You could call it the ultimate globalized product. While Boeing is making news for coordinating suppliers and designers from around the world to build its 787 aeroplane, developers in Bahrain are using the same kind of global outsourcing to create an entire city—even its zoning rules—from scratch.
Bahrain Bay, an enormous development near the causeway that connects Manama to the main airport of Bahrain, began as the location for a new Four Seasons hotel. The international element was there from the beginning, and not just because Four Seasons is from Canada. The developers, some of whose identities are hidden behind the Bahrain Bay name, ran an international competition for the hotel’s design, which was won by the New York architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Llp.
Soon Arcapita, an investment bank based in Bahrain and a backer of the project, decided to locate its new headquarters on Bahrain Bay and asked Skidmore for a design. Then the developers wanted to add more elements to surround the hotel. In a short time, a hotel had turned into a city, much of it on land reclaimed from the Gulf. With a mandate to design the master plan for the entire city, Skidmore began by calling in international consultants to analyze the local environment. Then the focus moved to the buildings.
The Bahrain Bay developers decided to make the city at least 60% residential. New partners joined the project: CapitaLand Ltd from Singapore, and Ajmera and Mayfair Housing from India. Bahrain is a small country, and, like other Gulf states trying to gain an international profile, it has not hesitated to import expertise.
“The project managers on the client side are made up from people from all around the world: Europe, Australia, South Africa, the US and the UK,” Kirchmann said. He also said that Skidmore was deliberately trying not to create a themed village, such as the Italian- and Spanish-inspired areas of Dubai. But it is clear that Skidmore has borrowed ideas from around the world.
New York was a special influence, with green spaces influenced by Central Park and a waterside promenade modelled on Manhattan’s West Side and Battery Park, Kirchmann added. But at the same time, the developers wanted to maintain a West Asian feeling. In fact, they wanted to encourage residents to readopt some local customs that preceded the West Asia’s air-conditioned urban centres, like spending more time outside.
Design is not the only part of the project that has become a globalized collaboration. Bahrain did not have a comprehensive set of building codes and a zoning process to screen the projects that would become part of the new city.
In the past, Kirchmann said, builders just used codes from other countries, including Britain and the US in their designs. For Bahrain Bay, the developers—evidently with the government’s support, if they are not in fact the same entity—have not just outsourced the design and the construction; they have also outsourced the zoning. As originators of the master plan, Skidmore has been given the job of screening proposals from local and international building partners.
Building on its globalized origins, Bahrain Bay will also be aiming for a global market when its properties go on sale. So, ultimately, is it a Bahraini city or an international one? The answer is both, Kirchmann said: “It’s no longer a case of, ‘Is this Middle Eastern culture or is this Western culture?’ because the two cultures have become intertwined in so many ways, each one borrowing from the other.” DANIEL ALTMAN/©2007/THE NEW YORK TIMES