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Announcement
July 28, 2021

David Adjaye campus design

The Africa Institute

The Africa Institute, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. © Adjaye Associates.

The Africa Institute in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates—the first center of its kind dedicated to the advanced study, research, and documentation of Africa and the African diaspora located in the Arab world—has commissioned Adjaye Associates to design its new campus in downtown Sharjah. Since its establishment in 2018, The Africa Institute has organized international symposia and conferences, art exhibitions and artist commissions, film and performance series, and public programs. Beginning in 2023, the Institute will welcome its inaugural class of MA and PhD students in the field of African and African diaspora studies and launch certificate programs in African languages, helping shape the next generation of leaders in the field. Resulting from a two-year collaboration to ensure the architecture advances the Institute’s multifaceted mission, the new Sir David Adjaye-designed campus will allow the Institute to significantly expand its programming in all of these areas.

An interdisciplinary academic institute and research center dedicated to the study and documentation of Africa and its diaspora, the development of The Africa Institute is spearheaded by Salah M. Hassan, who was appointed its founding Director in 2018, working in coordination with the Institute’s President Hoor Al Qasimi. Hassan has long been active in Sharjah and the greater Gulf region through his research and curatorial projects, and organization of symposia and conferences. He concurrently holds positions at Cornell University, where he is Director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities and a professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center, as well as in the Department of History of Art and Visual Studies.

Designed by David Adjaye, the architecture creates an enclosed campus with four wings between four and seven stories each. Connected by a series of open-air interior courtyards and punctuated by large overhangs which produce shade and relief from solar heat, the low carbon concrete structure enhances the desert typology which requires a sensitive and contextual response. The open-air courtyards span the first and ground floors are punctuated by water features and native planters which improve air circulation and provide natural cooling. The 31,882-square-meter (343,175-square-foot) campus will include spaces of differing character and scale for classes and seminars as well as a research library and climatized archive facility, flexible auditorium and performance space, a restaurant and café, and a bookstore. Entryways on each of its four façades will welcome the public and connect The Africa Institute with surrounding institutions and public walkways. The Africa Institute is also commissioning artists to create site-specific installations throughout its public spaces, which will be announced at a later date. The campus is scheduled for completion in 2023.

The Africa Institute will provide professional training to future generations of critical thinkers in the field and continue to develop innovative public programming that expands awareness of this critical area of study within the region and around the globe. The Institute has launched an annual country-focused season exploring one African country or diaspora community in depth each academic year, beginning with Ethiopia in 2018–19 and continuing with Ghana in 2021-2022. The Institute’s activities also encompass the teaching of African languages, a publications program, and endowed senior and postdoctoral fellowships, among many other initiatives.

The Africa Institute was first conceived in 1976 as part of the “Symposium on African and Arab Relations” hosted by the Emirate of Sharjah, which convened 45 of the most influential African and Arab scholars of the day for the first international conference to focus on relations between the two regions. The Africa Institute is currently housed in Africa Hall, which was inaugurated with the 1976 conference, and which will be seamlessly integrated into the Adjaye design. The Africa Institute is located in downtown Sharjah at the major crossroads of Government House Square, adjacent to the Sharjah Architecture Triennial headquarters.

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