A CONTEMPORARY PUBLIC SPACE IN THE ARAB WORLD
Competition proposal for Bab-Al-Bahrain competition, organised by Domus Magazine and Bahrain’s Ministry of Culture; Competition team: Francisco Costa, Miguel Torres and Rodrigo Lino Gaspar
Bab Al Bahrain, once the door to Manama and to the island is a place where the old city meets the new one, where the Suq meets the Financial Harbour. This gives the site a characteristic of central space, a mark in the landscape. It is the opportunity to transform an urban location into a great public square, the heart of the city and the country, converting it as the New Door to Bahrain.
Our idea for Bab al Bahrain consists in opening the actual square to the urban void, mixing all program uses in a large structure that protects its users from intense sunlight and hot coastal winds; a garden that alludes to the memory of Dilmun’s paradise description from the Epic of Gilgamesh; New Public Buildings that integrate this urban structure; and a Public Square that is marked by its round opening in the covered structure. The square intends to create a smooth ambiance de ned by a clear and strong shape with the power to become a landmark in the cityscape.
The first operation is to free the actual site from car parking, building an underground space for 720 vehicles. This will also serve as deposit area for the new Post Office, the National Archives and the Children’s Museum. Integrated with these areas, the new parking is built as a clear rectangular space within the limits of the square sustained by thin pillars . With its high interior space it reminds us of a big water deposit like Istanbul’s Byzantine Cistern. Users’ access is integrated with the new buildings in the freed public space. Cars will access it by a ramp near the Regency Hotel.
Traffic is reorganized into a clearer road system, promoting pedestrian space. Streets converge into a new roundabout centered in front of Bab Al Bahrain building making traffic ow easier. The access to the Regency Hotel is transformed into a simple car access to their parking and to the new underground parking. The taxi stand is maintained but adapted to the new design. The street pavement changes when we enter the new square to mark a difference in the road so vehicles have to slow down. We also propose a new means of transport to the Manama Souq and Centre: the bicycle. This sustainable and ecologic transport can be a success in the Souq’s narrow streets for both visitors and locals. A small kiosk would serve as base to rent bicycles and a bike parking would be built near the taxi stand.
After the surface is freed from car parking, two different limits are drawn on it: the limestone pavement and the rooftop structure polygon. The pavement extends from the competition boundaries to the adjacent sidewalks and buildings, stretching the square and enhancing the accessibility to nearby areas. The rooftop polygon originates from the existing buildings around the square, with an indent relative to those buildings’ scale and the street’s design.
The intense sun and hot coastal winds contribute to very high temperatures during summer.. Suqs all across the Arab World employ ropes or cloths to create shading. Medina’s Haram Piazza is also a notable example: large sun-shading umbrellas reduced ambient temperature by 10oC.
The large monumental steel structure is placed 20m above the ground, the structure de nes under it a space that can be perceived both as outdoor for its openness and vastness, as indoor for being sheltered and fresh. This 10x10m grid stands on 20m spaced columns, all these elements in white painted steel. Two openings appear on the grid: a rectangle allowing a building to puncture it; and a 60m wide circle that creates a glade in the pillars and palm trees, outlining a broader gathering space within the square.
Ropes run through the rooftop serving as the main shading component, alluding to Bahrain’s strong shing tradition and maritime ties. Their placement creates geometric interlacing patterns, evoking the ones seen in Islamic decoration tiles throughout the Arab World. The shadows these ropes project onto the ground draw new, ever-changing patterns too. Some rope segments descend towards the oor, adding to the complexity of its patterned design.The limestone pavement large slabs invoke the memory of Qal’at al-Bahrain, an ancient fortress that is today an important Bahrain monument. Its light color helps spread brighten the square.
Three new buildings are proposed related directly to a street: two elongated low buildings facing Government and Al Fardah Avenues that house the Children’s Museums and the relocated Post Office, more connected to the Suq’s urban fabric at the limit of the square; the National Archives, near King Faisal Highway, rise above the covering structure to peek at the sea ahead. As a deposit of Bahrain’s memoirs, they deserve a more expressive volume.
There is an invisible alignment between Bab Al Bahrain building and the design of the Financial Harbour. We intend to make that axis visible by making it the covering structure orientation and by marking it into the pavement with larger stone dimensions; this creates a pedestrian alley marked on the floor to conduct people between the Souq and the Coastline. A water path accompanies it, ending in a re ecting pool to lower temperatures and protect from strong highway traffic. It links several historical coastlines: from the front of the Bab Al Bahrain, passing by King Faisal Highway, to the current coastline. To cross these barriers, an aerial pedestrian passageway to reach the actual coastline is planned.