x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Airy space for Dubai's creative community

The Archive in Safa Park offers activities, free wi-fi, a growing selection of art books and a relaxing atmosphere in which to work or study.

Sarah Malki, librarian and Programme Manager at The Archive in Dubai.
Sarah Malki, librarian and Programme Manager at The Archive in Dubai.

DUBAI // A new community space has sprung up in one of the city's best-loved green spaces, allowing people to make working a walk in the park.

The Archive is similar to established centres such as The Pavilion near Burj Khalifa, the MAKE business hub at Dubai Marina and the Shelter initiatives in Dubai and Sharjah. People go to all these places to work, plan new businesses and projects, network and use the free wi-fi facilities.

What sets the Archive apart is its location inside Safa Park. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls allow daylight to pour in and provide relaxing views of the greenery surrounding the building.

In addition, because it is in a park, it attracts people wanting to work and mums with their children - and the combination creates a unique atmosphere and sense of community.

Apart from that it is also a cafe with tables inside and out and houses a library with a fast-growing collection of art books related to the Middle East.

Kerry, a South African education specialist, was working on an assignment at one end of the long black table where would-be entrepreneurs and creative types bash away at their laptops.

"I find it easier to come here, away from a home environment, to focus on what I'm doing," she said. "For me it's the fact that it's surrounded by greenery that gives it huge appeal. I find having nature around me quite inspiring.

"The interior is fresh, it's clean and it's different, it's a nice space. The park and the sense of space clears your head, and when you get tired of work you can go for a stroll and then come back.

"I like the mix of nationals and non-nationals you get here, and it's great having mums and kids - as long as there are no kids inside screaming."

The Archive is housed in a converted park building dating back to the 1970s. It had a soft launch at the end of November and the official opening will take place on Wednesday.

It has been set up with support from Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives by Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib, the twin brothers behind Brownbook magazine and The Pavilion and Shelter centres.

Rashid, who sometimes calls in at the centre himself to work, said: "I enjoy it, it's nice. The hope is that the cafe will generate revenue for it to be a profitable entity in the future so we can keep procuring books.

"We're hoping for this to be available for the long term and be a sustainable project for the community, rather than it being sort of a glitzy, spur-of-the-moment thing."

Sarah Malki, the project's librarian and programme manager, is organising a series of events such as architecture and bookbinding workshops, yoga and Pilates, and urban art and drawing sessions for children.

"What we do here is create a platform for people," she said. "We link up with a lot of institutions and organisations all over the city, as well as internationally, so they can bring their programmes here. What's nice about this place is it's a space for everybody, including children and the elderly, and our workshops cater to everybody.

"As of now our book collection stands at about 550 books and we're trying to reach 2,500 - this would make it the biggest library focused on art in the Middle East and North Africa region."

Sitting at an inside table next to one of the glass walls was Emirati Nadia Al Najjar from Dubai, who was with her 4-year-old son, Mohammed Al Mulla.

"I love reading and this is a good place," she said.

"The activity schedule is interesting and it's different from other coffee shops. The view is also nice, and altogether I like it. I think I will be a regular here."

csimpson@thenational.ae