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Pearling pathway visitor centre, 2019 by Valerio Olgiati

This case study is part of the essay String of pearls: preserving cultural heritage in Bahrain, featured in AR May 2020 on Tourism. Click here to read the full article

Like other projects dotted along the trail, the brief for this ‘visitor and experience centre’ attempts to reconcile the needs and expectations of both tourists and locals. It marks the entrance to the pearling trail, but also performs as an ‘urban room with the scale of a public park’ in the words of the architect, for residents to wander, meet and rest in the shade.

Amid the fine-grained surroundings, this generous open space is an unprecedented proposition – recent years have witnessed the increasing privatisation of space in Bahrain. An open forest of concrete pillars supports the broad-span slab, punched with pentagonal openings and levitating 10m above ground, while wind towers pierce through, soaring above the Muharraq rooftops.

‘Valerio Olgiati’s Brutalist concrete canopy, the colour of burnt coral, and a second visitor centre within the dense urban fabric, hovers above the old city’s rooftops’

Near the entrance, a solid and mute block houses a small heritage museum, while excavated ruins, the remains of a thriving market that fell into disrepair after the 1930s, are left on display outside, shielded by the monochromatic concrete. Out on the other side lie the tortuous back streets and dead ends of the old city. Imposing and intimidating, the visitor centre presents a tall perimeter wall – a hard boundary. Olgiati made the case for ‘non-referential buildings’, defending an architecture that assumes ‘its significance and meaning only from itself’, but the development of neighbouring sites, including Suq Al Qaysariyyah by Studio Anne Holtrop, are likely to help inject life underneath the canopy.

Visitor centre olgiati architectural review 4

Visitor centre olgiati architectural review 4

Olgiati visitor centre architectural review drawings3

Olgiati visitor centre architectural review drawings3

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This piece is featured in the AR May 2020 issue on Tourism – click here to buy your copy today