House of Wisdom, designed by Foster + Partners, seen through the lens of Shoayb Khattab


Architectural photography is one of the most powerful means of narrating architectural works. While hand sketches are definitely attractive to architecture connoisseurs, technical drawings illustrate the details of the structure and renderings make us dream, photography, on the other hand, provides us with a picture of the finished product. We know very well that a photo does not represent reality, but rather reflects the vision of its author. It is precisely this eye that makes the difference in the narrative of architecture.
It is no accident that the prestigious architect The platform includes a photography + video category, which was won by the photographer and director this year Shoayb Khattab who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. Its theme is the House of Wisdom, designed by the Foster + Partner Studio in the city of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
About 30 minutes from Dubai, Sharjah is considered the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. Unsurprisingly, UNESCO named the city the World Book Capital in 2019 when the UAE decided to honor the world of culture with a new House of Books. The house of wisdom: a library inspired by Baghdad’s original House of Wisdom. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad, Iraq was once a center of learning in the Middle Ages. Built primarily as a library around the year 800, it became the home of ancient and modern wisdom during the Islamic Golden Age and preserved important scholarly works from across Europe and the Middle East.
Sir Norman Foster’s work, inaugurated in 2020, is the modern interpretation of a knowledge center to which anyone looking for enrichment can come. This intelligently designed center is a model for future libraries and combines traditional and digital sources of knowledge, interactive learning and modern school education. The various activities gathered under the large floating roof with cantilevered cantilevers of a transparent, straight-line volume that is reminiscent of the New National Gallery designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Berlin – and recently renovated by David Chipperfield – actually appeal to all age groups.
Thanks to his intimate shots, photographer Shoayb Khattab lets us get to know this great architecture and invites us to immerse ourselves in a magical world. The photos illustrate the project in different light scenarios that reflect the appearance of the building at different times of the day. The House of Wisdom is a major project that extends over 12,000 square meters. The facades of the two-story building are shaded for most of the day by the 15-meter-wide overhang of the large iconic roof, while the aluminum brise-soleils are intended to filter the setting sun in the evening hours. Design decisions that not only improve the visual impact of the library, but also its energy efficiency.
Every room, every room and every corner was deliberately designed as rhythmic verses of an eloquent poem and Shoayb Khattab also accompanies us on the discovery of this unique cultural site, which perfectly combines the longstanding Arab tradition with modern architectural elements, even when it comes to sustainability.
The picture portfolio for the House of Wisdom project was chosen by the jury as the winner of one Architizer + 2021 Award in the Photography + Video category, as well as other awards including the Loop Design Award 2021.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Foster + Partners
Location: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Year: 2020
Images: Shoayb Khattab

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