51-1 Arquitectos converts Sharjah ice factory into arts venue

Kalba Ice Factory arts venue in Sharjah, UAE, by 51-1 Arquitectos

Peruvian studio 51-1 Arquitectos has converted a 1970s ice storage facility in Sharjah, UAE, into a cultural venue, restaurant and hotel for the Sharjah Art Foundation.

Named the Kalba Ice Factory, the venue near the town of Kalba on the east coast of the emirate of Sharjah was designed to be a unique space for displaying large-scale temporary artworks.

Kalba Ice Factory arts venue in Sharjah, UAE, by 51-1 Arquitectos
51-1 Arquitectos converted a 1970s warehouse into the Kalba Ice Factory arts venue

“Its unique natural location combined with the powerful presence of its original building makes it quite unique,” said 51-1 Arquitectos co-founder Cesar Becerra.

“It provides artists with a rich context and the possibility of integrating art and public space.”

Kalba Ice Factory arts venue in Sharjah
It stands alongside Kalba Creek

The distinctive sawtooth-roofed building, which was built in the 1970s as a fish feed mill and was subsequently used to store ice, overlooks the Kalba Creek and Al Qurm mangrove swamp where the Khor Kalba Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary designed by Hopkins is located.

It was purchased in 2015 by Sharjah Art Foundation and recently converted into a permanent cultural venue.

The original sawtooth-shaped warehouse space, which had an open, concrete frame and corrugated metal roof, was restored to its original state and now acts as the main arts space.

Kalba Ice Factory
The original warehouse was turned into the main arts space

“In order to retain as much patina as possible, all design-oriented decisions were aimed at leaving the factory ‘as is’ as much as possible,” said Becerra.

“Of course, the building required insulation for comfort and art conservation purposes, but it was proposed procuring the least possible intervention. For instance, big AC units were placed on a building on the edge of the plot, so it would not add an additional volume to the existing hangars.”

Saw-toothed extension in Sharjah
An extension was added that matches the roof profile of the original building

Alongside it, an extension that matches the existing building’s profile and contains a cafe, toilets and six bedroom suites was added.

A series of walkways, stairs and viewing platforms connect these spaces with views of the creek and back into the arts spaces.

“Adjacent to the art spaces, the residences copy the factory’s profile, to refrain from adding a new volume profile to the site, facing the view at the same time,” said Becerra.

“Vertical circulations, seating staircases and peeping windows to the factory’s naves integrate a loop of spaces where a variety of activities can happen. Not all views face the creek though; for instance, there is a seating platform that faces the Hajar mountains on sunset.”

Covered walkway with view of Kalba Creek
A covered walkway connects the venue to a restaurant

The studio also added a covered walkway that extends from the building to a single-storey restaurant that faces the creek.

“Since we had a great view towards the natural reservation, this view articulates the new buildings that could benefit from that view…thus the shaded walkway and the restaurant run trying to reach out to the creek,” explained Becerra.

“Inside the restaurant, an internal mirror facade ensures that everyone can view towards the mangrove.”

The Kalba Ice Factory is the latest arts space created by the Sharjah Art Foundation, which recently collaborated with UAE-based SpaceContinuum Design Studio to turn Sharjah’s brutalist Flying Saucer turned into arts centre. In 2019, the foundation created a permanent pavilion to house Random International’s Rain Room installation.

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