Revitalisation of Muharraq project wins 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

Kazan, The Revitalisation of Muharraq project has won the 2019 Aga Khan Award for Architecture in a new triumph for Bahrain.

Five other projects from Bangladesh, Palestine Russia, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates, were also declared by the jury winners of the award presented every three years. The names of the six winners were announced on Thursday in Kazan, Russia.

In its citation, the jury said that the Revitalisation of Muharraq, which highlights the World Heritage site’s pearling history, was the first initiated as a series of restoration and reuse projects.

“The project evolved into a comprehensive programme that aimed to re-balance the city’s demographic makeup by creating public spaces, providing community and cultural venues, and improving the overall environment,” the jury said.

In its statement about the Revitalisation of Muharraq project, the Agha Khan Award for Architecture said “the project evolved into a comprehensive programme that aimed to re-balance the city’s demographic makeup by creating public spaces, providing community and cultural venues, and improving the overall environment.”

Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa, the President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA), hailed the latest success.

“Once again, the city of Muharraq proves that is closely associated with human and civilizational achievements. Yesterday, it was the capital of Islamic Culture. Today, it has achieved a new cultural banner with the Muharraq Revitalization Project winning the Aga Khan Award for Architecture,” she said.

“The achievements of Bahrain’s cities reflect the generous support of the wise leadership of Bahrain, led by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, whose support for culture and heritage has been remarkably outstanding.”

The success also reflects the continuous work and close cooperation between the civil institutions represented by Shaikh Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Center for Culture and Research and the official governmental institutions represented by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, she added.

Together, they have been restoring the authentic spirit of Muharraq, the old capital of Bahrain that is rich with various cultural and historic monuments and distinguished by its original urban fabric, Shaikha Mai said.

“Bahrain’s win in one of the most prestigious awards in architecture at the global level emphasizes the importance of investment in cultural and civilizational components. This is one of the most important means of cultural tourism industry and achieves sustainable development that elevates the local community and attracts visitors from all over the world,” she said.

The work of reviving the cultural and urban heritage of Muharraq is continuing through the completion of the remaining elements of the site of the Pearl Path and through the efforts of the private sector in Muharraq, she added.

Muharraq’s status and role in the cultural, artistic and literary movement and creativity should be fully supported.

Project description

The pearling industry was historically crucial to Bahrain’s economy, with the former capital Muharraq as its global centre. Following the development of cultured pearls in the 1930s, the town went into decline and Manama rose to become capital through oil wealth. Muharraq’s indigenous population was largely replaced by migrant workers, mostly single males sharing rented accommodation.

Initiated as a series of restoration and adaptive reuse of a number of edifices under the Sheikh Ebrahim Centre for Culture and Research, the project evolved into a comprehensive programme entitled Pearling Path, Testimony of an Island Economy involving various architects, planners and researchers. The project both highlights the town’s pearling history and aims to re-balance its demographic makeup, enticing local families back through improvements to the environment and provision of community and cultural venues. Facilitated by private�public partnerships, it involves the preservation of a number of sites and numerous buildings, from humble divers’ houses to prestigious courtyard residences to commercial warehouses; plus the upgrading of other facades, and the construction of four new buildings. All of these are connected through a visitor pathway, with vacant plots left by demolitions landscaped as public spaces.

The preservation/restoration of the traditional buildings included reinstating lost wind towers for natural climate control. The materials employed match the originals � notably coral stone reused from demolished structures, and wood. Terrazzo, which became popular in the area in the 1940s for flooring, is utilised extensively for street furniture, and contains flecks of oyster shell. Spherical white streetlamps atop terrazzo posts bring further pearl-related symbolism and assist way-finding.

The new buildings respect the historic environment’s scale and street lines while making bold contemporary architectural statements. The Pearling Path Visitor and Experience Centre and the House of Architectural Heritage adopt a Brutalist aesthetic, the former’s forms echoing the wind towers and coral blocks of traditional neighbouring structures; the Archaeologies of Green Pavilion features a series of interlinking gardens containing indigenous plants; and the Dar Al Jinaa Centre for Traditional Music is inventively cloaked in chain mail, shielding against solar glare while allowing a constant breeze. Music events here and elsewhere in the programme include performances of pearl-fishers’ songs.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all new planning applications are reviewed by the project team to ensure further developments are in keeping with the scheme’s overarching objectives.

The other winners


Arcadia Education Project, in South Kanarchor, a modular structure � incorporating space for a preschool, a hostel, a nursery and a vocational training centre � that takes a novel approach to a riverine site that is often flooded for five months every year.

Rather than disrupting the ecosystem to create a mound for building, the architect devised the solution of an amphibious structure that could sit on the ground or float on the water, depending on seasonal conditions.


Palestinian Museum, in Birzeit, which crowns a terraced hill overlooking the Mediterranean and is the recipient of the LEED Gold certification because of its sustainable construction.

The zigzagging forms of the Museum’s architecture and hillside gardens are inspired by the surrounding agricultural terraces, stressing the link with the land and Palestinian heritage.

Russian Federation

Public Spaces Development Programme, in the Republic of Tatarstan, a programme that, till date has improved 328 public spaces all over Tatarstan.

The ambitious programme sought to counter the trend toward private ownership by refocusing priorities on quality public spaces for the people of Tatarstan.

It has now become a model throughout the Russian Federation.


Alioune Diop University Teaching and Research Unit, in Bambey, where a scarcity of resources led to the use of bioclimatic strategies, including a large double roof canopy and latticework that avoids direct solar radiation but allows air to flow through it.

By employing locally familiar construction techniques and following sustainability principles, the project succeeded in keeping costs and maintenance demands to a minimum, while still making a bold architectural statement.

United Arab Emirates

Wasit Wetland Centre, in Sharjah, a design that transformed a wasteland into a wetland and functioned as a catalyst for biodiversity and environmental education. While its indigenous ecosystem has been restored, it has also proven to be a popular place for visitors to appreciate and learn about their natural environment.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture’s mandate is different from that of many other architecture prizes: it not only rewards architects, but also identifies municipalities, builders, clients, master artisans and engineers who have played important roles in the realisation of a project.

The Award

The award recognizes all parties involved in the conception, design, and realization of a built project.

It is given in three-year cycles, allowing time for the rigorous on-site reviews by experts in architecture, engineering, and conservation, that the award has become known for.

Founded in 1977 by Aga Khan IV, it aims specifically to highlight projects of relevance or significance to primarily Islamic societies. This focus may seem paradoxically broad, but it is geared toward elevating projects that not only adeptly meet their functional requirements but also stimulate and respond to cultural aspirations.

Projects that inventively make use of local materials and/or appropriate technologies are given particular attention in the hopes that they inspire equally creative efforts elsewhere.

Venue for the Award:

The venue for the Award ceremonies to announce the winning projects and mark the close of each triennial cycle are always held in settings selected for their architectural and cultural importance to the Muslim world.

In 2019, the ceremony will be held in Kazan, Russia, which contains, in its Kremlin, a World Heritage Site.

Previous venues for Award ceremonies encompass many of the most illustrious architectural achievements in the Muslim world, including Shalimar Gardens in Lahore (1980), Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (1983), the Alhambra in Granada (1998) and Emperor Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi (2004).


The master jury for the 2017-2019 award cycle comprised:

Kwame Anthony Akroma-Ampim Kusi Appiah, an Anglo-Ghanaian American philosopher and cultural theorist recognized for his work in 2012 by President Obama

Meisa Batayneh, founder and principal architect of maisam architects & engineers in Amman and Abu Dhabi

Sir David Chipperfield, founder and principal of David Chipperfield Architects in London and Berlin

Elizabeth Diller, co-founder and principal of Diller Scofidio Renfro in New York

Edhem Eldem, a Professor of History at Bogazici University (Istanbul) and International Chair of Turkish and Ottoman History at the CollAge de France

Mona Fawaz, Professor in Urban Studies and Planning, and the director of the Social Justice and the City research programme at the American University of Beirut

Kareem Ibrahim, Egyptian architect and urban researcher who worked on UNDP’s Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project

Ali M. Malkawi, professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and founding director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities

Nondita Correa Mehrotra, principal of RMA Architects in India and the United States

Source: Bahrain News Agency