The proposal by Influx_Studio for the Bab Al Bahrain Urban Oasis explores the value of the cultural and natural landscape inheritance as a design opportunity to address climate issues in public space, while catalyzing the urban potential of the site in the emerging new city urbanity. Urban Oasis is called to be the most important public space of Manama, embodying its dynamic character and showcasing its new sustainable identity. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Gathering the historic and the new rising Manama
A quiet but profound urban makeover is taking place at Bahrain and especially at its capital, Manama. The city is evolving in the global economy and becoming the financial hub of the Middle East. A new urban shape is being unveiled witnessing a dramatic transformation of the urban fabric, opposing two different urban scales from the traditional historic city, through the new breathtaking waterfront skyline.
Hybridizing urban space with landscape and ecology, the BAB Urban Oasis represents by its strategic position and historical importance, a great opportunity to create an exceptional and lively metropolitan interface, able to link and gather both, the historical tight-knit urban fabric and the new modern city front. The key issue is how to allow this soft transition while integrating both, values from historic urban tradition and from modern dynamics, embodying local landscape character and defining a strong landmark image for this strategic gathering place of Manama.
Integrating a new pedestrian vocation
The current dependence on the car as primary means of transport furthers several difficulties. A ‘drive-in open space’ mentality has been developed. Therefore the main strategy to reinstate a strong sense of place is to transform the “passing through” condition of the square into a “stay in” condition. In the aim to provide a pleasant pedestrian environment, it must become a social hub with great attractiveness, with a maximum degree of social interaction and activity. This pedestrian new vocation of BAB Square is a key condition to ensure spatial relationships to connect and recognize the nearby neighborhood context.
The urban strategy consists in moving down to the underground level the current circulation pathway in front of BAB, giving access by the way direct to the underground parking of the Square. This underground by-pass will allow relieving congestion in the traffic over the Historic gate, enhancing East- West urban connectivity, with a more fluid express way.
This measure allows the redesigning of the existing runabout in order to facilitate pedestrian crossing and minimize the presence of cars within the square, sewing the cut created by the Government Avenue. Moreover, a new large unifying pavement surface will integrate a quiet urban drop-off zone for the new Square and the BAB building. The access to the Suq by car under the archways of the Bab Al Bahrain will be still allowed enhancing the position of the building as a gateway to the City. This new shared interface will encompasses new forms of accessibility and attracts people from all directions to have a great urban experience.
A sustainable landscape landmark: The Urban Oasis
Envisioning a progressive attitude towards sustainability in the MENA region, our proposal introduces an integrated cultural and ecological vision for Bab Al Bahrain. Very careful attention has been given to sustainable design principles, in terms to create a main bioclimatic passive strategy, which allow with simply good practices the emerging of a unique and world class public space. The BAB Urban Oasis proposal looks forward to activate the use of outdoor spaces throughout the day, using passive cooling devices to naturally cool and mitigate the hot daytime environment. Threes, plantings, land modulations greening, innovative buildings and shade structures are all key figures to shape a more pleasant environment and to increase a wide range of outdoor activities.
The project is composed of tree main layers evolving in a symbiotic and sustainable way. In response to the climate, a monumental urban canopy like a sun umbrella will provide shade, shelter, and comfort to the pedestrian areas placed below. Climate comfort ensures having a meeting place that offers a relaxed natural atmosphere, a real oasis away from the stress of urban conditions, experiencing well-being and nature in an organic artificial topography. Over the cultural programs and under the shade canopy, a large open space is defined by its artificial geography. It groups silent and shaded calm zones along its gardens patios and green slopes, rather than offering a traditional public space. The public urban ground level, with its open spaces, water landscaping and main public pedestrian and car access, will host the principal cultural and urban facilities. A gentle descending slope garden will draws people towards a central entrance accessing some programs and parking.
A solar canopy
A bioclimatic passive strategy generates a three shaped structure roof introducing a large scale architectural element which deals with climate issues and with the new metropolitan scale of the new waterfront. It allows several possibilities to integrate a solar photovoltaic system, powering the complex, saving energy consumption and reducing CO2 emissions. Moreover, the canopy allows northern light to penetrate while no direct sun rays enter, while natural convection is encouraged, benefiting from its exposure to the breezes and prevailing winds through the complex. The geometrical roof structure embodies a classical timeless reference to Arabic spatial culture, creating at the same time an exiting pedestrian experience under the visual roof continuity, becoming a world-class cultural and leisure destination. Defining itself as an urban ecological device, the canopy will become a strong metropolitan image, such an iconic horizontal landmark which will provide identity to the whole area.
Public space as a modern urban catalyst
Instead of proposing divorced programs hosted by separate buildings over the square (relocation of the Central Post Office building, the National Archives and the Children’s Museum), we propose to identify strategic programmatic overlaps between them bringing together certain public activities, and adding new public activities to intensify the social gathering. Therefore Urban Oasis could be defined as a new modern urban catalyst. Re-assembling the different program units and the new additional cultural infrastructure into a living 24-hour open public space, the proposal seeks to introduce a permanent “all-day program core structure”. While irrigating a constellation of little urban amenities such shops, bookstores, gift shops, flower markets, cafes, and restaurants, living open spaces, etc, mixed with leisure and wellness programs like multipurpose hall, showrooms, art craft galleries etc, this strategy uses the resources of one program to amplify the potentials of the others, what could be impossible if they remains conventionally segregated and stratified.
Introducing a new integrated system of soft mobility (like shuttles, personal electric devices or small people movers) and keeping the same amount of parking spaces in the underground, the project aims to become a small scale multimodal hub, drawing people in from all around. In such way, the new BAB square project creates a programmatic link, benefiting from the pedestrian network of the Manama Suq entrance, connecting it with the attractiveness of the Bahrain Financial Harbor complex, creating a dynamic spot, gathering a very wider public coming from both destinations. Responding to the evolving lifestyles and changing needs in the Arab World, this urban strategy fulfills the permanent display of new urban practices, for a wider range of users, encouraging visitors and citizens to rediscover BAB as the “greatest place in Manama” between the Historic City and the new modern waterfront skyline.
The landscaping floating deck
This passively cooled new terrace will provide an innovative urban place, such an artificial topography, which lends an extraordinary fluidity to the flexible open space, allowing a network of quiet places to make a pause and enjoy sightseeing. Placed at 5 meters above the square level, this public space displays great views toward the waterfront, reviving the memory of the sea on the site. A comfortable footbridge over the King Faisal Highway will link at this level the Deck with the BFH, creating a continuous pedestrian pathway from the BAB building to the sea. Views to and from this deck, will ensure animation to passersby and users, helping to create a livable place. Uses here would include cafes, small retail frontage, information points and restaurants. Visitors stroll up the gentle curves, several informal places are displayed where enjoy a small pick-nick or laying down for a rest or a quiet evening meander, allowing a wide range of participation for Manama’s visitors and residents. This deck will reduce the temperature from soft coastal winds, also moderated by the shading structure and by the gardens. The pre-cooling fresh air coming from the gardens will create natural convection to reduce the mechanical cooling equipment needed for the cultural infrastructure.
Biodiversity: The biome gardens
Among the green areas proposed to reduce the ambient temperature while creating the new square microclimate, we can find a very special green features: Seven circular sunken gardens which will be showcased as world vegetal biomes, which will enhance local and foreign biodiversity. Those gardens of scents will be like glazed clusters, such a protected special areas. The Urban Oasis World Biomes will show the connection between the continents, welcoming plants from the Arabic world as well as others from the five continents at the same latitude as Bahrain. The biomes have a didactic vocation, like open books offering a world wide botanic panorama. To reduce water consumption, the gardens will filter a part of the waste water produced by the cultural facilities using purifying natural plants. The deep courtyard biomes will be irrigated with this recycled water to create the humid and dry landscapes and encourage biodiversity.