GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The Context as a generator of Identity: Four examples from Bahrain
Paper Proposal Text :

The future Guggenheim and Louvre museums in UAE will be without doubt a great attraction for art and museum lovers from UAE, GCC and all over the world, knowing the success of these institutions in their country of birth, but also in their recent new “satellite versions” such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao and in Venice, and the Louvre in Lens.

But these “satellite museums” pose a serious question: while the Guggenheim and Louvre has been known as a quintessential part of the American’ cultural experience or the French’ cultural experience, will these institutions be able to handle the challenging task of representing the local culture where they will take their new roots in? And is it the correct direction and vision for the GCC countries to opt at first for a museum’ franchise to attract tourists and visitors? Or is there another approach more coming from the “inside out”, rather than from “outside in”?

I.M.Pei’s design for the Museum in Qatar is an antithesis to Biblao’s and UAE’s Guggenheim Museum, although both are designed by a foreign (non-local) architect who doesn’t belong to the culture of the museum’s context. Both museums have a prominent location in their respective cities, but the striking difference is at the contextual level: while the former is a prove that a landmark in such a prominent location can take into consideration its context as its driving force-inside out, the latter one can fit anywhere in the world-outside in.


Bahrain, and like the rest of the GCC countries, is witnessing an urban, architectural and cultural regeneration in all sectors, which will reshape the tiny island’s morphology and institutions in general, and its cultural identity in particular.

As part of its effort to preserve, upgrade and promote heritage sites - witnessed in particular in the recent addition of the Pearling Pathway in Muharaq to the Unesco WHL, the Ministry of Culture has embarked on a long journey to reshape the island’s cultural assets and infrastructure, where most of the sites date back to more than five thousands years.

In contrast to the current direction in the rest of the GCC countries where emphasize and priorities are given to global branding and franchise, the focus in Bahrain is on upgrading and creating cultural institutions that reflect or interpret the local heritage, art, identity, as well as the archaeological sites. The Ministry of Culture is also keen on exposing its rich archaeological findings in decentralized way, by establishing various site museums near most of its archaeological sites. These small museums or visitor centers - along with the main National Museum in Manam - will play a major role in the new network of heritage and archaeological museums, reflecting the local culture on a larger scale.

As part of this effort, various architects, urban planners and exhibit designers are working closely with the Ministry of Culture to help develop and implement such a vision.


At Basmaji and Bielinska Architects (BBA), we have contributed with four key interventions:

-two indoors: the Investing in Culture Exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum, and the Pearling Pathway Exhibition at Bu Maher Fort Visitor Center

-two outdoors: the Barbar Temples Visitor Centre in Barbar, and the Tree of Life Visitor Centre in Sakhir

In these four interventions which we selected as our discussion thematic for this conference, the context played the key role in creating the final form, shape and proportion. Convinced at BBA that a correct and authentic reflection of any cultural identity is a force that must come from within rather than from without – as the notion of Identity itself, these four design challenges manifest an example of a design process and discourse coming from inside out, rather that from outside in.

Bilbao effect was very successful in putting Bilbao on the global cultural map, and this has became the key approach in many museums all over the world; but is it the only way to move ahead ? Shouldn’t one question what sort of identity such architecture will reflect? is it the city’s identity? the nation’ identity ? or the architect’ identity ?