Bahrain Children's Museum

Comissioned by Shaikha Mai al-Khalifa, in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, Culture and National Heritage in Bahrain, Faris and Faris architects took on the design of the Bahrain Children’s Museum, to be the first of its kind in the Kingdom. It will be an interactive and educational institution for children 1-14 years of age, geared towards the arts, sciences, technology, and the Bahraini identity. Located in the city of Manama, the museum will encourage the spirit of discovery and imagination through the creative use of interactive exhibits. The architectural design of the building was affected mainly by the following elements resulting in the design decisions adopted for the project. The Region: Being in Bahrain, the project will take on certain qualities and considerations specific to that area. Such considerations will be directed towards emphasizing the local architectural characteristics of the building through the use of available building technology, materials, and vegetation from the surrounding environment, and putting it into its proper context. The proximity to the sea, and the Arab Gulf region, in addition to the weather and sun exposure in that area were also some of the influences on the architecture of the museum. The Site: the site is part of the sea which is a part of the Persian Gulf. Building in this area requires a process known as “Land Reclamation`, which can be defined as the creation of land where there was once water. Thus the resultant land will be flat with minor level changes, allowing for the use of a one floor building, and maximizing the use of the clear height to suit the building’s requirements, and only using a second floor for building services and administrative purposes. The Program: The initial reaction to the program was noting and identifying the distinction between the zones designated for exhibits and those dedicated for group activities and visitor services, such as the restaurant and library. The former should have an informal quality and openness, with a degree of transparency suggesting unrestricted interaction between the public and the building and its contents to encourage learning through play. On the other hand, the latter would be more contained, with direct access for the public, and yet still be informal and inviting. This distinction is mirrored on the architecture of the building, and is created by altering the external walls of the masses, such that the one housing the exhibits becomes more playful and dynamic, while the other retains the purity, rigidity, and smoothness of the material it’s made of. The circulation element throughout the building is emphasized as being a datum connecting between the different functions, and simultaneously providing a reference to reinforce the visitor’s sense of orientation. The Concept: the child and everyday child’s play was the main motivation behind the components that generated the concept for the design of the museum. These can be summarized in the following: -Paper: the simplicity of the material makes it one of the interesting playing mediums a child can enjoy. The potentials are endless; it can be folded, cut, modeled, and reshaped into any shape imaginable, and still retain the fragility and purity of the source. -Light: the play of light and shadows and the creation of patterns that change as the day progresses is in essence similar to creating a kaleidoscope from natural light. Taking the bright sun characteristic of the country and region and utilizing it into an asset for the project by employing both shadow and light to emphasize the different textures and “folds` of the building, promotes the building and transforms it visually into a dynamic entity. -Purity: the fundamental nature of a child and their understanding and interaction with their surrounding reflects the purity of their spirit. This purity is also reflected in the surrounding built and natural environment which dictated that the resulting forms be platonic, simple, and pure, drawing strength from their purity, and yet not be overpowering or intimidating. -Color: the element of anticipation and surprise is finally culminated by the explosion of color from the masses, giving a glimpse of what is inside and igniting the imagination and stimulating the senses to discover what’s beyond these walls, all the time indicating a place dedicated for children, and inspired by them. Principal masses come together to result in the overall architecture for the museum. A pierced multilayered exhibitions building signifies the characteristics of paper while granting the museum an interior animated by light. The skin of the main circulation artery represents a recreation of a paper cut-out; this long rectangular core connects the exhibition halls with the rest of the building and allows ease of movement. The non-exhibition building is a pure white form that appears to explode with color presenting an element of surprise in contrast with the more plain white surfaces. The museum’s architecture becomes a learning tool in itself, one that teaches the strength of a pure form, respect for the environment and the power of light and shadow. The Museum’s total area is around 11,000m2, and includes functions such as the main exhibit hall, a library, planetarium, restaurant, and support services. The proposed external and internal finishes will include a range of different materials to simulate locality and keep up with the spirit of the area and the local architectural characteristics; -Fiber Cement: is made into panels with different textures and shapes, used for cladding building surfaces, and creating the folded surfaces for the mass housing the exhibits. -Plaster & Paint: reminiscent of the local building techniques of the country, and will be used to produce a smooth, pure surface for the external walls. -Glass: employed to enhance the “play of light` idea, but in small contained areas and in the form of puncture holes to avoid sun exposure and overheating of the building. -Metal: used to create the skeleton which will carry the fiber cement panels.

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