Submitted by Judy Elkhatib

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

United Arab Emirates Architecture News - Jul 06, 2021 - 13:11   2031 views

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

Sharjah, the third largest and most populous state of the United Arab Emirates, is not comparable to its gaudy neighboring cities in its urban landscape. Human scale walkable streets with mid-rise colorful buildings lead up to a relaxing seaside on the Persian Gulf. However, the cultural fabric of the city is one worth noting. The Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) has launched several international city wide events and gatherings across the many sites they have acquired in Sharjah's tightly knit fabric, including a front line art biennial, the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, and The Rain Room installation amongst many others which have taken place in the city's abandoned buildings repurposed by SAF. 

The Flying Saucer, recently renovated and reopened by SAF in collaboration with UAE-based SpaceContinuum Design Studio, is an alien spaceship-like structure built in 1978 by a mystery architect. Initially constructed to resemble a French-inspired store housing a restaurant, tobacconist, patisserie, delicatessen, and a newsstand, The flying saucer underwent several functional and architectural modifications by its occupants over the years from a pharmacy, to a supermarket, and eventually a fast food restaurant. And despite its many iterations, it remained in the heart of Sharjah and its residents due to its central location among vibrant residential areas. 

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer Roundabout, 1980s. Image © image courtesy of Gerard Reymond. 

In 2012, the site was acquired by the Foundation which began restoring the building to its original design in 2015, and renovating it into an arts center between 2018 and 2020. Noteworthy features of the building which were restored and celebrated by SAF are its open and bright interior space, boasting a fully glazed panoramic view supported by angled V-shaped pillars. Atop these pillars, on an 8 column ring, hovers a 7 meter high circular dome on a star-shaped canopy projecting beyond the glazed façade. The unique combination of these elements, and the building's unusual appearance against the backdrop of Sharjah's city center, draws on the 1960s and 1970s Brutalist architecture of the period, and the space-age influence of western literature and pop culture. 

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

The intervention includes two major additions that complement the building spatially and functionally, lending itself as a community hub. The first addition is The Platform, an elevated podium extending from the Flying Saucer on which the circular structure sits; previously a parking lot. This platform makes room for an outdoor public space hosting performances, outdoor installations, and social events. The second addition is the underground Launch Pad, a community area accessed from a stairwell on the platform. Although it is underground, this space is airy and well lit by the circular Green Crater, a sunken courtyard with green vegetation, and three skylights along the sides of the structure. 

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

This multi-activity space includes a café overlooking the Green Crater, a curated library of publications by the Foundation and other regional institutions, enclosed Pods for meetings and workshops, as well as table stations and seating areas for workshops and socializing. The color palette of the furniture counterpoints the neutral palette of the floors, ceiling and walls. This venue houses the majority of the functions such as film screenings, workshops, performances, poetry nights, and readings; all while keeping the space under the dome clear for large installations and exhibitions. 

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

These dynamic spaces have given new possibilities to the Flying Saucer as a Hub for gathering, learning, and creating, and consequently re-integrating the building into the daily lives of Sharjah residents and restoring its original character. 

Sharjah's Flying Saucer lands again!

The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image © Danko Stjepanovic, courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation

Top image: The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE, 2020. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.

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