For a young architect from India, knowing Sharjah through his work was a remarkable journey

Ashok Mody was a young architect from India on his first international assignment when he arrived in Sharjah in 1975. Over the next five years, he worked on projects that have become enduring landmarks of the emirate such as Al Zahra Hospital, the Oceanic Hotel in Khorfakkan and the biggest public housing development — the 1000 Villas project in Al Ghubaiba. Four decades later, Mody still cherishes his memories of living and working in Sharjah and acknowledges that the experience was invaluable to his career.

Sharjah in the 1970s. 'Smile you are in Sharjah' was an apt tagline for the emirate.
Sharjah in the 1970s. 'Smile you are in Sharjah' was an apt tagline for the emirate. © Gulf News

WEEKEND REVIEW: What was your reaction when Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi contacted you? 

ASHOK MODY: I was surprised, excited and overwhelmed. Memories of Sharjah came flooding back and I cannot thank him enough for the opportunity to share them with others. Working in Sharjah exposed me to new materials, technologies, equipment and international practices. I consider the five years I spent in Sharjah to be the most important building block that laid a strong foundation for my career as an architect. I am happy that the buildings I designed are still in use and well maintained. But I never realised that they have become an important part of the architectural history of Sharjah. I am deeply grateful and humbled that my work will be documented in the book.


How was your experience of working on large public projects in remote areas?

The first public project I worked on was a housing development envisioned by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to upgrade the living standard of the people of Dibba, which is located about 200kms from Sharjah near the Oman border.

It was really inspiring to see how well Shaikh Sultan understood and empathised with the lifestyle of the local people and how involved he was in every detail of the design process.

He wanted every house to have ground plus two storeys and insisted that there must be terraces and open courtyards so that the rural families had plenty of outdoor space, as well as areas to house their domestic animals. He even drew a three-dimensional sketch to explain his ideas to us.

We based our design on his ideas and planned the layout to include a medical centre and a mosque in the cluster of houses.

When construction began in 1975, there were no roads to Dibba and it took us almost half a day to drive through the wadis and get there. Yet, Shaikh Sultan visited the site twice to see the progress for himself and even climbed the stairs to inspect the terraces. By 1978, good roads had been built and it was easier to reach the site.