Shape Architecture designs a building in Sharjah specifically for an experience-oriented installation
Located near the Sharjah Corniche, between the pedestrian-friendly Al Mujarrah Park and Al Aruba Road, the Rain Room Pavilion, designed in collaboration by Sharjah Art Foundation, SpaceContinuum Design Studio and Shape Architecture Practice + Research, was created specifically for the experience-oriented installation that it houses.
Created by Random International, the Rain Room installation provides an immersive experience of continuous rainfall. As visitors enter the room, they are directed to intuitively navigate the dark underground space in order to protect themselves from the downpour. As visitors walk through the room, which uses 2,500 litres of self-cleaning, recycled water (controlled through a system of networked 3D tracking cameras), their movements trigger motion sensors that pause the rainfall where their movements are detected. The artwork is said to explore humanity’s relationship with each other and with nature.
Set two metres below ground level, the Rain Room is accessed through a lobby. The lead up area to the space is a longitudinal hallway that faces Al Mujarrah Park, which turns into a narrow, enclosed and progressively dark space with a descending ramp that leads to one corner of the large dark room.
Diagonally across, an exit leads to the lobby via a second, partially enclosed ascending ramp and with Al Aruba Road coming gradually into sight.
The building is volumetrically simple and open to its surroundings on three sides. Its fourth side features an exposed concrete wall, while the other translucent glass façades that delimit the pavilion are eight metres high, with the bottom three metres of each consisting of clear glass. According to the architects, two of the exposed grey concrete interior structural walls measure at about two and a half metres away from the glass façades, which forms the hallways and extends to the reception desk and open café service spaces.
Playing with interior and exterior ambiguity, the pavilion was designed to bring the character and materiality of the adjacent urban area into its space. This effect is magnified by the flooring of the rain room lobby and its hallways, which continue the sidewalk’s grey interlock paving, following a diagonal herringbone pattern.
“The building acts as a framework to view the Rain Room installation, hence its intentional simplicity; it acts as an exhibition building that supports a single permanent installation. The architecture’s design focuses on creating a series of threshold spaces that prepare for the visitors’ experience of the permanent installation,” said Abdulla Alshamsi, managing director at Shape. “The building is [also] a reaction to the very classical and ornate buildings typically found in Sharjah. The way the building sits in its context gives the illusion of it hovering above the sidewalk, as the pavement continues seamlessly from the exterior into the interior.”
Alshamsi called the pavilion unique, and noted that the building plan was created in a way to enhance the end-user experience, rather than compete with it.
Characterised by its large spans that were achieved through the use of a post-tension slab and frame system, the building is predominantly made out of reinforced concrete with fair-face finish and a tubular steel structure supporting
the C-channelled glass. It also features large double-glazed glass panels.
“The use of the material in this way is not very common in this part of the world,” said Alshamsi. “Through research and multiple mock-ups, we achieved excellent results given the contractors working on the project are not familiar with executing fair-faced concrete buildings.”
The architects followed a seven-step process that included creating a three by four metre mock-up wall that was cast in two stages to simulate the actual construction and monitor the quality of the joint between the two stages. After plasticiser was added to the concrete mix to increase its workability, the internal surface of the formwork was covered with a special chemical to prevent the concrete from sticking to the wood panels.
“The supervision team worked hard to ensure a proper vibration and consistent speed in pouring the concrete to avoid creating a honeycomb effect,” said Alshamsi. “After the concrete work was finished, we filled the tie rod holes with small cone-shaped cementitious mortar.”
Alshamsi added that Sharjah Art Foundation plans to renovate Al Mujarrah Park, with the Rain Room’s building acting as a pavilion at the south-east end of the project. In the new design, he said, the existing physical boundaries between the building and the park will be removed.
“A city is composed of many architecture layers, referring to different epochs and styles,” he said. “The Rain Room building links to the modern heritage of Sharjah and its 1970s architecture layer. A visitor can see many buildings from this era in the central area of Sharjah and along Al Aruba Street.”
At night, the upper volume of the pavilion glows on three sides, which can be enjoyed from both Al Aruba Street and Al Mujarrah Park.