Pearling Site

Valerio Olgiati
Muharraq, Bahrain

A covered open space with a triple function: protect the ruins of the Pearling Path, orient visitors, and give shade.

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Photos: © Archive Olgiati

The Pearling Path is a 3.5 km stretch that connects several spots important to the pearl industry of Muharraq, Bahrein’s second most populated city. It had been abandoned since the first half of the 20th century, but in 2012 became part of a UNESCO cultural heritage site. The Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati was commissioned by the Bahrain Authority of Culture and Antiquities to design a museum and foyer for the medina. This is an urban room with the scale of a public park, a concrete construction with a brutalist aesthetic that respects the identity and suits the climate of the country. Elements arranged along the edge of the site form a new open place in the midst of the dense city.

The roof, understood as an archaic gesture, forms a threshold for the people of Muharraq to protect themselves from the region’s characteristic heat, and produces a unique situation through its different scale; it is set 10 meters above ground, held up by a forest of concrete pillars and some wind towers that provide natural ventilation and cooling. Hidden in the shadow is the museum of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, an enigmatic building that creates a universe in itself which serves as entrance to the Pearling Path and the historic city beyond.

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