House of Wisdom designed by Foster+Partners seen through Shoayb Khattab’s lens

Foster + Partners,

Shoayb Khattab,

Sharjah, UAE,



House of Wisdom, the large library designed by the Foster + Partners studio - and recalling Mies van der Rohe’s style - in Sharjah, Dubai, was the subject of the photographic project by director and photographer Shoayb Khattab, winning the prestigious Architizer+ 2021 award in the Photography + Video category.

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House of Wisdom designed by Foster+Partners seen through Shoayb Khattab’s lens
Architectural photography is one of the most powerful means for narrating architectural works. While hand sketches certainly have their charm for those who know architecture, technical drawings illustrate the details of the structure and renderings make us dream, photography, on the other hand, provides us with a visual of the finished product. We know perfectly well that a photograph does not represent reality, but reflects the vision of its author. It is precisely this eye that makes the difference in the narrative of architecture.
It is no coincidence that the prestigious Architizer platform includes a Photography + Video category, which this year was won by photographer and director Shoayb Khattab who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. His subject is the House of Wisdom designed by the Foster + Partners studio in the city of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates.
Located about 30 minutes from Dubai, Sharjah is considered the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. Not surprisingly, in 2019, UNESCO designated the city the World Book Capital, when the UAE decided to honour the world of culture with a new house of books, The House of Wisdom: a library that draws inspiration from Baghdad’s original House of Wisdom. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad, in Iraq, was once a centre of learning in the medieval world. Built around the year 800 primarily as a library, during the Islamic Golden Age it would become the home of ancient and modern wisdom, preserving important works of scholarship from all over Europe and the Middle East.
Sir Norman Foster’s work, inaugurated in 2020, is the modern interpretation of a centre of knowledge, where everyone can come in search of enrichment. This intelligently designed centre is a model for future libraries, blending traditional and digital sources of knowledge, interactive learning and contemporary schooling. The different activities assembled under the large floating roof, with cantilevering on all sides of a transparent rectilinear volume reminiscent of the Neue Nationalgalerie designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Berlin – and recently renovated by David Chipperfield – indeed appeal to all ages.
Thanks to his intimate shots, photographer Shoayb Khattab allows us to get to know this large architecture, inviting us to step into a magical world. The photos illustrate the project in different light scenarios, reflecting how the building appears at various times of the day. The House of Wisdom is a large project that extends over 12,000 square metres of space. The façades of the two-story structure are shaded for most of the day by the 15-metre-wide overhang of the large iconic roof, while the aluminium brise-soleils are designed to filter the setting sun in the evenings. Design choices that not only enhance the visual impact of the library, but also its energy efficiency.
Every room, every space and every corner has been purposefully designed as rhythmic verses of an eloquent poem and, likewise, Shoayb Khattab accompanies us to discover this unique place of culture that perfectly blends the longstanding Arabian tradition with modern architectural elements, including when it comes to sustainability.
The portfolio of images for the House of Wisdom project has been selected by the jury as the winner of an Architizer+ 2021 award in the Photography + Video category, as well as being shortlisted for other awards including the 2021 Loop Design Award.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Foster+Partners
Location: Sharjah, UAE
Year: 2020
Images: Shoayb Khattab