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Gate House + Garden


Collaboration with William Sarnecky 

Sharjah, UAE


Project Credits

Client: College of Architecture, Art & Design, American University of Sharjah


Design+Build Team: William Sarnecky, Michael Hughes, AIA


Asmaa Abu Assaf, Yolla Ali,Khaled Abushahla, Nada Almulla, Lien Arwani, Sarah Awada, Judy Elkhatib, Nouran Elrashidy, Sawsan Ali, Shahad Kashmiri, Mari Nasif, Heba Saleh, Nouran Sharafeldin, Asil Zureigat,Toka Elmenawy, Omar Alsaleh, Omar Eddin, Mohamed Alrekhaimi, Rashid Alsuwaidi, Mohamad Samara, Eman Shafiq, Jad Moura, Saad Boujane


Structural Engineer: Andy Paddock

Collaborators + Donors:  Dubai Metal Industries, Habitus, Gibca, Ltd, Fagerhult Lighting, Fast Construction, AUS Facilities Management, University City Support Services (Landscaping), Qaisoon, Voltec, 

Photography:  Juan Roldan


Honor Award, AIA Middle East, 2019

ACSA Design-Build Award, 2020

Silver Design Award, A'Award (Archdaily)

Finalist, The Plan Award

Finalist, A+ Award (Architizer

Longlist (small building), Dezeen Awards

Situated in a context characterized by high temperatures and extreme humidity throughout the summer, the project relies on lessons from regional vernacular architecture to mitigate solar gain through passive cooling strategies. The Gate House and Garden replaced a one square-meter booth that was placed some distance from the entry gate, requiring security personnel to remain outside for the majority of their shift. The new installation incorporates an exterior parasol inspired by local mashrabiya to mitigate solar gain on the interior air-conditioned booth while simultaneously creating a pair of shaded exterior living spaces. Composed of steel bar-grate the parasol shades an observation porch adjacent to the gate checkpoint on the north side while allowing for cross-ventilation and visual access. A second, larger, shaded garden space under the south portion of the bar grate exoskeleton provides respite and drinking water for the often under-appreciated members of the campus community, including the guards and landscape workers who toil long hours outside in difficult conditions.


The inherent visual permeability of the bar-grate mashrabiya, balances the dual role of the security guard to see and to be seen while the etymology of the word contributes to the expanded program. Commonly understood as an architectural screen associated with privacy and shadows, the term mashrabiyaderives from the original Arabic word mashrab, meaning a place to drink water. This project re-links the two manifestations of the word, the shade-giving screen and the earlier poetic reference to a shared drinking space, creating shaded space for gathering and refreshment. 


Laminated glass roof panels fitted with a tinted, sun-filtering interlayer provide additional shading and are designed to be replaced with solar panels when the local electrical grid is upgraded to support net metering and storage of excess solar power. 


Standards + Deviations:

Within the standard, mass-produced bar-grate exterior a series of custom ‘deviations’ address specific pragmatic and programmatic requirements such as signage, seating and increased visual access for the guard. Conceived through parametric computational studies these localized modifications leverage CNC-plasma cutting technology combined with traditional, analog craftsmanship in steel assembly to readily pair mass production with localized customization. A similar set of deviations animate the wood booth to accommodate and integrate the desk, drawer, water fountain and HVAC duct while a third set of deviations including a ripple in the flooring formally link the wood booth and bar-grate parasol/exoskeleton.


Assembly Process:

The monolithic, solid wood structure combines enclosure, insulation and weather protection in a single system that also accommodates the sculpting of complex curvatures on the interior and exterior. The complexly-curved surfaces result from a normative serial section lamination approach of simple contour cuts combined with localized surface milling where necessary to minimize the amount of surface sanding required after assembly. Finger joints provide connection details and registration between the individual pieces comprising a single lamination while pin connections provide registration between the laminations. Glued and screwed connections between laminations provide mechanical strength and clamping force particularly where extreme curvature prevented traditional clamping techniques.


Socio-cultural impact:

Through the revision of a leftover and ill-conceived workspace the resulting project augments and enhances existing campus infrastructure with new architecture that provides pragmatic functions, promotes community equality, and exhibits a social and environmental conscience. Located in a region where service personnel endure long shifts under challenging circumstances the project seeks to elevate basic human comforts while simultaneously imparting exuberant delight from small-scale design opportunities.  


Typically hailing from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Muslim countries of North Africa numerous expatriates populate a vast service industry that contributes to the UAE’s remarkable growth.  Unheralded and often underappreciated, our security guards and grounds workers spend long, hot hours tending expansive landscapes and maintaining urban propriety beneath the celebrated skyscrapers. In an under-addressed way, this project eschews the fixation on tall buildings and iconic islands to focus on the microenvironments inhabited by individual workers and improving working conditions through the provision of reprieve, refreshment and spatial delight. Shade, seating and cool, clean drinking water serve as the primary program. Elevating the design and accommodation of these basic amenities conveys our respect and appreciation for their contribution to our community.


Response to climate

The external bar-grate mashrabiya and tinted roof panels serve as a parasol to passively reduce cooling loads on the interior booth while operable windows and shaded porches provide cross ventilation and additional thermal comfort.  High efficiency LED lighting further reduces energy consumption as well as maintenance. Abundant daylighting ensures that electrical lighting is only necessary at night.  As they mature, adjacent plantings will provide additional shading and reduce heat-island effects.  


In addition to these passive strategies the project has also been designed to accommodate rooftop solar panels once the local energy grid is developed to accept net metering over the coming years.  The structural components currently supporting the translucent glass panels can be easily retrofitted to accommodate solar panels while mechanical support space has been provided in the equipment closet to house the necessary equipment. After installation of solar panels, the Tarkeeb Gate House and Gardenwill be monitored to track and compare power consumption as a case study for sustainable, energy efficient development across the campus.


Long-term educational impact

Finally, as part of the ongoing Design-Build Initiative at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) this project exemplifies a pedagogical model formulated to introduce and embed tactile, full-scale learning opportunities located in a region increasingly divorced from its traditional handmade craft and material culture. While hands-on, design-build education has become common in North American architecture schools over the past 25 years, projects like the Tarkeeb Gate House and Gardenexist within a contemporary academic and cultural context that has largely abandoned the act of making. Beginning with the discovery of oil in the mid-20th century vernacular craft traditions native to the Arabian Peninsula have been in decline resulting in a subsequent shift from self-sustaining subsistence production to the importation and consumption of global goods and material culture. The Design-Build Initiative at AUS provides one point of resistance to the homogenizing effects of this trend. 


The student population in the architecture department at AUS is 80% female.  Fourteen of the eighteen students involved in the project are female, reflecting the female-to-male student ratio in the architecture school at large. The immersive and diverse experiences these young women had during the design and construction of the Tarkeeb Gate House and Gardenwill have an out-sized impact beyond the immediate influence of the project. By demonstrating capability and confidence in design and construction, these young women in profound ways have challenged preconceptions and gender norms prevalent in the region. This is an achievement that while firmly rooted within the discipline of architecture transcends professional boundaries and will contribute to the transformation of a society.Ultimately these students are prepared and empowered to challenge conventions in the professional culture, as well as the larger society into which they graduate.

Project implementation featured architecture students working at full-scale on all aspects of project design, coordination and fabrication.  This comprehensive approach to architectural education that mirrors the broad spectrum of issues related to the act of making architecture in the real world. In contrast to traditional disciplinary education and conventional building practices that rigidly separate design and construction, design-build courses combine multiple areas of knowledge in order to expose students to contingent conditions linked to clients, consultants, civic responsibility, weather, bureaucracy and budgets along with full-scale, physical construction.  

In addition, the project incorporated a unique non-profit collaborative model in which architecture students and faculty leveraged a seed-grant from the university with pro-bono professional services provided by consultants and industry partners to design, fabricate and install the project on campus.  Over the course of the project more than twelve people representing seven companies donated time and expertise to assist participating students as they worked from the initial, conceptual stage through construction documents and finally to the full-scale construction.  Along the way students developed mentor relationships with craftsmen in the building industry and developed new skills by working with professionals in the HVAC, millwork, glazing and metal-working trades as well as consultants from the allied professions of engineering, contracting, and landscape. Working directly with skilled craftsmen and consultants builds strong working relationships between designers, engineers and the building trades that will bear dividends as the students move forward in their professional careers.  

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