The American School of Dubai (ASD) was established over forty years ago to serve the needs of the North American families and other expatriates living Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In September 2010, a new campus will open in Al Barsha, Dubai, including two new libraries, an Elementary School Library and a Secondary School Library. This article explores the design process of the new ASD Elementary Library in particular.
ASD Al Barsha Campus plans; Copyright owner: RMJM Hillier; Used with permission.

Background: ASD's New Campus

ASD is a non-profit school with all resources, tuition and endowments directed towards the benefit and education of the students. ASD is fully accredited in the United States by Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges. The school's mission statement reads: "The American School of Dubai, an independent, nonprofit organization, offers what is best about American education in order to provide an educational experience designed to promote the maximum potential of its students. The school will challenge and assist students to become intellectually adept, thoughtful and ethical contributors to a global society."

ASD currently serves about 1000 students.
ASD Elementary Library under construction November 2009; Copyright owner: Natasha Pollock; Used with permission.
The new campus is designed to accommodate 1600 with enrollment to increase in stages over two or three years. The campus will also allow for improved facilities and expansion of programs, including the doubling of space allocated to library facilities. While the current campus site is 31,424 square meters (338,240 square feet), the new Al Barsha campus site is over 92,900 square meters (1,000,000 square feet). The total gross internal floor area is 48,178 meters (518,583 square feet).

RMJM Hillier, an architectural firm specializing in school design, was hired by ASD to design the new campus. The design was finalized throughout the 2004-05 school year with feedback from committees including parents, students, teaching staff and faculty. Each specialty and subject area division offered their input on relavant areas of the school. For finanical reasons, the construction was postposed for several years, after which time the designs were revisited to allow for minor changes to best meet the current needs of the school community and programs.

American School of Dubai aims to have "an integrated world-class facility that will set a benchmark for schools in the region" (ASD, 2010).
Future storytelling area, November 2009; Copyright owner: Natasha Pollock; Used with permission.
Facilities will include an auditorium, a black box theater, field house, running tracks, regulation soccer field, other large playing fields, separate elementary and secondary gyms, two swimming pools, elementary play areas, secondary school and elementary school libraries, two cafeterias, music rooms, meeting spaces, a wireless school environment and landscaped garden areas. The new campus is designed to meet US embassy-level security standards. All classrooms will be equipment to support technology integration, projectors, and wireless access.


2004: New campus design process began
2008: Construction began
Early August 2010: Construction due to be completed
August 29, 2010: Set up of new library to begin
September 14, 2010: New school and library due to open for students

Project Description: A New Elementary School Library
Draft floor plan level one; Copyright owner: VS Furniture; Used with permission.

The design for the Elementary School Library was based on feedback from the team of Elementary, Middle and High School librarians, as well as teachers, students and parents. Emphasis was placed on allowing for multiple small meeting rooms, ability to accommodate several classes at one time, and creating age-appropriate and inviting spaces for both primary and intermediate students.

The new Elementary Library consists of two levels. The floor areas, not including enclosed meeting and storage rooms, are 411 square meters (4,424 square feet) on the Ground floor and 242 square meters (2,604 square feet) on the first floor. The library has a total of five small group study rooms, three large multipurpose classrooms, a teacher resource lounge, a work room and an audio-visual materials storage room. Dramatic floor to ceiling windows and a balcony overlooking the ground floor reading area are design highlights of the new facility.
Draft floor plan level two; Copyright owner: VS Furniture; Used with permission.
The Elementary Library will house approximately 25,000 volumes and the new space allows for future growth in the collection.

A priority for the ASD Elementary Library was to design a warm, child-friendly, and inspirational environment. A variety of seating options and flexible instructional spaces for students were crucial. With this in mind, several seating options were selected from Big Cozy Books, a company that creates furniture resembling over-sized leather bound books. Love-seats, benches and a large floor seating plan were chosen to help create warm and inviting reading areas. Open-book booths were selected to provide work spaces for upper elementary grades. A company who specializes in international libraries and education, Jennifer Nelson, LLC, provided creative guidance in selecting practical and interesting pieces for the library.

Big Cozy Book floor seating plan; Copyright owner: Erik Olofson; Used with permission.
Big Cozy Book booths; Copyright owner: Erik Olofson; Used with permission.

Additional seating from VS Furniture includes several reading tables and chairs, and a number of soft arm chairs, which will allow students to work and read in groups or individually. Four small puzzle tables and stools will offer additional seating at low levels for our youngest students. The three multipurpose rooms each contain eight tables and 24 chairs to allow for easy rearrangement to meet the needs of various student groups. Small study rooms contain reading tables and chairs with varying capacity for four to eight people.

VS Furniture; Copyright owner: VS Furniture; Used with permission.

A large round circulation desk was custom designed by VS Furniture for the ground floor. Three computer work stations, processing and work space has been allocated. There will be a smaller desk, with one work station, serving as a reference point on the upper floor. Both desks are built to serve a range of young patrons at two different appropriate heights.

ASD Elementary Library's existing shelving will be transferred to the new facility. The project manager is working with the staff to design a floor plan to best place the shelving units. Additional display shelving and multiple browsing boxes will help provide additional space for new books. The facility is large enough to accommodate additional shelving when the collection grows in the future.

High-quality carpet tiles in a neutral sandy color will line both floors of the new library. Small accent walls and pillars were chosen to provide splashes of color in turquoise, deep blue and orange. These colors compliment the furnishings, and yet do not overwhelm the space. The soft seating will be covered in a combination of blue and green tones, with the Big Cozy pieces including touches of reds and oranges. Large Big Cozy Book wall art pieces will greet students at both upper and lower entrances to the library. It should be noted also that all of the titles on the "spines" of the Big Cozy pieces were selected by the library staff based on our students' favorite books. The signage for each section of the library will also create visual interest and add to the larger-than-life feeling of the giant book furniture pieces; large upholstered colored pencils will hang from the ceiling to mark each area. These pencils signs were custom designed by Big Cozy Books.

Prototype of pencil signs; Copyright owner: Erik Olofson; Used with permission.
Big Cozy Book wall art; Copyright owner: Erik Olofson; Used with permission.

Architect and Contractor

RMJM Hillier, a premier architectural firm specializing in school design, was hired by ASD to design the new campus. Hillier has designed schools throughout the US and Canada as well, as American International schools in Praque, Bucharest, Chennai and Doha.

Al Ahmadiah Aktor is the general contractor under the project management of DG Jones & Partners, construction consultants.


The total cost of the new campus construction is in excess of AED 400 million (USD 109 millon). The Board of Trustees worked with the Government of Dubai, who owns the current school land, to determine the value of the current campus location. Additional financing came through a loan from the National Bank of Dubai. The balance of the financing continues to be generated by the stakeholders of ASD through non-tuition means, principally seat sales, and through fund raising campaigns from doners.

Green Construction

"RMJM Hillier applied current sustainable and renewable green practices" when designing the new ASD campus (ASD, 2010). Analysis of wind patterns and projection of the sun on the campus were used to plan placement and direction of the building structures. "In order to conserve energy, buildings were designed so that windows would not be in direct sunlight. To conserve even more energy, shadings have been designed for air conditioning and cooling units" (ASD, 2010).

Contact Information

The American School of Dubai
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Steve Jones, Project Manager, Al Barsha Campus
Natasha Pollock, Elementary School Librarian


Slide Show of ASD New Campus Construction

Big Cozy Books

VS Furniture

Jennifer Nelson, LLC