Sharjah converts ‘Kalba Ice Factory’ building into cool art spaces

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Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) has completed the planned transformation of Kalba Ice Factory, an abandoned 20,000 sq. meter industrial site on the Emirate’s east coast, into art spaces with social amenities, designed by 51-1 Arquitectos of Lima, Peru.

Located in the town of Kalba on the Gulf of Oman, the former fish feed mill and ice storage facility with a distinctive saw-tooth shaped roof was acquired by SAF in 2015 and has since served as the site for SAF interventions including Mohau Modisakeng’s Sharjah Biennial 14 performance ‘Land of Zanj’ (2019) and Adrián Villar Rojas's ‘Planetarium’ for Sharjah Biennial 12 (2015).

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The renovation entailed a minimal level of intervention to the factory space to maintain its powerful spatial qualities as an industrial ruin, while expanding on the existing structure to create studios and living spaces for visiting artists and guests.

The renovation also added an expansive artist workshop, a shaded walkway along the shoreline, an edible garden and a restaurant on an elevated deck with views of the surrounding mangrove forest.

Sharjah Biennial venue

The building will open to the public on February 8, 2023, as a venue for the 15th edition of the Sharjah Biennial, featuring work by Rebecca Belmore, Ibrahim Mahama, Pak Khawateen Painting Club, Doris Salcedo, Abdulrahim Salem, Kahurangiariki Smith, Inuuteq Storch, and Nari Ward.

The stark industrial space created by the factory building’s high windows and light-filled expanses is suitable for large-scale installations and performances, further complimented by the natural beauty of its surroundings.

Adjacent to Kalba creek and the Al Qurm mangrove swamp reserve, Kalba Ice Factory is located in an extremely biodiverse area of the Emirate that is home to species including the endangered Arabian-Collard Kingfisher, the Blandford’s lizard and endangered hawksbill and green turtles which nest on the nearby beach.

With views of the Sea of Oman to the East, the Kalba mangroves to the South and the Hajar mountains in the West, this new cultural venue on Sharjah’s East Coast -- approximately 120 kilometers from SAF’s primary venues in downtown Sharjah -- expands on the Foundation’s longstanding commitment to preserving culturally significant sites across the Emirate and reaches out to new audiences beyond the city center.

Overlooking the creek with stunning views of the Al Qurm reserve, an adjoining structure modelling the profile of the Ice Factory will house six apartments and public social spaces. In front, an existing structure is being repurposed into a 200 sq. meter workshop space for artists and directly behind the factory will be a restaurant with views of the shoreline and mangroves.

Separating the restaurant from the nearby road is an edible garden that will feature a series of spaces for dining, cooking, playing and prayer. An elevated deck connects the parking spaces to the garden, the restaurant and the factory. Neem trees will line the entire route, connecting the various elements of the renovation.

“Kalba is a critically important part of Sharjah’s cultural and ecological makeup, and we are enlivening this abandoned site by turning it into a multifaceted gathering space for residents of this region as well as visitors from across the Emirate and around the world,” said Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation.

“By preserving the industrial rawness of the factory space and protecting the unique ecosystem of the surrounding landscape, this project extends the Foundation’s critical work preserving sites of historic, cultural and environmental significance for future generations through adaptive reuse, and engaging communities across the Emirate with contemporary arts programming.”

Major conservation projects

The transformation of Kalba Ice Factory is among many major conservation projects the Foundation has initiated in recent years to preserve the rich heritage of the Emirate’s built environment and to create spaces that allow for the presentation of contemporary art and meet the needs of the local community.

Exterior view of The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE.  (Image courtesy: Sharjah Art Foundation)
Exterior view of The Flying Saucer, Sharjah, UAE. (Image courtesy: Sharjah Art Foundation)

Other major architectural projects recently completed by the Foundation include The Flying Saucer (2020), a Brutalist landmark in the heart of Sharjah restored to its original architectural character as an exhibition space and community venue; Rain Room Sharjah (2018), a site-specific permanent installation by London-based artist collective Random International; Al Hamriyah Studios (2017), artist workspaces and exhibition areas constructed on the site of a former souq; and Al Mureijah Art Spaces (2013), a complex of five new contemporary buildings built alongside six existing historical structures that are home to SAF’s contemporary galleries.

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