Pearling Site, Museum and Entrance to the Pearling Path

Valerio Olgiati
15. May 2019
Photo © Archive Olgiati

In 2012 "Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy" in Muharraq was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In turn, Bahrain has been investing in the area: upgrading historic facades, creating new public spaces, and adding new parking garages and other structures. Most striking is a museum and entrance to the Pearling Path designed by Switzerland's Valerio Olgiati, who answered some questions about the project.

Project: Pearling Site, museum and entrance to the Pearling Path, 2019
Location Muharraq, Bahrain
Client: Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities  
Architect: Valerio Olgiati, Flims
Project Team: Sofia Albrigo (Project Manager), Anthony Bonnici
Local Architect: Emaar Engineering, Manama
General Contractor: Almoayyed Contracting Group, Manama
Site Area: 6,726 m2
Building Volume: 49,855 m3
Photo © Archive Olgiati
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

The commission was awarded through an invited competition from the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities.

Photo © Archive Olgiati
Please provide an overview of the project.

The site contains ruins that form part of the UNESCO Pearling Path. The entire building functions as the entrance to the cultural heritage and the foyer for the medina. A large space is created in which a forest of columns and wind towers hold a horizontal plate 10 meters above ground. Slightly set back in the shadow is an enigmatic house in which the museum of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage is located.

Photo © Archive Olgiati
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?

The building is an urban room for the people of Muharraq with the scale of a public park. Concrete elements are placed along the property boundary to form a new locus in the dense medina. A roof, understood as an archaic gesture, donates vital shadows for the people of Muharraq in this very hot climate and produces a new and unique situation through its different scale. As a totality the building creates a universe in itself that is the entrance for the Pearling Path and the city beyond.

Photo © Archive Olgiati
To what extent did the clients and/or future users of the building influence the design and the outcome of the building?

Under the direction of Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities wanted to make a clear statement with this building. Her wish was for the building to give a cultural and public value to the city of Muharraq and its people.

Photo © Archive Olgiati
Were there any significant challenges that arose during the project? If so, how did you respond to them?

In Bahrain there is no building tradition for exposed in situ concrete. From the start our office led the local specialists and contractors to transfer our knowledge of concrete and how to execute it. This knowledge transfer continued throughout the 7-month construction period with up to 450 workers on site around the clock. Our office managed both design and construction supervision during the construction to guarantee the expression of this major cultural project. 

Ground Floor Plan (Drawing © Archive Olgiati)
Roof Plan (Drawing © Archive Olgiati)
Longitudinal Section (Drawing © Archive Olgiati)
Cross Section (Drawing © Archive Olgiati)
West Elevation (Drawing © Archive Olgiati)

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