Within a few weeks time, my childhood home has evolved into an institute for the public. My institute is located in the neighbourhood of Al Qasimia in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. It is a place designed for teenagers where they can hang out after school or during the weekend. The building comprises a ground-floor cafe and a first-floor library.
I had lived in Al Qasimia for 18 years, and the neighbourhood had been extremely convenient in terms of the facilities that it provided. We had supermarkets, restaurants, cultural centres, etc. at our doorstep. Growing up, I loved escaping into my own world and enjoyed spending whatever free time I had reading books. The smell of fresh books captivated me in a way that cannot be easily explained. Even when doing schoolwork, I preferred to be alone with my thoughts. Unfortunately, the pandemic has reduced my experience at libraries to just playing library ambience sounds on Youtube and working. Hopefully, things will return to normal soon.
As I learned to use public transportation on my own, I would take a bus to the closest public library, which was quite far to commute to and from on a daily basis. Since most of my friends shared the same interest as me, I felt like it would do good for Al Qasimia to have its own public library, and hence decided to choose this for my institute.
A quick look At Qasimia on Google Earth would prove that there is nothing that really sets it apart from other neighbourhoods. Large buildings and little vegetation are the norm. Comparing Sharjah to the opulent extravagance of Dubai, it appears to be “stuck in 1985,” as a friend once casually remarked. As a result, I tried to breathe life into this greyish neighbourhood with my institute.
When viewed from above, my 6-meter tall institute stands in stark contrast with the neighboring buildings that reach 12 to 25 stories. Three sides of the institute were planted with trees so that people passing by would only see green foliage and bits of the vaults. People might become curious about this, since it gives the feeling of being in an oasis, and they might want to walk through the trees and explore what is inside.
The institute has a plinth on three sides, and you can enter from any of them. The house has a separate entrance from one side, and stairs lead down to the house for family members and close friends. Access to the downward flight of stairs for those entering the institute has been blocked from the inside with the help of jali screens.
Jali screens are extensively used on the facades of my institute. The purpose is to filter the harsh UAE sunlight into softer, more comfortable light. Additionally, the language has continued on the inside, such as in the stair railings and parapets.
Though the elevations do not appear to have any windows, the sections reveal that there are several windows inside and they have just been protected by these jali walls.
Something that surprised me to a great extent was that before I had started this studio and worked on this design, I had never noticed a jali before. I remember one of my friends explaining to me what jalis were and my response was that I had never seen them before. Even though I live in the same place where I have lived for the past 19 years, I see jalis of various kinds as soon as I leave the house. This has also been the case for many other things. I’m wondering how I could possibly have missed that, but at the same time, I’m fascinated by how the brain selects the memories and information it wants to store, and completely ignores the information it deems unworthy.
My final review session was an amazing experience, and listening to the jurors provided me with a lot of different perspectives on my design. I also learned a lot from my peers in their discussions.
I had made a total of three models of just the institute, and putting the three of them side by side I was able to see how my skill improved with each one. Although my last model could be improved in many ways, I was quite pleased with the progress I made. I am filled with happiness after completing each model. It has always excited me to see my design as a physical model in the scale 1:75. I can only imagine how much more joyful and exciting it will be when I actually get to see my designs built in real life and see real people rather than cad blocks experiencing the spaces that I have designed. Surely 75 times greater? Just thinking about it makes me flutter with excitement.