,” say the prize judges.

The Barjeel Art Foundation has an extensive collection of modern and contemporary Arab art sourced from across the Arab world by artists like Hassan Sharif, Simone Fattal, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Walid Raad. It is currently staging a long-term exhibition at the Sharjah Art Museum, which features a selection of key modernist paintings, sculptures and mixed-media artworks. —Troy Douglas Pieper

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