Silent Jewels in the Desert

By February 6, 2011 8 Comments

I think a cautionary example of what Jassem is describing would be the Freedom Towers debacle. They had a very public competition, in which hundreds of designs were submitted. The winner, Daniel Libeskind, had a really cool looking but ultimately unfeasible design. With the bureaucracy and interests involved pulling the project in so many directions, the end result was an architectural farce. The design was compromised endlessly and it still hasn’t been built, 10 years after the attack. I guess what i’m saying is that even when things are (supposedly) open and in competition, there’s still lots of room for things to go wrong.

Also, my problem wasn’t that these designs are done after an architect is selected and there’s no motive to do good work. That’s not what i’m worried about. Most of the buildings that are the work of famous architects, buildings that are conceived to celebrate the city or the patrons, are usually show-off islands. They don’t integrate well with the city. We have too many bad examples of this in Kuwait, buildings that are surrounded by highways and aren’t really part of something more. They ignore their context, culturally and physically. We have too many silent jewels in the desert. It’s time to start thinking about how make a city that works, not a building that would ignore it.

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  • yasir says:

    interesting post.. is it possible to have case studies of some of the well designed buildings in kuwait? buildings responding to the climatic conditions of kuwait..

  • Jassem was (is?) going to do one a while back. He’s on a roll, though, so i’m hoping it will be up soon. 🙂

  • abdulla says:

    Yasir, Arab Fund building is probably one of the best buildings that is built with the climatic conditions taken into account. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend a visit.
    On another note, What’s up with Paris style street lights in KC? UGLY.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    Having a very open competition isn’t really desirable. Freedom tower is a classic case of Americanism and architecture. You raise a very important point here, how to select and pre-qualify architectural offices? and how to judge the final outcome? those are very crucial issues.
    Barrak, you fail to give a guide or an example of, if we don’t invite international offices to Kuwait, how else are we, or I should say who will be designing this Opera/Culture/Arts whatever it might be called?
    You need to keep in mind that, this is very advanced for the local professionals, and I might grave doubts they will NOT do a good job.
    We are used to do what we have always done before, residential towers, office towers and houses, the end. No innovation, no analysis, no studies, nothing specialized or sophisticated, I wonder who you have in mind to undertake this job?

  • Why isn’t having an open competition desirable? We’re not living in in the same world as a decade ago. A lot of the software and computers that were once the domain of only the ‘best’ architecture practice have since been democratized and made cheap enough that anyone with a passion can do it. Google Sketchup is free! I don’t see why, at least for the conceptual phase of a project, a young Kuwaiti architectural office (or even a group of students) can’t come up with something great, well researched and rooted in our culture and history. Same with film making and photography to some extent. The barriers to entry are so low now. Anyone can compete on an almost level playing field. The only real differentiator now are the quality of the ideas.
    Also, I don’t really think there’s much added value between a World Class, Starchitect Approved, on the cover of architecture magazines iconic building and any other really well designed building. It might get a lot of buzz initially, but I don’t think that it would really fix anything. I’d much rather have ten really good buildings that work well together and create a wonderfully dense, walkable landscape in the space between them.
    In fact, i’m afraid that the euphoria of completing a world-celebrity-building might excuse people from far more pressing problems. People would think that Kuwait is on the cutting edge, architecturally, just because there’s this one really awesome building. It’s a band-aid solution that covers the wrong problem.

  • Jasem Nadoum says:

    “I don’t see why, at least for the conceptual phase of a project, a young Kuwaiti architectural office (or even a group of students) can’t come up with something great, well researched and rooted in our culture and history.”
    You have falling again for the “yes we can” slogan, which history, as it unfolds, shows us, that NO WE CAN’T.
    This is a classic mistake being made by youth in general, and it would be catastrophic if it generalized. You seem to brais the very reason of ill-conceived building in the first place. Software is a tool to help present idea’s, it shouldn’t be more than that. Having the latest softwares and cutting edge technology doesn’t present a better solution.
    There is a reason why architects have gray hair when they reach fame status, we can’t simply say that idea’s is the only thing that matters and ignore everything else. Buildings can be very complicated and need expertise of varios professionals, ambition alone wont work.
    I need to restate this, we are in our infancy, we need to imitate before we can make our own statements. We lack bright idea’s, resources, and experience when it comes to something so specialized like a Theatre.
    An excellent example of a well designed building by an international office, is the Library of Alexandria. I suggest you look deep into it again. Not everything imported is wrong, or a failure.

  • No, that’s not what I said. What I was saying is that the value added in trying to go for a name-brand, ‘starchitect’ approved icon over a well conceived, locally designed (at least conceptually) building is not that great. The amount of effort and money that you need to spend and the opportunity cost of not developing your talented, young Kuwaiti architects is too much. It’s just not really worth it. I wasn’t saying that bad buildings are better than good ones. Why would I say that?
    What I was saying is that, in a way, why would you buy a Ferrari when you can buy a couple of cars that can do the same thing. Is a Ferrari really THAT much better than a good car? Isn’t the value of having two cars better than one Ferrari? Some people need to have a Ferrari to feel good about themselves, but most don’t, and it’s usually to compensate for something missing in their lives. I feel that your yearning for a ‘starchitect’ building has the same feeling of insecurity about it.
    Also, what would Zaha be without the army of subcontractors that make sure her designs work in real life? Her designs are about as realistic and feasible as any project you can find in a final year design studio. The reason why they work, and the reason you admire them, is because so much work is done after the design phase. That level of care and commitment in the development phase is what’s missing in Kuwait, not the conceptual level of design that you see in design competitions.
    Sketchup: Of course you software doesn’t design for you. That’s just stupid and was not what I was saying. What I meant was that the technology that you needed in order to simply ‘play the game’ used to be exclusively the domain of big offices. That’s not the case anymore because software is practically free. That doesn’t mean everyone is a great designer, but it means that we all have the same level playing field in order to compete.
    Of course there are good examples of architecture being done by ‘importing’ ideas and architects, like the Alexandria Library. But for every good example we can come up with nine bad ones. I think a better discussion would be why that one was good and not the rest.

  • yasir says:

    @abdulla thanks.. i am not from kuwait. i had a look at their website. seems nice! but a more critical study would do good.
    i visited the museum of islamic art in qatar by pei. is very good! but you cannot expect a similar approach from zaha hadid for obvious reasons.. 🙂

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