Al Khalifeyah Library

Al Khalifeyah Library reinterprets the perforated timber bay windows that line the Al-Muharraq souq, translating this vernacular intelligence into its porous stepped facade.

By cantilevering outwards, Al Khalifeyah Library performs a civic duty, negotiating itself into the public space and offering shade to the street below.

Al Khalifiyah Library, one of the first public libraries in Bahrain, is part of a wider effort to reinvigorate the public life of the central city and preserve its unique identity.

Muharraq is the third-largest city in the oil-rich state of Bahrain, and its former capital until 1932. Muharraq has long been a spiritual as well as a commercial hub, with history dating back 3,000 years to the Dilmun, Phoenician and Byzantine empires. The historical Al-Muharraq souq, the market area surrounding Al Khalifiyah Library has suffered from rapid redevelopment since the 1980s, and much of the fine-grained urban silhouette and original scale of the area has been eroded.

Taking cues from the vernacular buildings around it, Al Khalifeyah Library both embeds itself in the existing neighbourhood and commands a strong public presence.

Though modest in scale, Al Khalifiyah Library stands out from its neighbours. The two upper floors are cantilevered at different angles to give the street facade a stepped profile, and they are clad in a grid of wooden louvers, functioning like the perforated screens that shade Islamic buildings.

Al Khalifeyah Library has been rebuilt on its original location in collaboration with Bahrain-based architects PAD. The boundary of the lower floor of Khalifeyah Library is shaped by the footprint of the existing site, while the cantilevering volumes of the two top floors align with the ghost of the original building which sat some seven metres forward. This keeps the public space intact and at the same time creates a covered entrance for the library as well as a gathering place in front of the mosque opposite. The library accommodates a reading area, a research centre, an internet lab, as well as offices.

SeARCH combines Dutch practicality and a responsiveness to the environment with a disciplined creativity that gives their work its unique stamp.

Rather than mimic traditional patterns SeARCH has employed a bold contemporary geometry. The glass is set back to shade it from the sun and the varied density of the grid alternately reveals and conceals the interior from the street to create interesting shadow patterns within.

By overlaying the shadows created by the typical shapes of the cantilevers, an interesting pattern emerges. This informed the design of a diagonal grid of louvres is projected on the facade. Rather than being defined by structural logic or repetitive array of traditional Arabic shapes, this pattern regulates incoming sunlight by varying the density of the grid. This leads to an abstract sculptural facade that changes its appearance under different viewing angles. Sometimes it seems solid and closed, but if passing by it opens up to passers-by.

Al Khalifeyah Library
Ministery of Cultural Affairs, Sh. Mai Al Khalifa
Muharraq, BH
2014 - 2016
Iwan Baan, SeARCH