Drawing inspiration from the ancient falaj irrigation systems that allowed people to grow crops and sustain themselves, Dubai-based interior design firm Roar has designed a one-of-a-kind research and technology centre in Sharjah, UAE, that will empower the entrepreneurs and technocrats of tomorrow to propel themselves through academic research.
The new Research Technology and Innovation (RTI) Park at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), which was completed at the end of last year, consists of two large and distinctive atriums, several leasable offices for startups, incubators, anchor offices for blue-chip tenants as well as the offices of the AUS RTI headquarters.
The 25,000-sq-m building had a very specific goal – to encourage collaboration between academia and industry to produce thriving new companies. The majority of the area was required to be dedicated to co-working spaces for AUS students and faculty working on entrepreneurial ideas which included maker-spaces, exhibition spaces and an auditorium, along with ancillary spaces like meeting rooms, seminar and multipurpose halls, gymnasium and creche.
The hub has been designed for those seeking an engaging and inspiring space to work, interact and learn – one that encourages dialogue and innovation, says Pallavi Dean, Founder and Creative Director at Roar.
The brief given to the firm by AUS Enterprises – an organisation that connects companies with academic research from the American University of Sharjah – was to create a large commercial space on the AUS campus in Sharjah which will serve as a unique research and innovation park.
“The design narrative was inspired by the falaj irrigation system, which was used in Sharjah 5,000 years ago by Bronze Age settlers. The falaj system gave life to communities, allowing them to grow crops in the desert. The principle – applying a ground-breaking technology to solve real-world problems – was the central mission of AUS Enterprises. The interior design brings this story to life in multiple ways. It is instilled into the core of the building in that it inspires the circulation and space planning,” Dean explains.
Each of the two atriums of the building make a dramatic design statement through its own interpretations of the concept. The 18-m-wide domes in each atrium were treated with organic-shaped metal grids at different levels echoing the water channels of old, while creating an illusion of movement for the visitor when passing through the space, she says.
“A striking feature of the first atrium are two giant parametrically-designed, stretch fabric clouds, suspended from an imposing height of 30 m. The algorithms were inspired by the flowing lines of the falaj system, albeit in an abstract way,” Dean explains.
As each fabric cloud weighs close to a ton, Roar worked in close collaboration with the contractors to realise the ideal suspension system with minimal structural and design impact to the clouds, she points out.
The second atrium is the “green” atrium. In line with the falaj narrative, the slab edges were treated with a 3D metal mesh feature with meandering rod forms. This architectural feature – which took five months to create from rigorous design development to installation – comprises 11,000 metal rods with an overall total length of 54,000 m, according to Dean.
The atrium is anchored by two tall olive trees and is interspersed with plants and indoor lawns to positively impact the experience of people using the space.
Meanwhile, the leasable offices overlooking the atriums have also been treated distinctively. For example, textured paint and terrazzo flooring are the ideal foil for the 3D mesh and warm wood surfaces, while titanium cladding with polished concrete complement the clouds.
While many of the spaces in the AUS RTI building are playful and ‘student-friendly’, the RTI headquarters offices can be clearly recognised as a bridge to the corporate world – through the elegant, mature and sophisticated design language combining dark timber surfaces with mesh laminated glass partitions and bronze accents.
The interior décor contractor was Design Infinity, while the furniture was sourced from Al Shaya Enterprises.