Friday, 4 January 2008

Bahrain National Museum

Aerial View

Meeting space in front of the museum

Side view

View of the back

View of the entrance

View of the entrance from inside

Project: Bahrain National Museum
Architect: KHRAS Arkitekter (today known as KHR Arkitekter AS)
Year Completed: 1988
Location: Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain

An idea of a Civic Center was initiated when an old museum in Muharraq could no longer accommodate the growing collection of precious artifacts that are being discovered. A Danish architecture firm was appointed to design the proposal and the Museum complex was the first phase of this civic center which also included a congress complex, a library, a planetarium and an aquarium. The center was not realised due to economics, but almost 20 years later we begin to see the second phase in motion with the construction of a public library and a design proposal by Zaha Hadid for a new Museum for contemporary Arts.

The Danish architects didn't want to fall into shallow translations of architectural features. Instead they used reinterpretation of local culture as a design mechanism to achieve a mixture of Islamic/Western influence. The result is a stunning landmark that grasps the essence of Bahraini traditional values and present it in a modern contemporary building.

The main elements that make up the design strategy are the following:

1- Location
Bahrain literary means 2 seas, where fresh land water meats the sea. Its no coincidence that the museum, is located in a coast along the intersection of 2 highways that connect 2 cities; Muharraq the old Capital of Bahrain and Manama the present Capital of Bahrain. This way the sea, the land, and the fresh water pools express the meaning of Bahrain.

2- Water
The museum complex is surrounded by a water pool which signifies the importance of the water in an island where people earned most of their living from the sea. Its also a dramatic enhancement to reflect the museum and create a gathering place.

3- Simple Facades
The simple facades of the museum is a translation of the plain facades of old Bahraini houses that can be found even today in Muharraq and Manama as well. In these houses decorations can be found only windows, doors and in parapets.

4- Courtyard
Houses in Bahrain traditionally were courtyard houses, ranging from 1 up to 4 courtyards with varying functions. There are both environmental and cultural reasons behind this system which can be found in most Arabic countries. This feature is clearly evident in the meeting space in front of the museum in addition to other private courtyards in the museum complex.

5- Geometry
Geometry is clearly evident in the massing of the museum and the patterns of the facade stones. This concept is employed because it is rooted in Islamic Architecture and plays a significant role in Arabic spacial pattern.

6- Introspection
This concept is perhaps the most essential principle of Islamic Architecture which can be found in private houses or public buildings. Self-effacing exteriors are very common in mosques, houses, schools... etc. High attention to detail and decoration of the interior is much more important than exterior facade decoration. "One must look inward behind the surface, where Islamic architecture unfolds in a wealth of varied and often surprising spatial sequences, a sophisticated control of strong daylight and ornamentation that is always subordinate to the primary spatial expression."

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