The staggered and stacked built-form emerged from the client’s desire for a structure that would stand out from its surroundings.
The staggered and stacked built-form emerged from the client’s desire for a structure that would stand out from its surroundings.

UK-based OAOA have designed an office building in Bahrain with panoramic views of the city and seascape beyond

Appearing like four stacked boxes, the soon-to-be-built office tower in Bahrain will feature façades consisting of innovative ceramic-fritted glass

To be located in the centre of Bahrain, Big Box is an office tower that will sit along a prominent highway intersection in Salmabad and rise to a height of 74m. Giving occupants panoramic views of the city and seascape beyond, the project consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated from the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic-fritted curtain wall.

According to Omar Al Omari, founder and director of UK-based OAOA, the concept of the project is a response to the client’s desire for the structure to stand out from other buildings in Bahrain and achieve a high-density commercial space using a reasonable budget. “The unique form of the building, as a series of stacked and shifting boxes, is a simple yet novel way of fulfilling these requirements within a complex set of planning and site constraints,” Omari said.

Due to the tight proportions of the plot, the architects found a rectangular plan to be the most efficient in terms of cost and area optimisation. And with the water table being high in Bahrain, OAOA placed parking within the podium and raised it to create an inviting and permeable lobby and retail space at the base. “We didn’t like the idea of a typical stumpy building sitting on top of the podium. We intended to integrate the building with its podium to achieve taller, slender and more elegant proportions – so we replicated the proportions of the podium box in the remainder of the building, which resulted in four boxes,” added Al Omari. “These were offset from one another to take advantage of setback regulation allowances, maximising office space.”



The upper three office boxes are distinguished by a shift in materiality: the lower (parking) cube has aluminium louvers, while the ones above are faced in ceramic-fritted curtain wall.

While the structure largely comprises reinforced concrete and post tensioned slabs, the main shell of the building is a curtain wall of well-insulated double glazing that maximises views toward the surroundings with an added layer of ceramic fritting for shading and solar protection. The podium further features vertical aluminium louvers, which act as a permeable skin allowing for cross ventilation.

“The use of innovative ceramic fritting for shading and creating the monolithic vertical pattern of the façade allowed us to maintain one predominant material – glass – to achieve a multitude of functions without the need to add thick material layers that are costly and which would obstruct the views,” said Omari. “The glass-to-glass corner detail also maximises the sought-after dual aspect ‘corner’ views from the inside, and gives the elegant appearance of a seamless glass box from the outside.”

Innovative ceramic fritting for shading and creating the monolithic vertical pattern of the façade allowed OAOA to maintain one predominant material - glass - to achieve a multitude of functions.

Omari noted that the use of ceramic-fritted glass is a passive design technique, as it allows for clear natural light while providing shading to the required degree and location. “In most buildings, the glass is tinted or mirrored to decrease the amount of daylight,” he said. “Tinting makes everything appear darker, while mirror glass reflects heat – exasperating the problem for neighbours and the environment…Fritted glass helps reduce glare and the need of added physical layers, such as louvers or screens. By reducing heat gain, we reduce cooling loads, which reduces the emission of heat and harmful gases from AC machines, saving energy and lowering running costs.”

Retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level of Big Box.


The architects further embedded an LED strip used for feature lighting into the glass-to-glass corner, which highlights the edges of each box – creating a contemporary visual impact. The building is intended to appeal to a wide spectrum of tenants, Omari added, from corporates to start-ups and individuals. Therefore, the design of Big Box’s public and shared spaces was kept “minimally elegant, flexible and highly functional.” With construction beginning in a few months, Big Box is expected to be completed by late 2020 or early 2021.

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