Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Globalization and Architectural Practice - العولمة وممارسة المهنة

Globalization and Architectural Practice in Kuwait: A cyclical challenge


Globalization is a controversial word that is currently dominating the intellectual and public discourse. While some view it as an evil trend towards dehumanization and economic domination others view it as a multifaceted phenomenon that poses challenges and offers new opportunities. Globalization is viewed by the first group as a new form of colonialism and occupation promoting cultural and social superiority and domination. Economic superiority allowing 2/3 of the world wealth to go to only 1/3 of the world population while 1/3 of the world wealth is gong to 2/3 of the world population increasing the gap between poor and rich countries. Many fear the loss of identity and privacy; in general, fear the unknown. The other group points to the advantages of globalization and argue that superiority and domination worries are exaggerated and that there is no threat to sacred beliefs. They predict that more human rights and democracy penetrating the traditional boundaries of countries and that the individual will gain new rights outside his or her own country. It is also viewed by many as a new phenomenon that is taking place as a product of information and communication revolution. As Madison (1998) put it:
Like it or not, globalization is fact (a fact-in-the-making); it is irrelevant whether one "approves" or "disapproves" of it. The phenomenon of globalization is itself global, that is to say, all-encompassing. It is of course in the first instance a material or economic phenomenon, but, like all significant civilizational developments, it also has profound cultural or spiritual significance.
This paper supports the view that globalizations is just another cycle in the cyclical changes of history and illustrates, using the case of Kuwait, that some parts of the world have experienced the impact of global changes since the middle of the 20th century. This impact resulted a dramatic transformation of culture and the built environment and created responses, insecurities and resistance similar to what we observe developing in other parts of the world today. Lessons derived from these conditions could improve our understanding of the challenges and opportunities that globalization pauses to us and be able o respond meaningfully. As Dandekar (1998) put it,” for architects and urban planners, the various impacts of the generic phenomenon termed “globalization” on the three dimensional built form of city real estate promise to be crucial in determining how, and in what arenas, their professions will play a role in the next century.”

A View of Cyclical History

The view of history as a series of cyclical changes is not a new one. In his book “AL-Muqaddimah”, the 14th century Arab historian Ibn Khaldoun recognized the cyclical, rather than linear view of historical process. For Ibn Khaldun, history is a constantly changing cycle that repeats itself in different forms and paste (Ibn Khaldoon, 1969). Held et al argue that the globalization of culture has a long history and that the formation and expansion of the great world religions are one of the best examples of the capacity of ideas and beliefs to cross great distances with decisive social impacts (Held et al, 1999). In architecture, the spread of built forms and styles, embodying cultural ways of living, is basic lesson derived from the study of the history of architecture. The only difference between historical precedents and today’s conditions is magnitude and speed.
This paper views the current relationship among architecture, architectural education, and professional practice, as just another cycle in the cyclical challenges paused by globalization. It investigates the case of Kuwait as a historical precedent that architectural schools and the profession can build upon to structure a response to what appears to be unprecedented changes in the scope and nature of architectural production. It traces the development of architectural profession and education in Kuwait during the second half of the twentieth century and analyzes the impact of global trends and changes on the development of architecture as product and process.

A Definition of Globalization

A useful definition of architecture is provided by Held et al (1999).  They view globalization as a process or set of processes rather than a singular condition. They state that:
Globalization can be conceived as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, expressed in transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power. …  Globalization, in short, can be thought of as the widening, intensifying, speeding up, and growing impact of world-wide interconnectedness.
This definition of globalization allows us to focus on globalization as a process and avoid falling in the trap of looking only at the products. They also recognize that globalization ha distinctive historical forms and that by comparing and contrasting these changing historical forms, it is possible to identify more precisely what is novel about the present epoch. In sum, they focus on globalization as a process more than a single product and suggest that in order to explore the extent and depth of global interconnectedness a number of indicators of interconnectedness can be used. They argue that “construction of indicators creates an opportunity for gathering empirical data on global and regional flows, as well as on a state's enmeshment in processes, networks and flows at both the global and regional level. Indicators can be developed in respect of the key areas of state activity and the degree to which individual states are embedded or implicated in global or regional networks of interaction” (Held et al, 1999).
Globalization and Architecture
Madison (1998) identifies the phenomenon of globalization as having five main aspects; economic, political, technological, social and cultural. The impact of globalization on architecture can be understood in relation to the aspects of globalization:
-   The global marketplace liberated professional services and labour, building materials and construction methods, trade and investment from the limitations of national boundaries. It allowed the free flow of materials and services across borders and boundaries.
-   The impact of global politics on everyday life is apparent. Political events in one country affect other countries almost instantaneously. On the positive side, the rise of human rights awareness pointed to issues of the right to housing; housing of marginalized populations, and housing for the poor.
-   Telecommunication and information technology has produced a need for a new type of technological infrastructure, building types and design requirements. The electronic technology produced new breed of intelligent and smart buildings. The impact of the internet on architectural practice is evident in new trend of international firms to establish branches in different parts of the world utilizing the time difference to keep their business running 24 hours a day. For example, the easy transfer of drawings and documents aided in the globalization of architectural offices and projects is speeding the production and development of projects. Transportation technology affected urban and city planning theories and produced changes in understanding space and proximity. Building technology suggested new methods of construction and materials that require new methods of expression.
-   The traditional living/work habits that resulted in the separation between work and home during the 20th century, are giving way to new and revived forms of home-work environment and mixed use planning that existed centuries ago.
-   Relationships between groups and individuals are influenced by ease of interaction and communication over the internet, permitting "virtual" social interaction with people all over the globe. The Internet offers information and knowledge about other societies that used to take long time to disseminate. The lifestyle of fast food chains, luxurious shopping centres, and other commodities is available all over the world today. The culture of the "global village" disregarded cultural differences and increased similarities in lifestyles around the world through these "icons" of globalization.
This paper utilizes the case of Kuwait to illustrate that impact of globalization experienced by countries all over the world is a recurring phenomenon. It was experienced by countries of the Gulf region during their sudden transformation from traditional to modern societies during the second half of the 20th century. There are important lessons to be learnt from these experiences to allow us to better understand the current conditions in other parts of the world.

The Case of Kuwait

Countries of the Gulf region are going through another phase of their rapid development that started during the second half of the twentieth century. Before the discovery of oil, they were isolated from most global influences due to the harsh natural environment, undesirable living conditions and absence of natural resources. The British Empire was only interested in this part of the world to secure their trading routes with India. The discovery of oil during the 20th century and the rapid modernization produced by its wealth and attracted global interest to the region. The new world came rapidly and ready-made to the countries of the Gulf region during the second half of the 20th Century. They did not have a chance to gradually transform from traditional to modern societies.
The city-state of Kuwait is located on the northern corner of the Gulf and occupy an area of 17,818 square kilometers. Until the middle of the 20th century it was only a small fishing village by the Gulf cost. It has emerged as one of the richest and culturally significant cities in the area and went through rapid modern transformation and development that took place during the second half of the 20th century. (See Figure 1)
The old city of Kuwait was surrounded by a mud wall to provide defense from foreign attacks. The traditional seaports called al nigaa were located along the gulf cost receiving goods from India, Africa and other parts of the world. Fishing, pearl catching and trading were the main activities for Kuwaitis. Lack of water resources did not allow any agricultural activities to take place in what is considered the hottest inhabited spot on Earth.
Courtyard houses along narrow alleys created quarters for living for extended families and relatives. (See Figure 2) The houses were built of mud brick and sea rocks. The roofs were made of imported wooden rafters called basjeel covered with layers of mud. The courtyard provided privacy for family members, especially women, during their everyday activities. It also provided shade during the hot summer days and protected sleeping place at night.  The thick mud walls provided adequate insulation and wind catchers, called badjeers, provided relatively cool air inside the house.
After the discovery of oil in economic quantities during the 1930s and its exportation during the 1940s and the immediate wealth generated by its sales, the rulers of the country appointed the British firm, Monoprio, Spencely and Macfarlene, to propose a “plan” for the development of the city of Kuwait. 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, (c) 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 (Monoprio, Spencely and Macfarlene, 1951).
The planning of the new city of Kuwait called for the demolition of the old wall and the traditional houses and buildings within it to allow the construction of the new central business district. Only a few historic monuments have been preserved in Kuwait as modernization continued to take its toll on the old urban environment and historic buildings. A few mosques have been saved from demolition, and many have been replaced with new structures, reflecting the rapid changes in the recent history of the state (Kultermann, 1999, p.167).
Planning for the automobile required the construction of a grid of modern highways surrounding western style neighborhoods. The neighborhoods were self sufficient entities with schools, shops, mosques and other services. As Gardiner (1983, p. 46) states, “there was no need to come into the city except for work because every thing was there”. As part of the government’s policy for the distribution of wealth, low income families were given public houses built by the government while rich families were compensated with plots of land and money for their demolished houses and acquired land. Building regulations proposed by the plan allowed for the construction of individual “villas” on these plots of land.
Use of modern construction methods and materials was applied in all new development plans. The introduction of new building materials and construction systems accelerated the speed of transformation. ”The use of traditional local materials and techniques, which are often considered archaic and obsolete, was abandoned in favor of modern imported material and construction techniques” (Khattab, 2001, p. 57). Use of reinforced concrete replaced the traditional mud bricks and stone construction techniques. This trend has developed to include; glass, wood, accessories, air-conditioning systems, and all other types of state-of-the-art finishing and construction materials and systems. Figure 3 illustrates examples of modern buildings in Kuwait using new modern construction materials and technology.
Building codes and regulations were introduced to control the construction of new houses and buildings. They followed the model that was common at that time in England and other countries. The impact of building codes and regulations on the production of built environment is taken for granted as part of the process of building design and construction. Yet, the origin and development of building regulations deserves attention due to their impact on the built and natural environment. No formal building regulations existed before the implementation of the new planning of Kuwait in 1952. Construction of houses and other public buildings followed the vernacular tradition of building houses according to acceptable socio-cultural norms. Houses were produced following the vernacular tradition of master builders. The master builder, called al-ustaz, knew the typical image of the house to be built and the regulations that it should follow. The introduction of the first complete building regulations in 1985 specified the regulations and specifications for the construction of private housing. It included the following sections: building area, setbacks, heights, room areas, staircases, projections, light wells, pergolas, annexes, and basement regulations. These building codes were the reason for the introduction of the modern villa as a replacement for the traditional courtyard house.
There were not many local or native architects or 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. The fact that most of the 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 this size. With the emergence of Kuwaiti architects, educated mainly in Western cultures and the USA, and the establishment of the Department of Architecture at Kuwait University, and the graduation of its first group of students in 2002, the landscape of the practice of architecture in Kuwait is expected to change dramatically.

Analysis: Aspects of Globalization in the case of Kuwait

As stated by Chris Abel, "looking at Kuala Lumpur or Singapore today, it is easy to conclude that the forces of a globalized consumer culture have all but won." (Abel, 1994) He identified the visual attributes of familiar Western models as:
-   The Central Business District
-   The air-conditioned office towers
-   The McDonald's franchises
-   The shopping centers selling the same consumer products
-   The jam-packed highways spreading out into the suburbs, and
-   The suburbs themselves, with their 'Dallas'-inspired mixture of neo-classical and Spanish-style villas
In the case of Kuwait, there was a sudden break from past traditional built environment followed by a rapid, almost instantaneous, transformation to modern built environment. This situation created a collage architecture and absence of coherence between adjacent buildings in the urban environment. Once the complex coherence was eroded, each building could speak, or rather shout, for itself. According to Davey, "collage culture is of course not limited to the Middle East, but its effects have been particularly obvious in cultures and economies which have become prosperous rapidly" (Davey 1998).
Saba George Shiber (1964) noted that:
The Arab World has been literally “hit” by Western machine civilization. In less than two decades a large sector of the Arab mode of life has changed from an agrarian life to a sophisticated or pseudo-sophisticated urban life. Perhaps the rate of change has been too meteoric that the Arab architect was unable to comprehend fully the connotations of the change.
In his keynote address to the First International Conference on Architecture and Design in Kuwait , the first Kuwaiti architect Hamed Shuaib reiterated the question paused by many conferences and seminars held in the Gulf area: “when will we, in Kuwait and other Gulf countries, have modern architecture suitable for our community, environment and heritage?” (Shuaib, 1999) He criticized the fact that architecture in Kuwait is being produced by architects from different parts of the world. He argued that Kuwaiti architecture has passed through three distinctive phases since the end of the 1950’s until the end of the 20th century. He focused on the private house as the true reflector of the Kuwaiti citizen view of life and needs. The first phase was a mixture of houses built according to the traditional Kuwaiti house; a courtyard house closed from the outside and open to the inside area called alhoush, and some modern western villas. The second phase during the sixties and seventies was marked by the introduction of the modern villa in the form of Mediterranean architecture found in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, where the architects of theses villas came from. The Kuwaitis were inspired by the cultural development of these Arab Mediterranean countries, where they used to spend their summer vacations. Those villas were designed using strange shapes and forms which did not reflect the type of life that existed behind them. The third phase encompasses the eighties and the nineties where an interest in revival of Kuwaiti traditional architecture has evolved. Several trials are made to develop contemporary architecture with identity and style. Figure 4 illustrates the development of architectural styles in Kuwait during the second half of the 20th century.
The work of foreign architects should be viewed as negative attempts only. There are important lesson to be learnt from their projects whether they attempt to incorporate local identity in them or not. For example, the Parliament Building by Jorn Utzon illustrates a utilization of a modern material - reinforced concrete - to bring back the strong image of the tent as place for gathering and communion. The ultra-modern shopping centre, Souk Sharq, brings back the image of the traditional market place environment with its planning and traditional wind catchers. The Arab Organizations Headquarters building provides an example of a “luxurious” localization of building technology and automated systems that are restrained by the introduction of traditional and Arab architectural elements and forms. The state of the art Scientific Centre, hosting one of the best aquariums in the world, is 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 a modern tent structure covering the entrance. A few other examples illustrate attempts to integrate local images and understandings with global trends and practices. Most of the buildings adhere to globalization forces without reflecting the local context and requirements. Figure 5 illustrates examples of public buildings in Kuwait designed by foreign architects.
The 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, occupation, and liberation for a brief period of time awakened the Kuwaitis sense of belonging and identity. As described by Khattab (2001, p. 56), "particularly in the case of Kuwait, reasserting the local identity has lately become a matter of great importance especially after Iraq's claims in Kuwait and the Second Gulf War". This was reflected on the architecture being produced during the 1990s in Kuwait by local Kuwaiti architects in their attempts to recognize and acknowledge the heritage of traditional Kuwaiti architecture.
The work of the Kuwaiti architect Saleh Al Mutawa cannot be passed unnoticed in the urban landscape of Kuwait. He attempts to localize his architecture practice by reinterpreting some local architectural elements in a contemporary language of three-dimensional forms (Al-Mutawa, 1994).  Figure 6 illustrates examples of his work where he utilizes elements of Kuwaiti traditional architecture in his buildings. Several researchers have reviewed his work and concluded that “one can define positive and negative aspects (but) what is undeniable is that Al-Mutawa's work has resulted in an emerging style” (Khattab, 2001, p.66; see also Goodwin, 1997).
Other young Kuwaiti architects are alluding to the absence of identity in architecture and the need to develop a Kuwaiti identity in the built environment. A documentary movie produced by Kuwait Television 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.
This search for identity in architecture is a constant dilemma in the countries of the Gulf area, as well as many other Arab countries. It is a reflection of the feeling of loss of identity in other aspects of life. While admiration of state-of-the-art glass-box office buildings and classic style villa, even that they are not appropriate for the climate and culture, represent a desire to accept the influence of globalization. Other examples illustrate, with varying degrees, attempts to incorporate local identity in the design of houses and buildings. The efforts range from copying and pasting elements and forms from indigenous architecture to sophisticated designs that incorporate state-of-the-art technologies with local expressions. As Al-Hathloul put it, "the problem is that of a present physical environment in the Arab-Muslim city is totally different from the traditional one. As a result of this difference, a sense of discontinuity and alienation has developed among the inhabitants of these cities. This sense of alienation has been voiced by many writers in the field of Muslim cities and Islamic Architecture"(Al-Hathloul 1981).
In summary, the impact of globalization on architecture in the case of Kuwait went through the following stages:
1.      The stage of the introduction of new ideas and forms of life. During this stage rapid changes and transformations took place with enormous speed. The country was eager to utilize the wealth produced by the discovery of oil to improve the living conditions of its citizens.
2.      The stage of uncritical, unconditional acceptance of modern planning and architectural design ideas. They were assumed to be not related to social and cultural aspects of life. There was no clear understanding of the impact of these changes on the social relationships and cultural values.
3.      The stage of expressed insecurities and feelings of alienation and loss of identity. During this stage expressions of unease and uncomfortable feelings with the surrounding environment due to its clash with social and cultural needs. For example, the new built environment violated family privacy because building regulations mandated the establishment of setbacks between houses but the resulted distance was not satisfactory to provide enough privacy between neighboring houses.
4.      The stage of struggle, resistance and confrontation expressed in the use of traditional forms to express local identity. During this stage serious attempts are made to express identity in the built environment.


This paper argued that the impact of globalization is not a new one and that it is an updated version of cyclical challenges in relationship among education, territorial development, and professional practice. The case of Kuwait was used to illustrate the impact global changes on architecture during the second half of the 20th century. The impact of globalization on architecture in the case of Kuwait is magnified due to the speed and magnitude of change that occurred in a very short period of time. The sudden transformation of the built environment from a vernacular to a modern environment was the result of global changes that generated immediate wealth and opportunities to apply modern theories of architecture and planning. It was, like what other countries experience today, a global change of life due to economic, political and technological rapid changes.
In other parts of the world, the impact of global changes occurred gradually and was not perceived as a threat to local cultures and traditions. It was, first, the product of these cultures and, second, no serious challenges were made of its appropriateness to other cultures and localities. Gail Satler suggests that in most existing analyses, we find the Western "eye" or traditional frameworks being imposed on Eastern (other) forms so that their intention and structure are, at best, rendered other or complementary, their meanings are dismissed as less significant and are evicted or subsumed into more familiar and therefore understandable frameworks. He suggests a more useful analytic paradigm for reading nontraditional architectural forms. This paradigm, he added, "offers a more interesting definition of globalization - one that understands the essential need to preserve and respect diversity as well as house seemingly disparate philosophies of space, and their interactions with and within the built form. The paradigm recognizes other cultures to be as essential to the existence of the dominant form and it considers whether, at some point, all the marginal cultures carry enough weight to transform the center - eventually shifting the center of that space from where only the dominant form can be viewed to where cultures meet and contest, rather than absorb or are absorbed. That is an architectural (and social) terrain that one could call global in the deepest sense of the term” (Satler, 1999, p. 15).
The case of Kuwait provides important lessons for other parts of the world. First, the sudden break of historical continuity in culture and the built environment generates negative feelings of alienations and loss of identity. Second, it is easier and faster to change the built environment and architecture than to change social and cultural understandings that require a longer time to change. Third, the establishment of formal architectural education and architectural professional practice controls is an essential element in the creation of a meaningful built environment. And, fourth, the participation international architects is an important contribution for the transmission of new theories, construction methods and ways of thinking to local architects who also have another role of selecting appropriate ideas to local contexts.
This paper suggests a model of change that Kuwait and countries of similar experiences have gone through. Figure 7 illustrates the impact of globalization on architecture according to social and cultural responses to its rapid changes. It is suggested that this model be tested against other experiences in other parts of the world. It is also expected that the paste of responses and changes be different from one locality to the other according to the speed change.
Understanding the impact of global changes will allow us to develop meaningful responses through architectural education and the professional practice. There are global and local requirements in order for technological developments to provide better living conditions and there are social and cultural aspects that require sensitive handling in order to sustain the human development.


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Captions of figures:

 Figure 1. Map of the Gulf and Kuwait

Figure 2. Architecture before the discovery of oil

Figure 3. Architecture after the discovery of oil

Figure 4. Phases of development of Kuwaiti architecture

Figure 5. Public buildings designed by foreign architects

Figure 6. Examples of the work of Saleh Al Mutawa as an example of attempts to apply identity in Kuwaiti architecture

Figure 7. Model of responses to global changes and its impact on architecture