Al Noor Island is an oasis of calmness and tranquillity among the sea of high-rise buildings. It is the answer to the global challenge of creating fundamentally new urban spaces. The result is a 21st-century landscape garden on Al Noor Island, where technology meets nature, art meets landscape, and modernity meets tradition in a complex space.
In the middle of Khalid Lagoon, the 2.4-hectare “island of light” has become a platform where residents and guests can interact with the city on an intellectual, emotional and physical level. Initiated by architect André Heller, the pavilion project was commissioned by the local government development authority, Shurooq (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority) which gave architects, designers, and artists complete freedom of ideas. Here architecture, design, flora, sound and graphics intersect, creating a new space that fully engages the audience, making them part of the overall experience. A former abandoned field in the city centre has been turned into a unique area.
Al Noor Island has become an independent and significant art object in the Persian Gulf region.
AL NOOR ISLAND ARCHITECTURE
Until recently, Al Noor Island could only be reached by boat. However, now there is a nearly 100-meter seamless fibreglass bridge with an aluminium balustrade. It is not just an engineering structure connecting two points, but a transition zone that embodies the idea of the island – contemplation. From the entrance, with its protruding roof for shadow, visitors walk along a winding bridge that gradually slows down their movement, creating an ever-changing view of the city, lagoon and island. The bridge offers a breath-taking view of the city’s skyscrapers and the bay.
The island is almost completely covered with greenery. It is divided into several zones, on each of which plants that are unusual for the UAE , such as olive trees, and plants that are traditional, such as palms and cacti, are grown. Sculptures and art objects are installed around the island. This landscape park is united by several themed pavilions and structures designed by the 3deluxe German design studio.
Here, the architectural structures form the whole appearance of the island.
The Butterfly House Pavilion with its golden shining roof is one of the most popular places, the first design object on the landscape island and its unconditional architectural centre. The impressive steel structure of the organic butterfly house is covered in thousands of star-shaped metallic flowers that cast ornamental patterns with shadows on the inside of the glass pavilion as sunlight shines through.
The Pavilion’s collection of butterflies has over 500 species of these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
The steel curtain shines beautifully in sunlight and is dramatically illuminated at night, creating an ever-changing play of light and shadow. Its ergonomic design and curved roof, the carvings of which echo the traditional Arabic patterns, serve to regulate the climate by allowing hot air to escape from the building, while the water surfaces help to maintain moisture.
Three interconnected free-form sections balance each other and give the structure stability. The structure rests on just nine points and three pillars, which look like tilted tree trunks with a fork at the top. The LEDs integrated into the roof units give the building a certain theatricality due to lighting in the evening, the lighting scenarios of which can be pre-programmed.
Inside the pavilion, designed by 3deluxe, the microclimate of high humidity and a constant a temperature of +26°C is constantly maintained, optimal for butterflies. Tropical vegetation on the floor and walls of the pavilion recreates a part of the jungle. The flowerbeds are decorated with thermoformed mineral material, Krion, with a 3D pattern imitating the roof pattern. The paths are made of wood and are clearly separated from the greenery.
A separate difficult task, successfully solved by the authors of the project, was developing a special technique for a glossy gold decorative roof covering that would withstand a challenging climate: salty air, high temperatures, intense UV radiation and sandstorms. Light and colour are of particular importance in Arab culture. Therefore, great attention has been paid to harmonizing the different shades of gold and the lustre of different materials, thus creating a coherent whole.
The Butterfly House was awarded the WAN Metal in Architecture Award 2016 for its unique design and innovative use of metal. And in the same year was honoured at the Iconic Awards 2016, one of the most significant independent international awards in architecture and design, in the category “Best Architectural Project”. Also in 2016, the project was awarded the Arabian Property Awards and became a finalist in the WAF 2016 Awards. In 2017, it received the German Design Award and the A Design Award.
The Literary Pavilion on Al Noor Island is a place where writers and literature lovers find peace in the bustling city life to immerse themselves in literature, poetry and everything related to the written word. In January, the International Festival of Storytellers, at which one can hear tales, fables and myths in Arabic and English, is held here.
Music, a fountain, and design solutions in the design of recreation areas create an open platform for exchanging ideas and literary expressions and for holding thematic events. The pavilion is dedicated to His Highness Sheikh Doctor Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi – Emir of Sharjah, a prominent modern Arab figure of science and education, historian, and author of many scientific works and several literary works, including plays.
As in the Butterfly House Pavilion, great attention was paid to surface finishes and preference was given for innovative materials.
As a result, in this space, all floor surfaces, seats, vertical and horizontal coverings, curtain walls, ceilings and fountains are covered with Krion Porcelanosa and showcase all its properties and viability in the best possible way in any environment – from the sun to water.
The Literary Pavilion is an open structure with small terraces that can accommodate about 40 visitors without climate control. It resembles a stylized Bedouin tent where people can sit on the floor. The textiles for pillows and carpets, placed on all surfaces for the convenience of visitors, were woven in Germany. Also, there are bookshelves and a projection screen.
In the evenings, tiny lights light up on the carved ceiling. They flash like abstract stars and create a new atmosphere and experience for visitors.
The Butterfly and Poetry Pavilions have been designed to complement each other. The large pavilion focuses entirely on the physical and tactile world, while the smaller pavilion is a place for outdoor meditation and relaxation.
ARTS, SCULPTURE AND INSTALLATIONS ON THE AL NOOR ISLAND
Creativity finds its place on the island in commissioned art installations and sculptures. Renowned artists and sculptors have created impressive art objects that seamlessly integrate with the natural space of the island.
Each carefully selected art object and installation interacts with the island’s environment through its reflection, light, movement or concept.
Torus by David Harber
The laconic art object Torus challenges your visual perception with an illusory play of light and reflections. This shiny sculpture, polished to a mirror shine, reflects the surrounding nature, completely dissolving in it. In his work, the sculptor seeks balance and interaction between diametrically different concepts and matters: between mass and light, solid and ephemeral, real and illusory.
The author himself noted in one of the interviews: “I always try to create presence and illusion so that a monumental material object – be it a work of stone, brass or steel, seemed like a mirage and at the same time could just suddenly disappear”. Torus is specially designed to blend in with the environment, reflecting it and changing with the ambient light.
OVO Installation by ACT Lighting Design (lighting and scenography) and Odeaubois (sculpture)
This object is popular in major cities around the world, such as Beijing, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and many more, and has found a great response in the UAE. The egg-shaped OVO installation combines various materials: wood, LED lighting and water to create a strong visual image, as well as offer the viewer an interaction with the art object: to feel the experience of life in the heart of a glowing egg, a symbol of birth, unity and perfection.
OVO art object is global and multisensory to which light has been added as an independent element of general action, as well as visual and acoustic animation. Visitors are invited to walk on water to get inside and interact with the art object. The water surface reflects the structure, the lighting, as well as the silhouettes of the visitors, who enliven the surface while walking. When viewed from the inside, the feeling of force pulling towards the sky emphasizes the dynamics of the structure’s forms.
Columns by Susanne Schmogner
Suzanne Schmogner, an Austrian theatre artist, known for her varied and full of movement and colour works, has created 30 colourful columns for the island, which rise in different parts of the island, complementing the landscape of the entire complex. Thin, tall, eye-catching columns, reaching almost 5 meters, are grouped together like growing trees and represent progress and stability in the surrounding atmosphere.
Steel sculpture by Edgar Tezak
This openwork decorative sculpture by Austrian artist Edgar Tezak has an interesting concept of eternal incompleteness and constant creation. The artist’s idea is that the ornamental metal sculpture interacts with the island’s natural environment, gradually becoming covered with rust, which gives the piece a unique touch and makes nature a co-author.
Tezak’s sculpture looks like part of the architectural decor made of punched metal, which has been present in the history of art in almost all countries at different times, from small household items to decorative pieces of architecture. This work partly personifies the connection between times, countries and cultures.
Installation by Monica Gilsing
Twenty bright flags called Images of the Wind embody the harmony and freedom of the island’s nature. Artist Monica Gilsing creates her work from the centre of the moment, the “instant moment”. Her installations are worlds in which the observer can reflect oneself.
Minerals and rocks have also been installed on the island, becoming a place of attraction for visitors. Several unique stones act as a kind of guardian of the island: rock crystal, amethyst and petrified wood located in the northern part.
Rock crystal, once called the Arab Diamond in Europe, was found in 1995 in Brazilian Minas Gerais and is about 300 million years old. The amethyst comes from the world’s largest amethyst mine at the Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
As unique natural phenomena that embody natural power and strength, they have found their place in the landscape of the island.
The Swing is one of the most poetic objects on the island. It is an art installation born of the culture and heritage of the Emirates. It reflects the historical theme of the pearl harvesting season, when women stood on the shore, awaiting the safe return of their husbands from the sea.
Crafted from seven abstract elements in rusty steel and stainless steel, with carved ghaf and palm tree leaves, The Swing is a breath-taking installation that reflects the UAE’s past and present.
The Swing offers a magnificent panoramic view of the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates.
As conceived by the author, Azza Al Qubaisi, the installation will allow locals and expats to become more familiar with the UAE heritage and, replacing the exciting expectation with calm contemplation, appreciate the impressive success achieved over the past few decades.
The island’s lush landscape, home to over 70,000 trees and plants, offers the perfect view of nature and complements its architecture with design and variety. Among a carefully selected mix of native plants and endangered varieties from around the world, one will find an ancient Spanish olive tree, tall cacti, medicinal plants, ornamental grasses and much more.
In the Maze garden, one can get lost in a pattern of leaves, flowers and trees. The goal is to find the centre of the mysterious labyrinth or simply to enjoy communing with nature.
In the evenings, the island’s diverse landscape is lit up by thousands of colour-changing fibreglass lights. LEDs accentuate trees and cast colourful shadows.
Lighting is at the heart of the island’s design and atmosphere. Art installations, architecture and landscape turn into light installations of varying intensity and colour depending on the time of day. At night, the entire park is transformed by hundreds of thousands of light bulbs, entirely changing its artistic image.
Since its opening in December 2015, Al Noor Island has received numerous prestigious international awards. The island was named the Best Architecture for Vacation in Africa and Arabia in 2016 by the International Property Awards and was also honoured with the IF Design Award 2017 and the German Design Award 2018.
Aesthetic and artistic values, advanced architecture and new technologies fully interacting with humans – this is the direction in which the Middle East sees its development. Al Noor Island has fully embodied this idea in itself. It is a place where nature, architecture, art and technology meet in perfect harmony. As every viewer can see, they are not antagonists but, on the contrary, they have created a unique place by joining together.
All a person needs to do is find his or her place in this space.
© Julia Smolenkova