Revitalisation of Muharraq
2019 Award Recipient - Revitalisation of Muharraq
“The Revitalisation of Muharraq responds creatively to the challenges of neglected urban cultural heritage and social life. Drawing on Bahrain’s heritage of a pearl economy, it has reawakened a local sense of pride while infusing new cultural life in a deteriorated urban area...The excellent, yet affordable, upgrading of public spaces provides the local community with opportunities for social interaction. The project successfully establishes an open platform where citizens can actively engage.”
The pearling industry was historically crucial to Bahrain’s economy, with the former capital Muharraq as its global center. Following the development of cultured pearls in the 1930s, the town went into decline and its indigenous population was largely replaced by migrant workers sharing rented accommodation.
Initiated as a series of restoration and adaptive reuse of a number of edifices, the project highlights the town’s pearling history and aims to re-balance its demographic makeup, enticing local families back through improvements to the environment and provision of community and cultural venues. Preserved are a number of sites and buildings, from humble divers’ houses to prestigious courtyard residences and commercial warehouses, as well as the upgrading of other façades and the construction of four new buildings.
The preservation/restoration of the traditional buildings included reinstating lost wind towers for natural climate control. The materials employed match the originals – notably coral stone reused from demolished structures, and wood. Terrazzo, which became popular in the area in the 1940s for flooring, is utilized extensively for street furniture, and contains flecks of oyster shell. Spherical white street lamps atop terrazzo posts bring further pearl-related symbolism.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the new buildings respect the historic environment’s scale and street lines. while making bold contemporary architectural statements. Amongst the new structures is the Dar Al Jinaa Centre for Traditional Music, inventively cloaked in chain mail, shielding against solar glare, while allowing a constant breeze.