SeARCH architects gives Khalifeyah Library’s historical context a modern interpretation

The third largest city of Bahrain and its former capital (until 1932), Muharraq, located on an eponymously-named island, has long been a spiritual as well as a commercial hub. It’s also home to Bahrain International Airport. With history dating back 3,000 years to the Dilmun, Phoenician and Byzantine empires, the city has largely retained its historic origins.

Now, as it tries to reinvigorate itself with new institutions, while preserving its identity, many new projects have been undertaken. One such completed project is the Khalifeyah Library in the old commercial city centre, which is one of the first public libraries to be built in Bahrain.

The library, spanning 600m2, has been rebuilt on its original location and is designed by the Dutch firm SeARCH, led by Bjarne Mastenbroek, in collaboration with Bahrain-based architects PAD. Since, the original footprint of the library is half-occupied by a road extension currently, the building has been designed on half the existing footprint and stretches vertically over the three levels that cantilever to recall the original footprint of the building. The building accommodates a reading area, a research centre, an internet lab, as well as offices.

The rejuvenation of the library space will enable hosting of public and cultural programmes targeted at the youth in the heart of Muharraq. According to the architects: “The area surrounding the library suffered from a redevelopment in the 1980s, which considerably reshaped the urban silhouette of the area and destroyed its original scale.

SeARCH has designed a library that subtly embeds itself in the existing neighbourhood, but at the same time has a strong architectural presence that allows it to become a public focal point. The boundary of the lower floor is shaped by the diagonal line from the adjacent building’s footprint while the cantilevering volume of the two top floors take up again the original footprint of the library. This way the public space is kept intact and at the same time it creates a covered entrance for the library.”

The architects share that one of the main challenges faced on the project was regulating the indoor climate, while minimising direct sunlight. “By overlaying the shadows created by the typical shapes of the cantilevers, an interesting pattern emerges which is used as a basis for the design. A diagonal grid of louvres is projected on the facade. Rather than being defined by structural logic or repetitive algorithm of traditional Arabic shapes, this pattern is used to regulate incoming sunlight by varying the density of the grid following the shading patterns. This leads to an abstract sculptural facade that changes its appearance under different viewing angles. Sometimes it seems solid and closed, but if passing by it opens up to the visitor.”

Photos: Iwan Baan

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