Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The City of Kuwait Contemporary Conditions (2009)

The City of Kuwait Contemporary Conditions (2009)
Author: Dr. Yasser Mahgoub

Introduction: The Moment and the Momentum

Money does no make architecture; human effort does. [1]

The 1st decade of the 21st century has almost passed and the city state of Kuwait is still in a state of lull. After the collapse of Saddam Husain’s regime in the northern neighbour Iraq on March 2003, Kuwait was expected to rise quickly and regain its lost prestigious status as the “Jewel of the Gulf” that it enjoyed during the 1970’s and 1980’s of the 20th century. It is feared that the stumble block that Kuwait is currently experiencing to last for an extended period of time. Many big projects are delayed, re-bid or cancelled due to political and financial circumstances. Repeated parliament and government resignations and elections is distracting the attention and effort away from development and construction. The global economic crisis has affected the ability of developers and contractors to receive cash flow from banks and financial institutions to complete their projects. Many tower cranes were stopped and many workers were laid off due to the global economic crisis. The downfall of oil prices and huge losses of financial investments in world stock markets has resulted in a freeze of the financial cycle.

The built environment found in Kuwait today is a product of decisions made during its early stages of planning and construction as well as subsequent decisions made during its development and evolution. It is also a product of regional and global conditions, circumstances, and situations that Kuwait found itself facing as a result of its resources, location and international connections. Its crude oil reserve is estimated to be about 104 billion barrels - 8% of world reserves. Petroleum accounts for nearly half of GDP, 95% of export revenues, and 80% of government income. Its $57,400 GPD per capita income (2008 est.) puts it 5 on the world list. [2] Major impact of world events illustrate this entanglement with world affairs including its invasion by Iraq and the determination to liberate it by the world community during the Second Gulf War and its “involuntary” involvement in the Third Gulf War on Iraq.

Figure 1. Kuwait Map and Environs. [2]

Part 1: Deconstructing the Past

Following its liberation on the 26th of February 1991, Kuwait started a reconstruction process of its badly damaged infrastructure and utilities. Most of its economic resources were utilized to improve its security and military capabilities. The continuous existence of the hostile regime of Sadam Hussian in Iraq prevented the country from diverting its attention away from security and military priorities. This coincided with major world economic shifts that other cities in the region, especially Dubai, benefited from tremendously. The economic development coupled with a construction boom in the Gulf region during the 1990’s was witnessed with envy by Kuwait. Dubai acquired a world status by attracting world investments through the implementation of free market trade and open economy strategies. The period between the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and end of Saddam’s regime in Iraq in 2003 witnessed slow development, focus on safety and security and the loss of Kuwait status as the leader of development and modernization in the region.

Figure 2. Kuwait major events timeline.

The downfall of Kuwait’s prestigious status started during the 1980s with the stock market collapse and the decline of oil prices that slowed down the process of development and construction. The 8-year First Gulf War between Iran and Iraq during 1980s threatened the security of the whole Gulf region and diverted the attention towards security. Kuwait had to bear the financial burdens of supporting Iraq during the war. [3] The economic crisis was followed by the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on the 2nd of August 1990. During their retreat, the Iraqi Armed Forces practiced a scorched earth policy by setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells. The fires took over nine months to fully extinguish, and the cost of repair of oil infrastructure exceeded $5 billion. The damage was also inflicted on a large variety of building types such as; mosques, government buildings, palaces, public buildings and markets as well as architecture landmarks. [4] [5] [6] Private property, houses, hotels, office buildings, university buildings and schools were also subject to vandalism and destruction.

During the 1970’s, Kuwait has reached the climax of its maturity as newly established state built with oil revenues according to state of the art urban planning and architecture design practices. The 1973 Middle East War caused sharp increase of oil prices and income for Kuwait to initiate a second phase development and modernization. While Kuwait was not directly affected by the war, it benefited from the increase of oil prices that followed the oil embargo to finance its construction plans. Kuwait was the main point of entry of modernization to other Gulf countries; such as Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. It was the Gulf idol for other emerging countries and participated in shaping their modernization and development.

International architects were invited to design landmark buildings in Kuwait. They included: Kenzo Tange, Jorn Utzon, Reima Pietila, Arne Jacobsen, Michel Ecochard and Lindstorm, Egnell and Bjorn. This practice facilitated the dissemination of global trends. The architects employed their own way of thinking that reflected international trends at that time to design buildings in Kuwait. [1] [3] [6] For example, the design of The Parliament Building by Jorn Utzon started in 1978 and was completed in 1985. The building resembles an Arabian tent, as a symbol of hospitality, open to all visitors oriented towards the Gulf to catch the cooling breeze from the sea. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Reima Pietila began in 1973 and was completed in 1983. [6] The architects developed an innovative solution providing a stylistic progression from the traditional to the post-modern forms. They respected the height and style of the existing traditional building and used soft, yellow colour of indigenous housing for the exterior walls. They applied several climatic solutions to provide shaded exterior spaces while admitting air to interior space. [1] Kuwait Towers by Malene Bjorn, the most important landmark on the Gulf Road in Kuwait, was inaugurated on February 26, 1977. [7] Water is contained in a sculptural form that imitates the traditional Arabian perfume containers. The project is composed of three towers; two towers are used as water containers and the third is a lighting pole. The tallest is 180 meters high and contains 4,500 m3 water reservoir, a 90 guests restaurant, and a rotating observatory. The second tower is 140 meters high and is used only as a water reservoir. The spheres are “covered with enamelled plates of steel painted in colour scheme of blues, greens and greys.

Figure 3. Parliament Building.

Figure 4. Kuwait Towers.

The fact that most public buildings in Kuwait were designed by foreign architects and firms was a result of absence of qualified local architects and firms that could handle projects of that size. There were not many native architects nor workers to handle this massive amount of work. Many architects and construction workers were brought from different parts of the world. They were asked to design and construct all new buildings and projects needed at that time. They utilized their knowledge and expertise in design, construction and materials to produced designs that address the needs and aspirations of their Kuwaiti clients. The integration of traditional elements into the modern design was intended to relate their design to a particular locality and region. The need to develop these landmark projects was realised after the implementation of the 1st Master Plan during the Sixties, the period of rapid construction and development following Kuwait’s independence from Britain in 1961. Demolition of the traditional houses and the replacement of defensive wall by the 1st Ring road was followed by implementation of the 1st Master Plan vision of a modern capital city made of wide roads, governmental and public buildings while modern residential neighbourhoods were being constructed outside the wall. [8] The city continued to expand, more neighbourhoods were added, and roads expanded. Ring roads were constructed to annex more desert land to the urban area. An industrial area was established in Shuwaikh to the west and a shopping and entertainment area was established in Salmiyah to the east. The city stretched along the coastal strip limited by the water of the Gulf to the north and east and oil fields to the south and west. The neighbourhoods of private housing lacked entertainment activities during the evening, while the commercial neighbourhoods of Salmiyah, Farwaniya and Hawalli, which contain shopping and housing for expatriates, are more lively and full of activities during the evening.

Figure 5. Buildings of the Sixties and Seventies.

The First Master Plan for Kuwait was developed in 1952 by the British firm Minoprio, Spencely and Macfarlane. [9] The planners’ main objectives were to illustrate and describe the improvements which they considered necessary for the development of Kuwait in accordance with the highest standards of “modern town planning.” The matters which the consultants regarded as being of primary importance in the re-planning of the town were: (a) the provision of a modern road system appropriate to the traffic conditions in Kuwait, (b) the location of suitable zones for public buildings, industry, commerce, schools, and other purposes, (c) the choice of zones for new houses and other buildings needed in residential areas, both inside and outside the town wall, (d) the selection of sites for parks, sports ground, school playing fields and other open spaces, (e) the creation of a beautiful and dignified town centre, (f) the planting of trees and shrubs along the principal roads and at other important points in the town, and (g) the provision of improved main roads linking Kuwait with the adjoining towns and villages. The Plan called for the demolition of the old houses inside the old wall to give way for new roads and public buildings. Modern residential neighbourhoods were built outside the old wall. Only a few historic monuments have been preserved, few mosques have been saved from demolition, and many traditional houses have been replaced with modern structures.

Figure 6. The 1st Master Plan.

Before the discovery of oil, Kuwait was a vernacular settlement located on the southern shore of the Kuwait creek north of the Gulf composed of courtyard houses built using mud brick along narrow alleys. The courtyard was an important feature that provided shelter from harsh climate as well as safety and privacy for the family. [10] The city was surrounded from the south by a semi-circular defensive wall with several gates. The wall was the third in a series of concentric walls that were built during different periods of history to defend the city from tribal attacks. The first wall was built in 1760 with an approximate length of 750 metres when the town area was about 11.275 hectares. The second wall was built in 1811 and was approximately 2300 metres long and the town area was about 72.4 hectares. Finally, the third wall was built in 1921 and was approximately 6400 metres and had five gates. The town area was then about 750 hectares.

Figure 7. Pictures of old Kuwait before the discovery of oil.

After the discovery of oil during the 1940s, Kuwait entered an unprecedented phase of development and construction. Kuwait utilized its oil wealth to construct a modern city to replace its old traditional settlement. The economic prosperity permitted the introduction of modernization through master planning. The short history of the modern state of Kuwait is an example of the early impact of globalization that was followed on other Gulf countries during the second half of the 20th century. [11] While some countries were positively influenced by shifts in world economies and dependency on oil; i.e. Dubai and enjoyed rapid development and world attentions, others; i.e. Kuwait, were negatively influenced by global conflicts and economic dependency. Kuwait will remain at the centre of global conflicts with remaining tensions between Iran and the West that is likely to escalate as Iran insistence on developing its nuclear capabilities and fears that it threatens the whole region. Its unclear whether this condition will result a more balanced condition or another global conflict that will ignite another regional conflict.

Part 2: Contemporary Environment in Kuwait

Urban development in Kuwait is confined to a narrow strip of land along the Gulf coast covering no more than 8% of its small 17,820 sq km territory. The mighty Burgan oil filed and Kuwait international airport are obstructing possibilities for development west into the desert, and security conditions prevented development in the northern region. The Arabian Gulf Road is the major attraction for all residents of Kuwait. Its landscaped areas, restaurants, marinas, landmarks, and shopping malls attract citizens and residents away from the monotonous residential areas. It extended south to oil port of Shuaiba and north to the commercial port of Shuwaikh, where it ends with the Oil Sectors Complex designed by the late renowned architect Arthur Erickson. At “Ras Elard” in Slamiya, the state of the art Scientific Centre design by C7A, hosting one of the best aquariums in the world, is located. It provides another example of incorporating modern functions with local expression. The building hosts sophisticated technologies within spaces and forms derived from Arab and Islamic architecture; solid walls from the outside with the broken axis and the tent covering the entrance. Along the Gulf road many fast food and stand alone restaurants provide a “collage” of architecture styles and characters. They include: Hard Rock Café, Le Noter, Ayam Zaman, KFC, Burj Al Hamam, Fridays, McDonalds, Chillies, and others. The names and images of these restaurants are providing a good façade of globalization for Kuwait. The Arabian Gulf Road suffers traffic congestions and crowdedness, especially during the weekends and rush hours. Further south, beyond Shuaiba oil port, informal construction of private chalets covered the coast all the way to the borders of Saudi Arabia.

Figure 8. Water front development.

Figure 9. Oil Sectors Complex west of Gulf Road

Figure 10. Scientific Centre east of Gulf Road


 Figure 11. Waterfront restaurants.

The latest national census conducted in 2005 indicated that the population of Kuwait was 2,866,888, including 1,893,602 (66%) non-Kuwaiti. 98% of the population reside in urban areas that occupies only 8% of the total area of the country. The workforce is estimated to be 2,213,403 individual, 14% Kuwaiti and 86% non-Kuwaiti. [12] The non-Kuwaiti workforce, estimated to be 1,332,629 individuals, is composed of 36% Arabs, 63% Asian and 1% from other countries. The high income promotes life style only paralleled in other Gulf countries. Kuwaitis enjoy high income from governmental jobs and government subsidies for food, housing, medical care, education, etc. Non-Kuwaiti workforce enjoy high income compared to what they can earn in their own countries. Their interest is to support their families back home, improve their living conditions and secure their future when they return to their countries. Due to the bylaws, they are not allowed to purchase assets in Kuwait, so they divert all their income to their home countries and accept basic or average living conditions in Kuwait. They are actually living continuously in two worlds at the same time, accepting harsh present conditions in a promise to live better living conditions when they go back to their countries. Many of them end up living all their life in Kuwait and never return home!

Shopping malls constitute an important part of the contemporary urban experience in Kuwait. The harsh extreme hot weather, reaching more than 50 degrees centigrade, frequent dust storms and humidity during the long summer months force individuals to retreat to large enclosed shopping malls for socialization more than for actual shopping. The traditional shopping/socialization experience in the downtown Mubarkiya area, composed of connected shaded marketplaces, was replaced by a modern shopping/socialization experience inside enclosed air conditioned state of the art shopping malls. The old Mubarkiya area remained a shopping destination providing a traditional shopping experience along with Souq Al Zul Wa Al Bshut, designed by the Kuwaiti architectural firm Bonyan as a traditional souq composed of shops selling traditional clothes and Persian rugs, and the renovated Souq Al Tujaar. The shopping experience in Mubarkiya area relates the shopping experience to the history of old Kuwait across from Safat square, which was the heart of old Kuwait city.

Figure 12. Mubarkiya and Souq Alzul.

The first modern shopping experience was introduced through the arcaded walkways along new downtown streets such as Fahd Al Salem street. Buildings were composed of four or five floors with shops in the ground floor along an arcade covering pedestrian walkways. Office and residential accommodations were provided in the upper floors. This type was also introduced in Salmiya area along west of Salim Al Mubarak Street. It was followed by the introduction of large multi-floors complexes that contained shopping malls in the basement, ground and mezzanine floors, with offices and residential units in the upper floors. The first exclusive shopping mall was constructed in Salmiya area along east of Salim Al Mubarak Street. They attract citizens and expatriates to an exclusive shopping experience close to their place of residence. The malls are constructed side by side along the street providing an open street and closed mall experiences at the same time. The success of these shopping centres promoted the construction of more exclusive shopping malls along the same street that contained coffee shops, restaurants and cinemas.

Figure 13. Fahad Al Salem street arcades.

Figure 14. Salem Al Mubarak street shopping centres.

The first decade of the 21st century witnessed the opening of mega shopping malls that incorporated in addition to shopping, restaurants, and cinemas, large departmental stores and fast food outlets, marinas, hotels and hyper markets. Souq Sharq was the first shopping mall to create major attraction along the Gulf. Designed by the renowned architect Nader Ardalan of the KEO. The Mall applies strategies of post modern architecture by utilizing traditional elements from Kuwaiti architecture in a modern language. The longitudinal interconnected 2-floors pathways host shops and restaurants. It transformed the traditional wind captures (badjirs) into mechanical rooms for air-conditioning units. The design is criticized for locating the main view of the mall towards the city and the marina while locating the parking lots towards the Gulf. The badjirs were also criticized as “unauthentic” to Kuwaiti traditional architecture.

Figure 15. Souq Sharq development.

Located on the waterfront in the exclusive shopping district of Salmiya, Marina World is a major shopping and entertainment development that crosses the Arabian Gulf Road. It is composed of a shopping mall, restaurants’ complex, hotel and marina for yachts. It is the second largest shopping and entertainment complex to open in Kuwait. It opened its first phase in 2002, the second phase in 2004, and the third and final phase towards the end of 2005. Marina World contains many restaurants, shops, a convention hall, promenade areas, and a five-star hotel. It is the hot spot for teenagers and youth in Kuwait. Marina Mall is designed in a neo-classical Spanish design style. The mall's exterior façade is characterized by its distinct red, blue, and beige paint, and red roof tiles. The circular Central Plaza is surrounded by restaurants and cafes. The Plaza's centrepiece is a large, spectacular glass fountain, and the area is topped with a large glass dome, equipped with a sail that moves automatically in the direction of the sun. The Marina Crescent, located directly across the highway from Marina Mall, is composed entirely of restaurants and gift shops. It is directly linked to the Mall by a panoramic, 100-meter long, air-conditioned bridge. The Waterfront of Marina World features the five-star deluxe Marina Hotel, a large marina, three-kilometre long walking paths, basketball courts, a skate park, the Salwa Sabah Al-Ahmad Theatre & Hall, and Hard Rock Cafe. Marina Waves is the latest features of Marina World. It includes services like spa, saloon, gym and as well as some coffee shops.

Figure 16. Marina Mall

The Avenues is the largest shopping mall in Kuwait. It became the shopping heaven for all residents of Kuwait since the opening of its first phase in April 2007. It is located in the Al-Rai industrial area, along the Fifth Ring Road. The project contains four phases: phase 1 contains over 150 lifestyle shops, restaurants, cineplex, Carrefour hypermarket and an IKEA showroom, phase 2 is an extension of phase 1 opened in 2008 adding 100 higher-end shops, a large food court, a large entertainment complex, an outdoor fountain and outdoor dining venues, phase 3/4 are a much larger expansion of the mall which will add to it a traditional Arabian souk, a European-themed Grand Mall, a luxury mall housing top-end brands, a shaded garden with water features (dubbed 'The Oasis'), two hotels, showrooms and a conference hall. The mall is expected to have over 900,000 square meters of usable space upon completion in 2011. In the Fahaheel area, south of Kuwait city, Al Kut shopping mall, designed by the renowned Jordanian architect Rasem Badran, represents a trend to utilize traditional architecture vocabulary in contemporary buildings. The mall is composed of two wings surrounding an artificial lake overlooking the Gulf. One wing hosts fashion stores, cinemas and a food court while the other hosts a traditional vegetables and fish market. Terraces around the central lake provide an excellent relaxing place.

Figure 17. The Avenues shopping mall.

Figure 18. Al Kut shopping mall.

The latest shopping mall to open in Kuwait is 360 Mall. It opened its doors to customers for the first time in July 5, 2009. It provides a new shopping experience accompanied by cultural events. The shape of the mall, as the name implies, is a full circle containing shops, galleries, departmental stores, cinemas, a hypermarket, restaurants and cafés. It is connected to a multi-storey car park that provides ambient parking spaces for customers. The mall is divided into two paths; one representing day experience and the other representing night experience. The two paths meet at a three story grand courtyard. The circular exterior wall of the mall is covered with stone cladding and glass. An interior vertical garden is located along the south façade providing a unique experience for dining and sitting. Due to financial conditions many shops are not leased yet but the mall owners decided to open the mall on time. The mall contains fitness, sports, entertainment, cultural and shopping amenities that are available for the first time in a shopping mall in Kuwait.

Figure 19. The 360 Mall.

According to the 1st master Plan of Kuwait, residential neighbourhoods were constructed outside the traditional city wall. Typical neighbourhoods were designed to reflect the ideal image of modern life style of the middle 20th century. They were composed of wide streets for automobiles leading to individual plots of lands. At the centre of the neighbourhood, a shopping centre, clinic, police station and high schools were located. Within the houses blocks, mosques, public gardens, nursery and elementary schools were located. The plots of land were used to construct villas according to western style. Building codes and regulations were developed to guide the construction activities of the houses. Setbacks, floor area ratio and number of floors were all devised to produce western style villas. For those who cannot afford to construct their own villas the government took the responsibility to construct public housing units for them. Several schemes were employed from plot and loan to completed villas to multi-storey housing apartments. Provision of housing, health insurance, free education, secured governmental jobs and other benefits became the means to distribute the oil wealth to the citizens. As the society developed, housing became a mean to show off wealth and social status.

Building codes and regulations became a tool to provide more area and height to construct larger houses. Several changes aiming at increasing the size of building volume and floor area ratio were introduced  negatively affected the quality of life inside residential neighbourhoods. The increasing use of lot area resulted in an inadequate space to accommodate cars inside the lot and the inability to provide indoor parking garages. This situation forced the parking of cars on the sidewalks occupying the space assigned for pedestrians. Due to the harsh summer weather and the need to provide car sheds, many owners cover the side walks with different types and styles of car sheds according to their standards and economic ability. They are made of steel corrugated sheets or fabric canopies and take any shape or color according to the wishes and economic ability of the owners. The resulting environment in neighbourhoods is very hostile to pedestrians. It is not possible for pedestrians to use the sidewalks, they have to use the street for walking exposing themselves to the dangers of automobiles and service vehicles. The reduction of setbacks to a mere 1.5m produces building volumes that are no more than 3 meters apart. This distance is not appropriate to maintain acceptable levels of privacy. Windows facing each other allowed visual intrusion into neighboring houses. The absence of any guidelines addressing style and character of buildings resulted in a mixture of styles adjacent to each other. Building regulations did not provide any guidelines to enforce the provision of green areas nor vegetation within or around buildings. Leftover spaces are very small neither to be developed as landscape areas nor to be used in any useful function. They are either taken by closest houses as private gardens and parking areas or used as storage area for boats, cars and other house items. The community feeling, characteristic of the traditional neighborhood, was not maintained due to the lack of social contact opportunities or spaces. The occupation of sidewalks by cars reduced the chances of neighbors meeting or kids playing in the streets that are not safe for them. The new neighborhood environment encourages isolation and separation of families and neighbors. Neighbourhoods are getting more crowded with members of the new generations, more automobiles and expatriates residing in the once exclusive citizens’ neighbourhoods. [13]

Figure 20. Citizen’s residential neighbourhoods.

Part 3: Challenges and Opportunities

Crowdedness, traffic congestions, insufficient car parking, informal construction of buildings, annexation of vacant lands, energy shortages are some of the challenges facing the future of Kuwait’s development. Since 2004, studies forecasted shortage in electric and water supply as well as traffic congestions to occur in the year 2006. “Tarsheed”, or conserve, is a campaign to conserve energy during summer month’s peak hours because demand reaches dangerous levels against the insufficient supply of electric power. Future developments will require at least twice the currently produced energy and no clear plans on how this energy will be produced are in place! Slow decision making process due to bureaucratic and managerial problems is slowing the implementation of projects and development plans. As indicated by research studies, the most important managerial problems are: primacy of personal relationships over work relationships, favoritism and personal loyalty at work, subjectivity in evaluation and promotion, unwillingness to shoulder responsibilities, multiplicity of rules and regulations, rigid and obsolete administrative systems and policies, and influence of cliques in the workplace. [14] Recent changes to Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) bylaws discouraged investors from participating in the construction of new projects in Kuwait. Several projects were cancelled and others were put on hold.

One of the major challenges facing Kuwait’s development is its population composition. Intense dependency on foreign workers increased the number of expatriates living in Kuwait tremendously. Among the approximately three-million inhabitants population of Kuwait, 35% are Kuwaitis, 22% Arabs, 39% Non-Arabs and 4% stateless Arabs; called Bedoun. House servants, porters and drivers compose the majority of foreign workers come from South-East Asian countries; Indonesia, Philippine and Indian continent. It is estimated that 700,000 foreign workers are employed as house servants. Non-Kuwait population is composed of workers from South East Asian and Arab manual workers in addition to professionals from Arab, European, North American, and other countries. Construction workers and shop vendors are mainly from Arab countries and Iran. This dependency on foreign workers to perform manual work and lower jobs will impact the future growth of Kuwait. For each Kuwaiti citizen 2 foreign workers are needed; approximately 1 for domestic service and 1 for other activities. The KMP3R1 predicts that the population of Kuwait will reach 5.4 million by the year 2030. This includes approximately 3 million expats serving the remaining 1.5 million Kuwaitis!

The expatriates living conditions is another challenge facing Kuwait. While Kuwaitis depends mainly on foreign workers to perform all manual work, they were never provided with adequate living conditions or housing. Until the middle of the current decade, thousands of low-income, expatriate manual workers, including some 60,000 Egyptian Saiidis – the villagers of Upper Egypt – resided in the southern neighbourhood of Khetan. The inhabitants lived in crowded living conditions in converted old courtyard houses that hosted 20 to 25 workers in each house. The room rent varied between 15 to 45 KD per person depending on the size, location and number of tenants in the room. Most rooms were shared by more than five persons making the rent from each house very profitable for the owner. The living conditions of this marginalized group have deteriorated rapidly, especially since the Second Gulf War. The same condition was found in Benaid Al Qar and Murqab areas. The government developed plans to clear the area and move the inhabitants to a new location, but implementation of this plan is very slow. Another area accommodating middle class expatriates is called Farwania. With the start of the demolition of deteriorated houses of Khetan, many of its residents moved to Faraniya creating more crowded and congested conditions. Higher class expatriates select Salmaiya and the Gulf Road as their favourite place for residence or they reside among Kuwaitis in their residential neighbourhoods. The government has plans to construct housing for foreign workers in the areas of Shedadiyah and Salibiyah. The shanty towns of Sulaybia, North of Kuwait city,  is occupied by stateless individuals, called Al-Bedoon, is a major problem that requires major attention. They are considered illegal residents that fled from neighbouring countries, hiding their original nationalities in order to benefit from services and benefits provided to Kuwaiti citizens. While there are attempts to recognize those who fought for Kuwait during the invasion or served the country by granting them citizenship and services, the problem of their living conditions in shanty towns is receiving little attention from the government. This constitutes a source of internal insecurity as it did in other countries.

Figure 21. Expatriate residential neighbourhoods.

The growing number of tall buildings under construction in downtown Kuwait city is alarming. Their impact on the human, natural and built environment is not carefully assessed. The sustainability of tall buildings and mega-projects should be guaranteed in order to avoid creating degraded and congested urban environments. Absence of explicit laws or regulations regarding the implementation of sustainability in Kuwait’s building codes limits the application of sustainability strategy to the personal interests of the owner or developer. [15] Also, buildings can never be completely sustainable and green if they were not placed in a sustainable context. On the other hand, traditional architecture examples are vanishing quickly from Kuwait. The handful old buildings along the Gulf road are disappearing amidst the new Traditional Village Development. Other deteriorating traditional buildings are vanishing quickly and are in desperate need for renovation and preservation.

Figure 22. Expression of Kuwaiti Identity in Architecture.


Figure 23. New downtown towers.

Part 5: Conclusions

Forces of globalization were most evident in the case of Kuwait during the Second Gulf War when the country continued to exist economically and politically as a virtual country outside its physical borders and was brought back to existence due to a global intervention by the world community. This dramatic experience of invasion and occupation for a brief period of time awakened the Kuwaitis sense of belonging and identity. This was reflected on the architecture being produced in Kuwait by local and Kuwaiti architects in their attempts to recognize and acknowledge the heritage of traditional Kuwaiti architecture during the 1990's. While state-of-the-art glass-box office buildings and classic style villa represent influence of globalization, other examples illustrate attempts to incorporate globalization and localization forces in their design and construction. The efforts range from copying and pasting elements and forms from indigenous architecture to sophisticated design that incorporate state-of-the-art technologies with local expressions. A documentary titled “Kuwaiti Architecture: A Lost Identity” depicts the development of architecture in Kuwait and points to the importance of developing a Kuwaiti identity in architecture from the point of view of a dozen Kuwaiti architects. Why did the need to express a local identity by blending modernity and tradition arise? Is it a real “need” or a “selling” strategy of new real-estate? During the fifties, when Kuwait was transforming from a vernacular settlement into a modern planned city, there was no requirement to blend tradition and modernity in the planning of the new city. [17] The ambition was to join the modern world and break all linkages with the past; including the traditional environment that was associated with poverty and primitive living conditions. Today, the identity expressed through the use of traditional style is viewed as a defence mechanism against the domination of the sweeping identity of globalization.

Kuwait is experiencing, as in other developing countries, the tension between the forces of globalization and localization. On one hand, people are eager to enjoy the luxuries of modern life that they can afford to have while at the same time retaining a cultural identity and satisfying special social requirements. The clash of styles that exists in the built environment in Kuwait is a product of the rapid process of globalization that swept the country since the middle of the 20th century. A dichotomy between cultural forces of globalization and localization is shaping today's built environment, i.e. modern-traditional, Islamic-Western, local-global. [18] While some architects employ fashionable styles of architecture in order to integrate the local architecture into global trends, others are trying to revive the traditional architectural style as a mean to enforce the local identity and heritage. [19] [20] [21] [22] The resulting built-environment lacks shared identity and sense of place. Buildings alone are not sufficient to convey the cultural identity, the context of architecture provided an important background against which architecture was understood. The traditional city spaces provided an important dimension to the experience and provided a meaningful reading of traditional architecture buildings. Identity was always pluralistic, fluid and unstable and that it is continuously constructed and reproduced by the collective imagination of the community.

Buildings constructed during different periods of the development of Kuwait illustrate the state and priorities of cultural identities at that time. For example, during the Sixties and Seventies the interest of the country was to join the modernized world utilizing the financial capabilities allowed for by the revenues of oil sales. Buildings constructed during that period were designed according to modern and international style approaches. During the Eighties the economic crisis of the stock market reduced the financial capabilities of the country and the individuals and produced buildings with basic structural and technological necessities. The security crisis of the Nineties, due to the invasion and liberation experience that Kuwait has passed through, promoted the renewed interest in expressing a “genuine” cultural identity. The source of this genuine cultural identity was thought to be found in traditional buildings and lifestyle. Meanwhile, globalization is facilitating contact with other culture and lifestyles, through ease of travel and communication, is adding to the paradox of defining a “proper” cultural identity.

While cultures change rapidly their architectural products remain unchanged expressing moments of cultural change and development. Cultural identity is a meaning making process that consolidates past traditions with contemporary conditions and desires. Multiple identities may coexist at the same time representing different groups in the society. [23] They may also shift from one state to another adjusting to external pressures and circumstances. Kuwait is an example of hyper-identity expressions in architecture that can be found in other Gulf countries and the world. When searching for cultural identity, one should expect be find several overlapping identities.

[1] Gardiner, S., ”Kuwait: The Making of a City,” Longman, London, United Kingdom.
[2] CIAWFB. Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Books Web site, 2009. [retrieved 5 August 2009].
[3] Vale, L., “Architecture, Power, and National Identity,” Yale University Press, New Haven and London, United Kingdom, 1992, pp. 209-235.
[4] Al-Bahar, H., ”Kuwait’s Post-War Reconstruction,” MIMAR: Architecture in Development. London: Concept Media Ltd., No. 40, 1991, pp. 14-17.
[5] Mahgoub, Y., “The Impact of War on the Meaning of Architecture in Kuwait,” The International Journal of Architectural Research, published online by Archnet-IJAR, Vol. 2, Issue 1, 2008, pp. 232-246.
[6] Kultermann, U., “Contemporary Architecture in the Arab States: Renaissance of a Region,” McGraw-Hill, New York, USA, 1999.
[7] Bjorn , M., “Kuwait Tower,” MIMAR: Architecture in Development. Singapore: Concept Media Ltd. No. 2, 1981, pp. 40-41.
[8] Shiber, S., “The Kuwait Urbanization,” Kuwait Government Printing Press, Kuwait, 1964.
[9] Minoprio & Spencely and Macfarlane, “Plan for the Town of Kuwait: Report to His Highness Shaikh Abdulla Assalim Assubah, C.I.E. The Amir of Kuwait,” 1951.
[10] Al-Bahar, H., “Traditional Kuwaiti Houses’” MIMAR 13: Architecture in Development. Singapore: Concept Media Ltd., No. 13, 1984, pp. 71-78.
[11] Mahgoub, Y., “Kuwait – Learning From a Globalized City,” The Evolving Arab City, edited by Dr. Yasser Elsheshtawy. Routledge, 2008, pp. 152-183.
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