The House for Architectural Heritage by Noura Al Sayeh Holtrop and Leopold Banchini is a center in Muharraq that houses the archival collection of sketches and drawings by the architect John Yarwood and serves as an exhibition space dedicated to architecture. John Yarwood resided in Muharraq between 1983 and 1985 while he was the head of the Urban Renewal Department at the Ministry of Housing and fell in love with the city. His affection for exploration and documentation found an excellent opportunity in the city’s abundant architectural heritage. Today, his hand-drawn sketches and drawings, as well as his photographs, remain one of the most extensive sources of documentation on the architectural heritage of Muharraq.
Ph. Dylan Perrenoud
By providing a space that can be completely open to the streets, in a neighborhood that houses communities that often feel excluded from cultural events, the project attempts to provide a new, more inclusive exhibition typology. By carefully inserting itself within a tight urban fabric and conserving the found state of the inner walls of the adjacent buildings, the project freezes an urban condition that is often transient within the fast pace of development in the city. It offers a small respite into the mass of the urban fabric through an open plan space of silence within the city.
Ph. Dylan Perrenoud
The project was commissioned by the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre for Culture & Research, an NGO established in 2002 in Muharraq Bahrain by Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa. The land for the project was a narrow and empty strip of land, adjacent to the Abdullah Al Zayed House for Press Heritage, another restored building belonging to the Shaikh Ebrahim Centre. The Centre had originally thought to rebuild a house in the traditional manner but after a chance conversation with the architects, it was decided that it would be better suited to build a project that would represent this through its contemporary architectural expression and not through a rebuilding of the old with modern materials.
The project is conceived as a beam structure that frames the existing adjacent walls of the two neighboring buildings serving as a showcase for the architectural heritage of the city. The building is an intrinsic expression of the urban condition of the plot, offering an x-ray view into the urban form of the city and revealing the different phases of construction that the city has witnessed, from coral stone to blockwork walls. The inner glass façades can be completely opened, uniting the exhibition space with the exhibition content of the surrounding walls. The archival documents of John Yarwood are exhibited and stored on a mezzanine level alongside a small architecture library within the height of the concrete beam protected from direct sunlight. The two main façades contain two sliding doors that can be lifted within the height of the beam, completely opening the exhibition space to the streets and transforming the building into a public passage. The exhibition space becomes one with the street encouraging more public participation and interaction.
The building is built in reinforced concrete, with a beam that spans the 26m width of the plot and links both sides of the street. The reinforced concrete is juxtaposed to the other building materials of the city also left in their bare state and including coral stone, coral stone rubble, and blockwork. The existing walls have been painted in a thin layer of limewash that unites the existing walls of the adjacent buildings in a similar color while retaining the different material expressions of each one, rendering a coherent space within the inside of the building. The lime wash refers to the last layer that was traditionally applied to the plaster walls. The concrete structure is thermally insulated, while the internal space is shielded from direct sunlight, considerably reducing the need for cooling. In the warmer months, the foldable doors are kept closed and the building is thermally insulated from the warm climate. In the cooler months, the windows are kept open and the building is naturally ventilated in a transversal manner.
The foldable glass internal façade of the building was made locally by a small steel workshop that manually welded the steel framework. The rhythm of these small foldable windows relates to the dimensions of 0,9m to 1,10 m that are found in the traditional coral stone buildings of Muharraq and that are defined by the span of the coral stone slabs used to infill the coral stone columns. In this sense, the materials, although contemporary, relate to the proportions and dimensions of the traditional buildings of the city. The delicacy of this internal façade contrasts with the bold gesture of the main concrete structure that relates to the urban scale of the city, and more specifically, to the span of a typical urban block.
Ph. Dylan Perrenoud
The building is actively used as an exhibition space for architecture in the city. To date, it has hosted three different exhibitions since its opening more than a year ago. The inaugural exhibition was of John Yarwood’s sketches of houses that had since been demolished, while the second exhibition focused on the Falaj, the water systems of the Gulf, and the third, Casting and Cutting, was by the Bahrain-based architecture office, Studio Anne Holtrop. Future exhibitions include a survey of social housing typologies in Bahrain and a show of architectural drawings by the Japanese architecture firm Atelier Bow-Wow who have also worked in Muharraq.
DATE: 2017 / LOCATION: Muharraq, Kingdom of Bahrain / AREA: 209 m2 (built) / PROGRAM: Exhibition space / STATUS: built / DESIGN: Noura Al Sayeh and Leopold Banchini Architects / CLIENT: Sh. Ebrahim Centre for Culture & Research / PHOTOS: Dylan Perrenoud