Documenting the Old Sharjah Planetarium with the Sharjah Art Foundation

Planetariums are special places — taking you on a journey through the universe, and immortalized in films “Rebel Without a Cause” with the Griffith Observatory.

So I eagerly joined the “Architectural Photography Workshop at the Old Sharjah Planetarium” by the Sharjah Art Foundation, where we snapped photos mostly of the exterior of the building. In this gallery, I’ve highlighted the stark geometric lines while also placing the building in the context of the human body.

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One step inside, with some immersive Sharjah Biennal audio-visual installations, and you realize that it was never a real planetarium — somehow the ceiling would light up with stars.

There’s surprisingly little information on the building’s history. Organizers told us it was a coast guard building in Egypt, and then transferred here sometime after the Camp David Accords in 1978. It was later converted into a planetarium.

Now in a desolate parking lot, the Old Sharjah Planetarium faces an uncertain future due to road widening and the recent opening of a stunning new planetarium in University City of Sharjah.


Abu Dhabi: Guggenheim concrete bids recalled, Etihad Rail awards contracts, UAE pavilion arrives.

Rough week for construction in Abu Dhabi — TDIC recalled the concrete bids for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, likely pushing the opening date past 2013. (The National)

A computer rendering of the Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island. Its 2013 opening is likely delayed. / Image via The National.

The emirate was also named the worst construction market in the GCC, according to investment bank Arqaam Capital. (Construction Week) I don’t understand how, since all over the city there’s new construction of houses, hotels and malls.

Maybe the slow sales Sorouh’s mini-city on Al Reem Island — capable of housing an astounding 200,000 people — are indicative of the downtrend. (Construction Week) Rents are finally dropping in Abu Dhabi — or at least in the suburbs? — as 50,000 more homes are slated to be built by 2013. (The National) More developers like Emaar in Dubai seem to be focusing on affordable housing. (Construction Week).

The UAE Pavilion, at its new location on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council won an international award for excellence. (Zawya), the UAE’s golden dune-like Shanghai Expo pavilion by Foster and Partners is now on Saadiyat Island (Construction Week), Siemens broke ground on its Masdar City headquarters, slated to be completed by 2013 (Construction Week) and Sharjah hopes to turn its Souq Al Arsa into a UNESCO World Heritage Site (The National).

Transportation news is strong too — Etihad Rail awarded the $3 billion contracts to Dodsal Engineering and Construction, and Italian firms Saipem and Technimont and their northern freight rail network is slated to be done by 2014. (Construction Week)

Elsewhere in the region…
Qatar is spending $150 billion on infrastructure over the next 5 years, in the build up to the 2020 World Cup. They’ve started construction on Doha’s Festival City. And now they’re investing in Egyptian luxury accommodations. (Construction Week)

Oman is heavily investing in infrastructure and luxury tourism to sextuple its tourism from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 12 million visitors in 2020. (Construction Week)

In the Levant, could public space with more parks and room for pedestrians improve life in Amman, Jordan? (Tareeq) In Lebanon, Beirut could use more mass transit to relieve traffic. (Mashallah News)

Abu Dhabi: Improving road safety thru crackdowns on texting while driving, pedestrian crossings, contactless fare payments.

Driving safety has been a big theme lately — especially after the UAE-Baniyas football star Theyab Awana was killed in a car crash recently, which his father and friends are almost certain was caused by texting while driving. (The National)

Awana Ahmad Al Mosabi, left, has asked motorists not to use mobile devices such as BlackBerry smartphones while driving following the death of his talented footballer son. / Image via The National.

Hard to believe, but the UAE places in the Top 10 worldwide in the ignominious category of highest car crash (3rd) and traffic death rates (8th) in the world, and when RIM’s Blackberry network went down, accidents dropped by 40 percent in Abu Dhabi. (Wired)

So what is the UAE doing to improve this? The police say they’re cracking down on texting while driving, and it’s good to see that the Urban Planning Council is going to put streets on “road diets” to enhance pedestrian crossings. (Gulf News)

Increasing mass transit options will also decrease car use, and Abu Dhabi is expecting to see a five-fold increase in transit use over the next 20 years. As a result, they’re joining a growing list of global cities in offering contactless fare payment on buses (and I imagine the metro, trams and water taxis when they’re built), thanks to Xerox’s ACS company. The bus fleet is expected to triple to nearly 1,500 over the next two years. (Smart Card Alliance)

As the MTA’s video shows above, contactless fares would replace the dirham dropbox (bus fares are only AED 1-2, or $0.27-0.54; less with an Ojra card), and would speed up fare payment by simply tapping your debit card or a separate fare card like London’s Oyster card.

Shorter distances are expected to be easier too, as Al Ain is finishing up infrastructure improvements that included bike lanes. (Construction Week)

For longer distances, there are finally dates for the ambitious GCC rail network: construction is expected to start in 2014 and finish by 2017-2018. The rail line is also slated to go through Oman into Yemen. (Construction Week)

Elsewhere in the region…
Doha, Qatar’s metro will be 212 km (130 mi) long, triple the length of Dubai’s metro and nearly as long as New York’s, and is expected to be completed by 2020 and in time for the 2022 World Cup. (Construction Week)

Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council is partnering with the Seychelles to develop the master plan of its capital Victoria. (Seychelles Nation) Skidmore, Owings and Merrill will make the master plan for Oman’s Duqm City. (Oman Observer)

Oman awarded the contracts to Turner and Townsend to expand the Muscat and Salalah airports. (Construction Week)

Could the UAE really be waste-free by 2015? Recycling bins in Sharjah are a start. (Construction Week) Liquid of Life is also helping improve water filtration efforts to cut down on bottled water. (AME Info)

Waldorf Astoria is planning its $272 million new hotel on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah islands, while Hilton Worldwide has 40 hotels in the MENA pipeline, including two new ones in Beirut. (Construction Week)