Trip to Bahrain

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I left for Bahrain and flew back this evening. I wanted to comment on a tour I took of various old houses in Muharraq, Bahrain's second largest city, located on the same island as the airport. It actually used to be the capital of Bahrain until 1923. We went to see various old houses, cultural institutions and restored buildings that have been turned into a variety of functions: theatre halls, children's libraries, art galleries, handicraft houses, cafes...really it was the best restored job I have seen so far in the Gulf (although I have many places yet to see in the region). I will put of photographs later when I receive them so you get the idea.

Most of these institutions, located in old houses, are under the organizing umbrella of the ShaikhEbrahim Bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa Center for Culture and Research, a commendable institution that other Gulf countries should really take a closer look at and try to learn from.

Why was this experience so amazing? Because these various heritage houses were connected together into a neighborhood, a street, where maintaining the outdoor space was just as important in the renovation. For example, in the streets there were various painted murals, the brick roads were in good condition and one could tell that the street space was pro-actively utilized. There were many pedestrians, they were child-friendly streets as we saw many kids walking around on their own, and they even had artwork by children as well. Because in between these different cultural spaces there were also residential areas where people lived, allowing for mixed use in the urban dynamic.

Because within these renovated buildings there was a fine-tuned, elegant combination of the old and the new to a degree I have not seen in the Gulf. Because the people who worked on the renovation were able to see value in deteriorated buildings that in many other countries would simply have gotten demolished, and turned it into something beautiful. Because these restored areas were not simply museum or heritage pieces, but continued to live in the present and have an active function: art galleries, workshops, lectures, music events, films, etc. I could go on forever, but please learn for yourself by visiting their website. If you go to Bahrain and do not stop by this area, you are really missing out.

For anyone who thinks this kind of thing simply could never happen in Kuwait, think again. There are PLENTY of old houses that can be restored. Nothing is impossible. I saw some before/after photographs of the houses they chose for renovation and I was in shock. At first glance these houses seemed so similar to the type of beautiful, but derelict buildings you see in Kuwait all the time. Bahrainis have reason to be proud of their history and how they have managed to see that modernity does not have to displace it.

1 Response on "Trip to Bahrain"

  1. hallelujah! At last someone is investing in livable, tasteful,culturally appropriate architecture in the Gulf... what a breath of fresh air after all the endless gated developments and hideous real estate 'mega-projects'.

    Very interesting post