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Site visit: Bahrain National Theatre

on Jan 24, 2013


Yamurai Zendera visits one of Bahrain’s flagship cultural projects – the Bahrain National Theatre in Manama. With the capital’s tenure as Arab Capital of Culture for 2012 at a recent end, he gains exclusive access to the site to get the lowdown on how work is progressing

As the Bahrain government looks to diversify the economy and move it away from a reliance on oil in order to realise its Vision 2030 plan, a wave of construction projects have been commissioned.

Manama’s stint as Arab Capital of Culture in 2012 raised excitement with one of its flagship cultural projects - Bahrain National Theatre. Located adjacent to the National Museum on the Al Fateh Corniche in Manama, an opening was held on 12 November to also coincide with the king’s birthday.

From the outset, the Bahrain government has been clear in its vision of having a national theatre capable of hosting a multitude of domestic and international events, as well as one that would add to the culture of the Kingdom.

Its first national theatre will form part of a ribbon of cultural buildings, stretching from the National Museum to the Bahrain Library and the Al Fateh Grand Mosque.

Renowned Paris-based architecture practice AS.Architecture-Studio was hired by the government in 2003 to make its vision a reality. What it came up with was a stunning 1,001-seat auditorium and 150-seat flexible auditorium and exhibition area.

With overall control of the entire project, AS. Architecture Studio appointed Atkins in 2009 to collaborate on detailed architectural design, including the total external envelope, along with site-wide supervision for the complex.

On first viewing, what is immediately noticeable about the theatre is its expansive central space, which is also linked to the national museum, its lagoon setting and its shimmering gold roof.

The lagoon was an existing feature that was built into and topped up with water to create the front promenade, while the roof was designed to be a “shimmering gold jewel”. To achieve this effect, the stainless steel cladding panels were cut to size and sent to UK-based firm Rimex, which applied a special chemical treatment.

“It is actually a chemical treatment that it does share any of the secrets of, but it creates a colour in the surface of the steel,” says Rick Hopper, Atkins project manager for the Middle East.

“The idea was to have this shimmering gold jewel that signifies the theatre inside. As you come inside you will see that material is brought down into the foyer.”

The all-glass lobby entrance was designed by AS.Architecture-Studio to give patrons spectacular, unobstructed views inward, to the central performance area, and outward over the Manama lagoons. Achieving this required designing an innovative curtain wall system that was fully supported by glass.

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