An Arrogant Architect

By February 9, 2010 9 Comments

Building on Jasem’s post a few days ago, i’d like to talk further about the responsibilities of an architect in Kuwait and the perception people have of our profession. Here are a few of the comments from that post:

“Another problem we have here (this is in regard to the client’s response …. maybe) is that our way of life and the rules we have in Kuwait encourages a conservative , practicle buildings for us to live in … since many families are jammed under one roof … you have no option but to think SPACE! … and hence the box house…. it is not that people may not appreciate the beauty and creativity of Architecture … but that it has a small room in their life …”


““.Who every designed those house knew what they were doing and who every wanted them liked them, they just wanted a piece of say Italy in Kuwait…””


In Kuwait, as with the rest of the world, there are good clients and there are bad clients. We may have far more bad ones than the rest of the world, but there’s a reason for that. Kuwait is a young and immature country. Think of it this way, when Kuwait was a baby in the 60’s it needed protective foster parents to dress it and feed it. The British. The first batch of modern homes were stunning statements of architecture that still stand proud today.
When the baby grew into a kid it started to assert itself more and began choosing what to wear. It rejected some of the ideas it was taught because they were boring and incomprehensible. They started experimenting with strange designs that really didn’t make any sense. The parents were too busy with work to care and left the kids all alone without guidance or discipline.
Today, Kuwait is a rich, awkward teenager. These are weird times. Some kids don’t care how they look and just want to eat and be entertained. You can see these obese houses everywhere, the big, boring boxes that line almost every new street. Then there are the self conscious teenagers. They don’t know who they are and are looking everywhere to find themselves, changing their look often, not really know what they’re doing. They sometimes do something profoundly stylish, usually by accident, but the experiments are mostly awkward and obscene. You can see these strange, incoherent houses here and there. Mismatched materials, spaces completely out of scale and a total mess of architectural language.

Image (and nightmares) via Z District

The good thing is that the next step, adulthood, is usually accompanied by a strong sense of self-awareness and control. Kuwait is still a young and brash teenager. We can’t expect it to settle down and explore a rich, vibrant, Kuwaiti architectural language. It still hasn’t found itself, and to do so it needs time.
As good parents we should guide the child into a happy, safe and secure adulthood by encouraging the potential and fighting the excess. A good education helps, and that’s why we need to keep on exploring architecture here in a way that everyone can easily understand. In the end, though, growing up needs time. We can’t be arrogant and demand instant change and reject ignorance as a sign of permanent failure. Everyone makes mistakes. Especially teenagers.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • mohammed says:

    “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” so true (commenting on the image above)
    … I believe in the power of “sacrifice”… what I mean is … in order to get something we sometimes need to give up something valuable …
    I’ve seen many young talented Kuwaitis doing , iterior design , fashion, events, photography, food etc… who unfortunately may not be getting their break here in Kuwait because people want to spend money on something they are comfortable with and know… and “our talents” are charging more (and they deserve it)
    I once attended a lecture by a young Kuwaiti photographer who wanted to offer his work to the public but realized that changing people’s mind and comfort is not easy … and the way he decided to do that is by doing the job ALMOST free of charge … this way he was able to penetrate the market and when people allowed him in … they liked his work … Now what he did was:
    He established a “demanded” name in the business
    Makes more money
    and most importantly was able to shift people’s views
    I think we need to do such sacrifices at this time in order to create change in our society…
    I don’t underestimate the time and hard work Architects ( or others) put and probably the money spent … but as Jasim said in his prev. post … the client did not understand the nature of his work … and maybe we need some talented and creative architect to grab on a client and do the job at a price that suits that client …
    I don’t know how feasible this is or how true it would be …. It’s just a simple thought!

  • I keep thinking about the title of the post. I think what I mean by it is that a lot of the architects I know have this feeling of superiority about what they do. ‘If only the client would open his or her eyes and see how my work would change their lives!’
    I don’t think that’s really helpful. People generally don’t like taking risks, and building a new home is a big, big risk. That’s why a lot of people take the conservative choice and do what everyone else keeps building, thinking that since everyone is doing it, it must be safe and functional.
    The problem is that it’s not. But in order for the ‘safe and functional’ option to shift into ‘good architecture’, we first need some great examples of what good architecture is; examples that are cost effective, have efficient use of space, and are adapted to our climate.
    Once a few of these examples are built and are celebrated and lots of people walk through them and experience it first hand, then attitudes will change. People will start to demand better architecture and architects will be held in much higher esteem.
    I guess what i’m trying to say is we can’t be arrogant and expect people to come to us first. We have to show them what we can do.
    The catch-22 for a young architect is that in order to show people what you can do, you have to build something, but you can’t build anything without showing people prior work. They can’t trust you on faith alone. It’s too big an investment.
    But mohammed is right, pricing your services competitively is always a great way to force yourself into the market. The good, established offices mostly charge an obscene amount, so there is a market out there looking for great design at an affordable price.

  • Roba says:

    Oh, wow. Nightmares indeed.

  • mohammed says:

    Sorry to post this here … but this is worth reading and maybe writing something abou…Thanks

  • Faisal says:

    In my last two projects, I not only ridiculously reduced my fees for the client, I even lost money as a result of some contractual problem. Hows that for a sacrifice Mohmmed?
    Contrary to popular belief, young designers in Kuwait don’t make big KD.

  • sami says:

    I am one of those people who benefit from box houses. I live in a house which is built on 100% of the 400 m2 plot, is 3 stories high, containing 4 apartments, one of which I am renting. The owner lives on the ground floor, and is making so much money out of rent that he can quit his day job. Most of the houses in the neighborhood have a similar design. When the owner’s children grow up and marry, they will move into these apartments and live there for free.
    I do not blame the people who build such houses, because the cost of land is in hundreds of thousands of dinars. It only makes financial sense to build a mini apartment complex and pay off your debts from rent. When your debt is paid off, you and your children can live in the house happily ever after.
    Me and many other families who still cannot afford to buy a land, find these “box houses” very convenient. They are spacious, and are located in quiet neighborhoods. The alternative would be to rent in “real” apartment buildings, which are sardine can sized, expensive, noisy, and located in traffic nightmare areas.
    So, will I build a “box house” for myself? Perhaps. It will all depend on how deep in debt I will be.
    I am sorry for the young designers in Kuwait, I am sure they have great design ideas. But when it comes to this mostly once-in-a-lifetime shot to build a house in Kuwait, people will try to squeeze the most of it, to safeguard their financial future and housing for their children.

  • I mentioned a solution to this problem in my Pecha Kucha presentation.
    The problem with them now is that they have a uniform density. They all expand at the same time and everything gets squeezed; sidewalks, landscape, parking, everything gets bigger.
    What I suggest was to introduce a concept of varied density. In the middle of each area, instead of the ‘jam’eeya’ we would have a well designed collection of several apartment complexes. These would have several different options (from duplexes, to smaller 3 bedroom apartments). The trick is to force a minimum floor area for each apartment, so they don’t end up all being really small. Also, the only people that can rent there are people who already live in the area.
    For example, I live in Qortuba. The government will give me the option of a public house really far away, or they will let me rent an apartment in Qortuba, which is near my family. The point is that the apartments will all be families from the neighborhood, and you want that community atmosphere to grow.
    Once you have the really dense core in every area, the land value of the rest of the houses will start to decrease, because people now have another viable housing option. People won’t feel obligated to build 100% on three floors anymore; the reason being no one will want to rent them, because there’s a much cheaper option that’s just as close and has all the amenities you’d want for a young family.
    Of course, on the ground floor of the core you’d have large public gardens, shopping facilities, restaurants, entertainment, daycare, laundry, security, everything. There’s also a multistory underground parking facility, with enough parking for all the apartments.
    Oh, and eventually, every core would have a metro station too.
    Why not?

  • mohammed says:

    What Sami is saying is true to most families here in Kuwait … however,I also believe the we .. as a society.. became so demanding in our way of life … we want big spaces … we want more cars … housekeepers .. and more … Things that I think are Luxury … but with time became a necessity
    I believe that if everyone lived within the range of their income …. and arrange our living situation accordingly, we’ll find that we can live comfortably in the spaces available … what I am trying to say … if we can give up the maid, the extra car, the big living room and kitchen … and restructure our lives … we will be satisfied … maybe not fully satisfied … there are still many things that the govt need to do…
    Faisal … I thinK thats great … if you beleive in your work i belive u’ll succeed … (if not already)

  • yasir says:

    about couple years back i came across a studio based architectural firm from kuwait over the internet! .. i dont remember the name of that firm! their work was quite interesting.. that was probably the first good design firm i came to know about in middle east! does anyone know which company it is?

Leave a Reply