Mleiha Archaeological Centre Case Study

A case study about using ARCHICAD in the award winning project, Mleiha Archaeological Centre by Dabbagh Architects.  


Project Details 

Location Mleiha, Sharjah, UAE                                                                    Size 2,000 sqm

Client Shurooq (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority)                Software  ARCHICAD 17 & 19

Type  Cultural Centre                                                                                Project Year Concept 2013 / Project Completion Jan 2016

Website                                                      Email

Architecture should be something that makes a difference and makes a positive impact on the people – the satisfaction of the end user is what makes the project complete
— Sumaya Dabbagh, Director at Dabbagh Architects

Dabbagh Architects

At Dabbagh our mission statement is: To create Feel Good, Contemporary Architecture that has a positive
impact on the world. 

Our Purpose

We believe that architecture is a form of poetic expression that allows for a memorable experience
Architecture is expressed in three layers:
In the solid, through forms and materials. in the void, through space and light; and in a more intangible sense, through the experience. At Dabbagh Architects, we believe that just like the invisible breath gives life to the body, this intangible layer, the experience, gives life to architecture.

Our Vision

To make our clients’ visions a reality.
To create timeless architecture that is culturally relevant and environmentally sensitive.
To foster lasting relationships with our clients and stakeholders through partnerships and collaboration.

Our Firm

Dabbagh Architects is a privately held architectural design firm, recognized regionally for its contemporary design and quality-driven service.
Established in 2008, Dabbagh has more than 20 years of UAE experience. It was listed in the Middle East Architects’ Top 40 Power List for 2015 and 2016. 



The Umm an-Nar Tomb  was constructed around 2300 BCE and is considered to be the most impressive grave building among the many funeral sites in Mleiha. Offering a wealth of information about the people who lived there at the time, remains suggest a link between Mesopotamia and the rest of the Gulf.


As the old surrounding park had become dated and largely unnoticed by travellers, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority sought to inject new life into various archaeological sites in the emirate and in early 2013 commissioned Dabbagh Architects to design a new Visitors Centre and update the surrounding landscape of the park.

Umm an-Nar Tomb

Umm an-Nar Tomb

Design Intent

Our intent was to keep the Tomb as the main attraction for the visitor and allow the experience of the visit to unfold.

The building and its form invite three key experiences: the gentle descent to the Tomb, the promenade to the roof and thirdly, the Exhibition itself telling the story of the Tomb as well as the history of the region 

The rich sandstone walls appear as if partly buried in the sand. They frame the experience and flow of the visitor through the site, allowing them to either approach the Tomb directly or promenade up to a viewing platform on the roof for a view over the Tomb and the surrounding Fossil Rock mountains.

The walls guide visitors to the main entrance   

The walls guide visitors to the main entrance   

Once inside the visitor is welcomed by a lobby with a small courtyard around an indigenous Ghaf tree, providing a soft filtered light in contrast to the bright desert sunlight. The Ghaf tree sits in its original location, and was protected throughout the construction stage. Not dissimilar to the way the Tomb was protected, creating juxtaposition between man and nature, past and present.

It is envisaged that, the galleries and the immediacy of the actual Tomb, will create a dialogue between the past and present. This is essentially the difference between a museum and a visitor centre.


The walls continue to guide the visitor into the exhibition space and then once the visit is completed, out through a small shop and a café . This final stop is the culmination of the visit, allowing visitors to relax and enjoy a spectacular view of the Fossil Rock Mountains


Not only do the sandstone walls frame the experience, they also frame the main attraction, the bronze age Tomb of Um Al Nar. This together with the arena, create a theatrical back drop to the ancient Tomb

The expression of the materiality of the building is simple yet powerful. The sandstone blending with the desert landscape avoids unnecessary visual and sensorial distractions of the main focus of the visitor. The copper material chosen for the roof is revealed to the visitor at the end of the visit at the Café. In contrast to the gentle flow of stone, the copper roof dramatically cascades down in jagged forms mirroring the sharp edges of a desert rose. The copper material itself echoes the memory of the ancient site of copper workshops that once existed in this area.

The landscaping design is simple and sparse. A few small sand dunes are sculpted reflecting the patterns created by wind in the surrounding sands. Palms and Ghaf trees are scattered around the building and tomb in an effort to bring back the desert to the site and recreate the local environmental conditions and setting that existed at the time of the tomb

Overcoming technical challenges using ARCHICAD

The building form consists of curved walls, a sloping roof as well as irregular angular forms.

Two main challenges that were faced during development of the design are:

  • Café Roof: We had proposed a complex shape and had to translate the design from a sketch to a detailed drawing that could be used for construction.

    For the Café structure, schematics were made in 2D first but a 3D was required for design. A physical model was made to show intent and from there we experimented with various tools to achieve it in 3D on the computer. At first it was a simple mass but during the Design Development stage we needed to create a more detailed drawing.

    To achieve this we used the Morph Tool to create an accurate 3D model that could be included in Elevations and Sections and could be updated when adjusted. 

  • Ramp: The building itself was irregular, but creating the long ramp that would form the ‘tail’ of the Centre was a challenge as it had to be comprehensible for the Contractor.The Ramp was achieved using Solid Element Operations and the Morph Tool to achieve the curved “flights”. The ramp rises at a comfortable gradient and multiple landings were placed at intervals to accommodate wheelchair users in their ascent. Again for the Detailed design stage it needed to change from a solid mass to a slab to show service rooms below in section.


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