In an urban environment that is strongly oriented toward a future of Hyperloops, self-driving cars and drones’ connections, some aspects of the city, especially those related to archaeology and heritage, still remain hidden from the global scene. The Emirate of Dubai, a portion of the UAE wider than the city itself, counts a series of archaeological sites of deep interest. Some, like Saruq Al Hadid, are dispersed in the desert, others, like the Jumeirah Archaeological Site, surprisingly, occupy inner areas of the city, squeezed among new residential compounds, just behind the presence of downtown high-rise buildings and the financial district. The archaeological sites included in the Emirate of Dubai are five: Al Sufouh and Jumeirah are inside the urban pattern of the city, Al Qusais, Saruq al Hadid and Al Ashoush are in the desert, as is Hatta, that is part of a separated portion of the Emirate of Dubai.
The sites belong to different times, but some studies made it evident that all along their timeline they overlapped, bringing to the theory that they are not completely independent, but are part of a nomadic network that includes caravanserais, factories, public buildings and dwellings. This system was also part of a wider pattern of routes and nodes linking other areas, like the modern Oman and Saudi Arabia.
After exploring and researching all five sites, the project focused on Jumeirah. This archaeological site was discovered in 1968 and its several findings demonstrate that it had been in use between the 10th and 18th century. The original settlement includes a market, the ruler’s house, residential buildings and a caravanserai. The entire settlement occupies a wide rectangular lot of 105.000 m2, surrounded by residential areas of villas with a maximum height of 2 floors. Recently the area has been completely changed by the construction of the Water Canal, a new creek located in the most recent part of the city, developed along the sea in the direction of Abu Dhabi. The construction of the canal almost completely deleted Safa Park, one of the most important green areas of the city.
The current archaeological site is 300×350 m2, presents few Ghaf trees and is fenced all around by a low perimetral wall. At the moment the area is totally segregated by the city life: it has no interaction with the near residential neighborhood, the canal and the commercial district, only two blocks away. The neighborhood lacks green at the smaller scale and, at the wider scale, it suffers from the loss of Safa Park, that was the closest green area available. The project not only intends to provide a museum – with an elaborated system of permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, research and educational functions, including archaeological labs, workshops, two cafés and an auditorium – but also wishes to become a new hub for the entire area and to take on the role of the green space that has been lost after the fracture of the Water Canal.
The design process investigated different possibilities, also researching and analyzing some case studies. When working in the presence of historical ruins, it is certainly necessary to maintain the possibility of reading both the original text and the new intervention very clearly. In some cases, like for the museum and research center by Nieto Sobejano for the archaeological site of Madinat Al Zahra, the solution is to build in a different site than the archaeological one, even if the building pattern is able to remind it or works with an urban pattern similar to that of the ruins. The second option that was explored is the one of museums built next to the ruins, as in the case of the Complex of the Temple of Diana in Merida designed by José María Sánchez García, while the third option is the construction of new facilities directly on the ruins, maintaining the awareness that the historical traces have to be recognized and preserved, as in the recent example of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens by Bernard Tschumi.
The proposal for Jumeirah Archaeological Site at the same time frames and covers the ruins. The building provides shade and protection to the archaeological remains and offers spectacular views of the archaeological site from above. It is conceived as a framing and shading element for the lot, with a series of bridges connecting all the different functions. It has indoor and outdoor public spaces that are linked to the city following different levels of interaction.
Its roof is a green park that can be used not only by the visitors of the museum, but also by the inhabitants of the neighborhood. The project is completed by a nomadic modular system made of cubic translucent lanterns with an aluminum structure. They are dispersed on the archaeological site, serving as small exhibition spaces, hosting the vertical circulation system and sometimes hiding the structural system of the bridges. The cubes distributed at the roof level act as skylights that bring natural light to the inner space of the building, ensure the correct zenithal illumination of the exhibition spaces and animate the roof garden with complementary functions. They represent a recurrent visual vocabulary that links the area of the archaeological site to the deck of the multilevel underground parking of the museum, located along the canal.