_Bu Maher Visitor Centre, Muharraq_
For this weeks post I have invited Kavi Kittani to contribute. As well as being a great friend, Kavi has been living in Bahrain for the past ten years. She studied Interior Design and Architecture at The University of North London and The Bartlett School of Architecture, respectively. Here is what she has to say about the newly completed Bu Maher Visitor Centre:
With the sea breeze and salty air, the approach by boat to the Bu Maher Visitor Centre signals a start of a journey in our imagination before it has actually begun. Bahrain is in the process of re-visiting part of its past by tracing a journey of its pearl diving culture through the streets of Muharraq. This endeavor and all it encompasses is housed in the newly built Visitors Centre, which for now, can only be accessed by sea. As the structure comes into view and the shoreline in focus, this is the same strip of sandy beach that for centuries was the point from which pearl divers bade farewell to their families as they set off by dhow (a sailing vessel with one or two masts, used mainly in the Arabian region) for weeks at a time to the oyster beds of the Arabian Gulf.
The ramp leading to the entrance of the Visitor’s centre gently pulls up, away from the beach and we are led to a contemporary structure which has been specially commissioned.
The glass façade allows a view directly facing the Bu Maher fort (19th century) with the skyline of Manama’s high rises behind.
The commission of this building is a solid statement of an acceptance of the present and the acknowledgment of the importance of being of our time while housing the memories of the past and the placement of utmost importance on the history and value of one’s culture, not to be put aside in the name of modernity. The stone used is split faced travertine and is reminiscent of coral in its texture, its adds an organic softness to the building. The strong light of the Gulf is controlled by the use of the suspended structure that also works as a backdrop for the model tracing the walk.
This ambitious and romantic project of what must have been a difficult occupation, is the heritage pearling trail of Bahrain and it will wind its way through 3.5km of Muharraq’s narrow streets, visiting 17 renovated houses along the way, each with a connection to the pearling culture that brought wealth to the island prior to the 1930’s.
In addition to these traditional vernacular houses being renovated in plaster and timber using traditional making techniques, there are 3 remaining off shore pearling beds which are part of this project. This combined with the original shoreline and fort, produces a strong, significant entity which offers an opportunity to re-enter a world no longer of our time.Project: Bu Maher Visitor’s Centre and Pearling Heritage Trail Commissioned by the Minister of Culture, Sheikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, for the Ministry of Culture of Bahrain Architect: Davide Chiaverini plan architecture design UNESCO: Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1364 Photography: Marco Boria, Kavi Kittani Model: Marwan Basmaji Basmaji and Bielinska Architects