Piece of Nature in the City: Al Noor Island
Arriving at Sharjah’s Majaz on a quiet Friday morning, which is a rare occasion, I looked out the window to find crisp blue winter skies, small groups of families gathering on patches of green, sitting on their chairs with eyes, basking in the sun. I found myself at the entrance of Al Noor Island, at the foot of a bridge with scenic views of the water, birds nestled on the shore, and a sea of green trees ahead of me waved their arms as I approached. The skyline of the city slowly disappeared, transporting me to the pedestrian island where families, individuals, and creative minds found a peaceful haven in the middle of the busy city.
Under a great Dracaena Draco (dragon tree), I was greeted by the island’s bright-eyed coordinator, ready for our morning tour of the island. Our first stop was ‘The Butterfly House’ which is the central attraction on the island, home to over 400 butterflies of different species from around the world, walking along the floor, fluttering their different coloured wings and lazing on the plants. The design of ‘The Butterfly House’ includes a golden pattern created from a modular leaf, used as the main roof structure for the space, which reflects the imported plants and tropical flora that live on the Island. Space also includes multiple glass panes, since butterflies need a lot of sunlight to survive and to keep them happy. The ‘Butterfly House’ also includes a children’s colouring area, and a cafe for visitors to enjoy a healthy bite to eat in a well-lit space.
A truly educational yet fun environment, I learned about the different stages of a butterfly’s life, the anatomy, the suitable home and weather conditions (they love humidity) and learned more about how to take care of them. The butterflies on Al Noor Island are brought in as pupa, which eventually grow into adult butterflies. I was amazed to learn that the lifespan of a butterfly is approximately one month after it hatches from its pupa. Butterflies are very kind and caring insects which rely on being ‘comfortable’. A butterfly will only approach a visitor if it is comfortable or ‘has a good feeling’; the same way that a butterfly will not lay eggs unless it is very comfortable with the host tree (the Citrus or Lime trees are an example of a host tree). Walking around the space, I noticed several feeding stations where butterflies are gathered around fruit or flowers mixed with sugar and water, provided by their caretakers.
A butterfly’s wings aren’t only beautiful - they are also a protective mechanism against the bugs that feed on them. The light reflects on the colored wings and bounce back into the predator’s eyes, giving the butterfly an opportunity to fly away. Some butterflies have ‘eyes’ on their wings, where predators confuse them with an Owl and decide against eating them.
After my experience with the butterflies, the coordinator and I walked along the main external circulation path around the rest of the island. The main path guides visitors to different zones on the island, passing by various art installations and sculptures by international designers and artists, which change color depending on the time of the day.
On my tour of the island, I passed by the ‘gleaming meadows’ of 1,200 vertical fiber-glass lights, which create a mystical glowing experience of floating sparkles for the visitors at night. The experience of the island at night is completely different than in the morning; both include a multi-sensory journey with sounds of animals and island music emitting from the speakers.
As I walked through the island, the wind blew gently, came up to me and kissed my face. My feet sank down softly into the soft padding of the path as the coordinator explained that the surrounding flora was imported from different parts of the world. However, the existing island already had existing pre-island development trees, which had been marked with an “I was saved” sign. Different birds migrate and rest in these trees. Some flora include fig trees, aloe vera, spanish olive trees, 25 metre high silk floss trees... the island is also home to a Cactus Area.
I took several detours from the original circulation path of the island. One of the detours involved a trampoline, where I had to jump my way along the circulation to get to the other side.. a short fun break which made me squeal like a kid again. From certain points in the island, I was able to see the Sharjah corniche from a distance, and the skyline re-appeared, reminding me that I was in the middle of the city.
One of the island’s main features is the “Literature Pavilion” where I took a quick short shaded break to lounge and read a few pages of my book. Blowing white curtains, a soft palette of white and baby pink, shades of purple, and the sounds of flowing water from a central fountain helped immerse the visitors in the comfort of the pavilion. I was told that the Literature Pavilion encourages poets, writers and creatives to gather around and have a safe place to indulge in “the written word”. The ceiling included calligraphy that was reflected in the pavilion. At the end of the tour, I walked back across the bridge towards the gate, ready to take on the rest of my weekend and share the knowledge that I gained. The sun shone down on me as I walked across the waterbody back to the city.
Al Noor Island, a natural island developed by Shurooq, is a place for those who want to learn about the wonders of butterflies, walk amongst thousands of indigenous and exotic international flora, find their inner-child in the children’s play area, read in the literature pavilion, grab a bite to eat, and have a lazy yet educational day. Suitable for adults, children, and people with different mobility abilities.
The island is located in Sharjah’s Majaz area, a mere 20 minutes from Dubai’s Trade Center roundabout on Friday mornings. I highly recommend booking a tour with one of the island’s coordinators for an educational journey - my tour guide’s name was Swamiti Kakembo, who shared a lot of knowledge with me and answered any question I had.
To learn more about Al Noor Island, packages and prices for visitors, please visit https://www.alnoorisland.ae
Words // Wrichitects - Yosr El Sherbiny
Photos // Wrichitects
Developers // Shurooq
Location // Sharjah, United Arab Emirates