The Lost and Found

Visit to the garden of Eden

Anne Holtrop build a sanctuary of contemplation with the busy setting of World expo 2015. Recently his gem, named ‘Archaeologies of Green’ has taken up permanent residence in Muharraq in the Kingdom of Bahrain. More than six years after my discovery of Holtrop’s pavilion, I am still in admiration of the serene beauty of the place. Helped by a fantastic reportage by Iwan Baan we try to reconstruct the experience.

Bahrein SAH 5771
Untitled 31

Escape everyday life

The trip started rather gloomy, since I felt tricked by one of my bosses- under false pretense - into going to Milan. Nothing wrong with the theme; ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, but the execution of the World Expo 2015 lacked a few essential ingredients like: imagination, refinement and style. I decided to opt out of the program to do something extra-curricular on my own. These are the very moments when things may start to happen.

I took the opportunity to check out the Bahrain pavilion by Dutch architect Anne Holtrop (1977). Entering through a very simple but very refined opening on the short side of a long box of white concrete, I was swept into a pleasant world of serenity, distanced from the buzz and disturbance of crowds and traffic. I can only compare the experience to the manner in which nature can overwhelm you, making you calm , guiding you into thoughts. Maybe a church making you feel humble and aware of the greatness and abilities of mankind. I was immediately mesmerized by this beautiful enclosure of meandering passages, opening up to hidden gardens bathing in sunlight. This is what great architecture can bestow upon you. I remained there for hours thinking about things important and eating organic ice-cream. It was here that I first encountered the chairs of Muller Van Severen, minimalistic objects of aluminium and planes of color. My fascination for the works of Anne Holtrop and the country of Bahrein was sparked that day.

Untitled 33
Bahrein SAH 5411

Garden of Eden

Contemplation was the main effect Holtrop was aiming for, I read later in an interview with Amy Freason of Dezeen.

‘The aim was to reference the agrarian history of the country – an archipelago of thirty three low-lying islands in the Arabian Gulf. With its roots in an ancient civilization known as Dilmun, Bahrain has a long history rich with mythology. It is home to a million palm trees and was mentioned as a possible location for the biblical Garden of Eden. It’s a green oasis that differs quite a bit from the arid landscape of the surrounding Arab countries.’

Holtrop started with an abstract drawing based on some of the country’s archaeological ruins. This was the basis of the building’s plan. The pavilion frames numerous covered exhibition spaces, alternated by ten distinct open air gardens by landscape architect Anouk Vogel. The gardens are lush with various kinds of fruit trees, such as bananas, lemons, olives and figs. 

Minimalistic structure 

Panels of pre-cast white concrete were used to build the structure. Around 350 slabs of concrete in total – prefabricated white concrete panels, that we assembled like a puzzle – which are loosely stacked on top of each other.’ Eventually this system also allowed the structure to be taken apart at the end of Expo 2015 to be transported back to Bahrain, where it now remains as a permanent pavilion. ‘It was not in the brief, but when I proposed to make this project out of puzzle pieces of concrete, the client asked if we would be able to disassemble it again and move it. Due to this detail it transforms into a different piece of architecture. Besides the concrete we finished everything in brass. I think that makes it less of a building for a fair and gives it a real presence.’