I’m beginning to be concerned about a very bad trend in Kuwaiti residential design. Clients are asking for a ‘modern’ look and style without really understanding what it is they’re asking for. To most people, it means a cold, boxy, straight edged look with lots of rectangular windows and expensive furniture. Modernism is not a style, it’s a process. You can change the frosting on a cake, but it’s still going to be chocolate on the inside.
The most important thing, especially for residential architecture, is that the space improves the quality of life of it’s inhabitants as much as it possibly can within the available budget.
Belinda George Architects
Clients are demanding that they not live in boxes. When you ask them to articulate the reason for this, they usually end up arguing that everyone is building boxes and it looks boring and not very ‘creative’. I think that they’re worried that the boring shape represents a boring inhabitant. Who cares? Why should the outward appearance be the primary goal of a design? Homes are not something to be looked at. You live in them.
What I try to emphasize as much as I can is that the quality of life is the most important element; not the number of rooms or floor space. Those are just ways for developers to sell houses, they really are meaningless in reality. What’s the point in having more rooms than you need if they all face the neighbor, are badly lit and the furniture doesn’t fit right? Why have a grand entrance foyer if you end up living most of your life upstairs and hardly ever spend time on the ground floor? The opportunity cost of such a frivolous waste of space is enormous. People just can’t visualize the alternative and ultimately that is the architect’s failure because it’s our job to help illustrate what can be and should be done.
Villa Savoye is a supposed masterpiece of modernism. Designed by Le Corbusier, it was hailed as a symbol of modernity and of the international style because it was completely new and different. It can be placed anywhere in the world. A machine for living. In truth, it was a disaster. The architect demanded that the roof be flat, because he believed that was how a modern roof should look. The roof leaked. The architect demanded that no furniture be added to his design. There are many good ideas to be taken from the Villa Savoye; the piloti mode (how the house was raised one floor on columns to free it form the ground plane), the wonderful interaction between the spaces and the courtyard on the first floor. The problem was the architectural vanity that allowed style to supersede practicality. As a result of this, modernism has gained the reputation of being impractical. In Kuwait, I see the same with people building homes with giant windows facing the sun. Of course they’re not practical, but hey, it looks Modern so the people living in them must be cool.