About the project
When approached by AUS Enterprises, an organisation that connects companies with academic research from the American University of Sharjah, the brief given to design firm Roar was to create a large commercial space on the AUS campus in Sharjah. A one of a kind, Research Technology and Innovation Park. Built by Design Infinity, the complex consists of two large atriums, several leasable offices for startups, incubators, anchor offices for blue-chip tenants, as well as the AUS RTI HQ offices, and spans over 25,000 square metres. The building has a very specific goal – to encourage collaboration between academia and industry in an effort to produce thriving new companies.
The space called for a majority of the area 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, as well as ancillary spaces like meeting rooms, seminar and multipurpose halls, a gymnasium and creche.
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 baked into the core of the building in that it inspires circulation and space planning.
The building has two distinct atriums, each making a dramatic design statement though its own interpretations of the concept. The 18 metre wide domes in each atrium were treated with organic-shaped metal grids at different levels, creating an illusion of movement for the visitor when passing through the space.
Two giant, parametrically designed, stretch fabric clouds, weighing close to a ton, were suspended from an imposing height of 30 metres, and are the standout design feature of the first atrium. The algorithms were inspired by the flowing lines of the falaj system, albeit in an abstract way. Roar worked in close collaboration with the contractors to realise the ideal suspension system with minimal structural and design impact to the clouds.
The second atrium is the green atrium. Again inspired by the falaj narrative, the slab edges were treated with a 3D metal mesh feature with meandering rod forms. Having taken over five months from rigorous design development to installation, this architectural feature is composed of over 11,000 metal rods totalling an overall length of 54,000 metres. Biophilia was introduced via plants and indoor lawns to offer a positive experience for the users.
The design of the leasable offices overlooking the atriums incorporate concrete texture paint and terrazzo flooring to form the base palette, with 3D mesh and warm wood surfaces, and titanium cladding and polished concrete complementing the clouds. While many of the spaces in this building are playful and ‘student friendly’, the RTI HQ offices in contrast represent a bridge to the corporate world with an elegant, mature and sophisticated design language using dark timber surfaces complimented with mesh laminated glass partitions and bronze accents.