Bahrain’s Oddly Shaped Al-Khalifiyah Library

Al-Khalifiyah Library's main façade

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Formerly the capital of Bahrain, Muharraq is currently the country's third largest city. Whilst the town is part of Manama's metropolitan area, it has its own distinct identity, boasting many historically and nationally significant places. Somewhat outshined by the city's more famous sites, the Khalifeyah Library is an ambitious attempt to define a modern Bahraini architecture, as it merges the latest building techniques with traditional motifs.

All across the world, libraries provide a precious opportunity to showcase a national, regional and sometimes even a local identity. Located in the heart of Muharraq’s historic district, Al Khalifiyeh Library might not be a great tourist magnet like its nearby older counterparts, and yet, its unusual façade is unignorable.


Decades before Khalifiyeh Library’s current building was constructed, the same land parcel was occupied by yet another edifice that bore the same name. The building, which was one of Bahrain’s first libraries, was eventually bulldozed as part of an urban development program. Following its demolition, the land parcel was trimmed to make room for a new road.


Amid the sheer lack of public space across Muharraq, the local authorities decided to revive the city’s renowned library, which was rebuilt in 2016. To say that Al Khalifiyeh new building is architecturally distant from its predecessor would be an understatement, and yet, the old library is apparently embedded in the current structure.


As the new building features a 6-meter-long cantilever that protrudes outwards, it matches the library’s original footprint prior to the adjacent road’s widening, which was roughly double the size. This tribute, besides being symbolic, casts a much-needed shadow on the lower floors as well as the street beneath.


The library’s façade is dominated by a diagonally aligned latticework that is inspired by Islamic geometric patterns. The dense grid, apart from its visual merit, also helps regulate the indoor temperatures against the harsh Bahraini climate. As for the building itself, it houses a research center, a designated area for reading, an internet lab and you’ve guessed it right, bookshelves.


While most of the books require Arabic literacy, the intriguing urban vista as seen between the iconic lattice patterns solely entails your attention. With outside temperatures often exceeding 40°c, the library’s air-conditioned space also offers a refreshing respite from the scorching sun.