It was the unique location of the National Theater of Bahrain that inspired French architects, as.architecture-studio, to situate this 12,000m2 theatre facing the artificial lagoon of the National Museum, so as to preserve its views and, more importantly, its majestic profile towards the sea.
Set between land and sea, the first distinguishing feature of the National Theatre of Bahrain is its roof canopy, a weave of openwork aluminium that is of major importance in this desert country climate. This structure not only filters sunlight, it also keeps the high temperatures in check. Inspired by the country’s traditional wicker rooftops, this immense sunshade also provides natural ventilation for the extensive outdoor walkway.
Below this canopy lies an inner shell clad in gold tinted stainless steel, which houses the 1,001-seat auditorium with a foyer, enabling spectators to move from one balcony to another.
The main auditorium has a ceiling height of 12m, and all the wall and ceiling surfaces of the auditorium (1656m2) are entirely clad in wood paneling, which is made up of 30mm composite MDF panels finished with a 6mm natural veneer facing of American red elm.
“We chose this species of wood for its superior acoustic qualities,” the architects, Roueïda Ayache and René-Henri Arnaud explain. The result is quite dramatic, firstly because one rarely sees projects where American red elm has been specified on this scale. In addition, the wood paneling has been crafted to look like the inverted hull of a ship, reminiscent of the architecture of dhows, the ancient fishing boats used on the Bahrain pearling trail. The natural grain patterns, which are very visible in American red elm, enhance the flowing and organic shapes of the balconies. The balcony railing tops are in solid red elm and above the first balcony railing, the wall cladding is in solid red elm slats with motorised acoustic curtains behind.
Likewise, cladding in solid red elm slats has been specified at the back of the auditorium and in the main lobby, but here the acoustic insulation is fixed. The curved soffits of the balconies and main ceiling are also formed out of MDF in layers on steel and timber frame and finished with elm veneer. The average dimensions of the MDF panels with red elm veneer facing are around 190 x 2800mm. All the panels were treated with a fire retardant before assembly and are mounted on steel and timber frames.
The acoustic performance of the paneling was also tested on a scale model prior to assembly. Only the straight sections were prefabricated and the supporting main steel ribs were also cut to the required shapes at the production plant. However, all the curved paneling was shaped and assembled on site and the brass strips, used to enhance the flowing lines of the interior design, were also inserted on site in the wood paneling.