Starchitects and Kuwait

By February 6, 2011 4 Comments

Barrak’s comment on my last post got me thinking of how to prove my point of the importance of world famous architects building in Kuwait. Barrak argues that Kuwait does not need a new iconic building, since we have Kuwait Towers, which is true. He also argues that starchitects do not design anymore once they reach fame status, which is partly true. He also argues that, should a famous architect designs a building, it would end up being isolated, unresponsive to its surroundings, and just out right wrong. Those famous architects would design through e-mail, though I can’t imagine how.
This got me thinking, why would he be thinking in those lines? Why would he and others in the profession, or aspiring to be part of, would think that it’s just about building an icon?
Perhaps neighboring countries have accepted less than international standards of excellence simply because they were seduced by “sexy renderings” and having a well known name that is branded well around the world. Starchitects are now like fashion designers, they are famous and would attract tourists and get good reviews from critics from all over the world. Suddenly a city becomes more sophisticated and cultured once they have a Koolhaas building, it seems. This is how the industry was moving in the past decade. This should not be the case here.
I understand that the image of the previous post, The Dubai Opera House, designed by Zaha Hadid, looks disappointing. She has simply used the dune formation and turned it into a building. This happens simply because she was not competitive enough. I understand that Jean Nouvel also participated in this competition, but those are only two starchitects with less than inspiring designs.
We must not take things for granted and should not accept underwhelming designs simply because they are submitted by those world famous architects. For that not to happen, we should hold an international competition, that is designed to entice a genuine competitiveness between architects. We should invite no less than 30 architects to take part in this competition.
This would be a stark contrast to the approach taken by Abu Dhabi in Saadiyat island development. They simply gave each starchitect a plot to design something. That was wrong. We need to hold a grand competition, where there would be a winner and a second and third prizes and perhaps two honourable mentions. Once that takes place, the concerned party in Kuwait should hold an exhibition to show case all the designs submitted to the jury so the people of Kuwait would go and see. I think we can get many good examples should we simply approach the project differently than how it is being done in the region.
I agree a name isn’t enough to guarantee a successful and good building, but a competition would most likely will. One must remember that architects are human beings, and get motivated by competitions. They have a name to preserve, specially among other fellow professionals,and the outcome would serve as a great exhibition, learning experience, and an eye opener.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Mohammad says:

    Nice post!
    I believe that what kuwait requires at the moment is an identity (in terms of architecture and city plan) .. what I see in neighboring cities, some nice buildings and exciting projects but not a unique identity! … I think wellknown architects can only ‘add to’ but not ‘create’ a ‘city’ (if that makes sense) .. architecture such as Kuwait towers as well as the water towers, renovation of some old ( and not so old) buildings as well as given local architects (after filtering all the pure commercial offices) a chance to develop and compete in this city , I believe might help in searching for a unique character…
    My point is … I would like to see great, unique designs scattered around Kuwait city (regardless of who designs it) but not before figuring out how to create our own identity and not become just another city wanting to develop so fast at any cost!

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    Mohammad; I believe identity is a state of mind frist and foremost. Architecture is a manifestation of philosophical idea’s and concepts, for it to have a unique identity and character, we need to see our selves differently, collectively as a whole society. Unfortunately, we have embraced pop culture of Hollywood, and we seek material gains as measures of success. Likewise, our regional approach to architecture has been subjected to the same commercial standerds of America. We are duplicating it, as we are living our own lives ever more like an American society.
    The Japanese architects have managed to break away from that in past few decades and created contemporary pieces of architecture that are both universal in appearance, yet distinctively Japanese in spacial and material experiences. I would write something about how Japan can teach us a lot over here soon as well.

  • Anmol says:

    I just heard that Sir Norman Foster’s company is going to design the new terminal of the Kuwait International Airport. That’s good news. 🙂

  • The Finnish architect Reima Pietila who built the Sief Palace extension (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) spend much time in Kuwait over a span of 16 years before finishing the building in 1986. No email starchitecht. By the way, can I ask you guys something? I knew Pietila and would like to write something about this building but they don’t let me visit the premises because it’s the ministry. Petitions by embassies have been turned down. Can somebody help me with this? Thanks.

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