Since the 1960s, Kuwait has been a hotbed for both modern and post-modern architecture. A regional pioneer, Kuwait boasts buildings that would make Howard Roark proud. As we celebrate Kuwait’s National and Liberation Day, below is a quick background on Kuwait’s Modern Architectural Marvels divided into three major buckets: 1) Cultural 2) Commerical 3) Residential
Kuwait has experienced an extraordinary social and civic transformation, deeply reflected in its urban environment. The complete demolition of the Old City centre and the comprehensive redesign of the urban form, together with the creation of the new neighbourhood units, catalysed the attention of major international designers. Working in synergy with local firms and authorities, they left on the ground important examples of late modern architecture.
Over a span of 40 years the process of reshaping Kuwait involved designers such as Kenzo Tange, Alison and Peter Smithson, Georges Candilis, Alfred Roth, Sayyed Karim, Hassan Fathy, Dar Al-Handasah, Mohammed Makiya, Rifat Chadirji, Basil Spence, BBPR, Pier Luigi Nervi, Felix Candela, IM Pei, SOM and TAC just to name a few.
As Kuwait gained independence and autonomy, the necessity of a new landscape to represent the freshly founded state grew high. A new urban environment was envisioned for a new state, therefore architects found here the possibility to expand their professional horizons and the challenge to compose an entire city, building by building, almost from scratch.
The Kuwait Towers
The Kuwait Towers are a group of three slender towers in Kuwait City, standing on a promontory into the Arabian Gulf. They were the sixth, and last, group in the larger Kuwait Water Towers system of 34 towers (33 store water; one stores equipment), and were built in a style considerably different from the other five groups. The Kuwait Towers were officially inaugurated in March 1979 and are regarded as a landmark and symbol of modern Kuwait. The Kuwait Towers were the first modern skyscrapers in the Middle East as well as the tallest towers the Middle East (until the Liberation Tower — see below).
The main tower is 187 metres (614 ft) high and carries two spheres. The lower sphere holds in its bottom half a water tank of 4,500 cubic metres (1,200,000 US gal; 990,000 imp gal) and in its upper half there is a restaurant that accommodates 90 people, a café, a lounge and a reception hall. The upper sphere, which rises to 123 metres (404 ft) above sea level and completes a full turn every 30 minutes, holds a café. The second tower is 147 metres (482 ft) high and serves as a water tower. The third tower does not store water, housing equipment to illuminate the two larger towers. The two water towers hold 9,000 cubic metres (2,400,000 US gal; 2,000,000 imp gal) of water.
The Kuwait Towers were designed by Danish architect Malene Bjørn as part of a water distribution project run by the Swedish engineering company VBB (renamed Sweco in 1997). Chief architect of the company and husband of Malene Bjørn, Sune Lindström, erected five groups of his typical “mushroom” water towers, the Kuwait Water Towers (see below), but the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed, wanted a more attractive design for the sixth site. Out of ten different designs, three were presented to the Amir, who chose the design built.
VBB contracted the construction of the three Kuwait Towers to RAD construction company of Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now part of Serbia). The towers were built of reinforced concrete and prestressed concrete. Construction took place from 1971 to 1976 with the main tower was opening to the public on 1 March 1979.
Approximately 41,000 enameled steel discs cover the three spheres in eight shades of blue, green and gray, recalling the tiled domes of historic mosques. The discs are arranged in spiral patterns around the spheres. According to the architect, the Kuwait Tower group refers to ideals of humanity and technology, symbolized by the globe and the rocket.
In 1980, the Kuwait Water Towers system, including the Kuwait Towers, was an inaugural recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The towers were closed for maintenance from March 2012 to the 8th of March 2016, with a massive fireworks festival commemorating the re-opening.
The Kuwait Water Towers
The Kuwait Water Towers are a prominent group of 50+ water towers across seven major parks throughout the country. The first batch of 31 towers were completed in 1976.
In 1965, the government of Kuwait commissioned the Swedish engineering company of VBB (since 1997 Sweco) to develop and implement a plan for a modern water-supply system for Kuwait City. The company built the original five groups of water towers, 31 in total, designed by its chief architect Sune Lindström, called “the mushroom towers”. They were built by VBB out of standard reinforced concrete. Each tower holds 3,000 cubic meters of water.
My earliest memory of the Water Towers was sitting next to my father as they painted the nine towers of Adailiya. My father chuffed that he had asked them to paint them in blue stripes since “blue was my favorite color.” I reminded him that “brown was my favorite color.” My favorite color today is obviously yellow.
The Liberation Tower is a 372-meter-high telecommunications tower in Kuwait City, Kuwait, the second-tallest structure in the country and the 39th tallest building in the world. It is taller than the Eiffel Tower and used to be the tallest tower in the Middle East.
Originally intended to be named The Kuwait Telecommunications Tower, construction of the tower commenced before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. When the invasion took place, construction, which was almost half-way complete, was put on hold. However, the structure received no damage, and construction resumed after Iraqi forces were expelled on February 27, 1991. Upon completion in 1993, the tower was renamed the Liberation Tower, symbolizing Kuwait’s liberation from Iraq. At the time, it was the fourth tallest tower in the world.
The central sphere was originally intended to be a restaurant but has remained mostly empty since the tower’s completion. I have personally never been higher than the three floors of the “Government Mall” located at the base of the tower.
Kuwait National Assembly
The Kuwait National Assembly Building, designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon in 1972, was completed in 1982 under the direction of his son Jan. The structural design was by Max Walt. The building was seriously damaged in February 1991 when retreating Iraqi troops set it on fire but has since been restored
In late 1969, as part of a plan to construct new institutions following independence, the Kuwait authorities invited Jørn Utzon to participate in a competition for a National Assembly building to be located on Arabian Coast Street on the city’s waterfront. Utzon, who was living in Hawaii at the time, prepared preliminary sketches which he sent to Oktay Nayman in London, who made construction drawings, and to his son Jan in Denmark who produced models.
Familiar with Islamic architecture, Utzon based his competition design on a walled miniature city consisting of departments arranged around courtyards and accessed through a central hall, rather like a souk. In his own words, “We had the idea of constructing the building around a central hall, a bazaar street, in such a way that all departments met in side roads off the bazaar road, just as we know from the bazaars in the Middle East and North Africa…” The hall led through to a ceremonial entrance beside a covered square facing the sea. The complex consisted of a parliamentary chamber, a large conference hall, each with sag roofs, and a free-standing, flat-roofed mosque. Together with the covered square, they formed the corners of an incomplete rectangle. After discussions with the Kuwait authorities, costs had to be lowered to a point at which Utzon realized it would no longer be possible to use a Danish engineer. He fell back on Max Walt from Zurich who agreed to accept a more modest fee, for his services both as a structural engineer for the project and draftsman for the construction drawings.
Utzon worked on the project for almost three years before deciding, at a late stage in the planning, that the structural elements should be round rather than rectilinear. He immediately demonstrated his new approach by lining up beer bottles. The new columns were tapered cylinders creating colonnades reminiscent of ancient Greece or Egypt. Cylindrical vaulting was also to be used for the ceiling of the central hall, giving the building the appearance of flowing fabric.
After further delays, in 1975 the Emir of Kuwait finally gave the go-ahead for construction to begin. Utzon moved to Zurich together with Oktay Nayman, Børge Nielsen and his son Jan and set up office next door to Max Walt, facilitating communications. Adopting an additive approach, he was able to standardize the design approach as the drawings could be based on repetitive grids. However, further modifications to the overall design were still to come. It was decreed that the conference hall should now be eliminated and the mosque should be brought inside the complex. It was even suggested that the covered square should be removed but Utzon was successful in keeping it, explaining that it was “an architectonically necessary link between the great open natural space over the sea and the enclosed building.”
Construction work finally began in July 1978. It had been decided to make maximum use of precast concrete components, facilitating the best use of local resources. Apart from the elements for the two wide-span roofs, which were cast on-site and moved into position on so-called “railway tracks”, all the components were indeed prefabricated in standard sizes. The building was completed in 1982.
The Islamic design of the Kuwait National Assembly was inspired by Utzon’s visit to Iran in 1959. In Isfahan, he was particularly impressed by the structure of the town. His plans for the Assembly with its central axis in the form of a covered main street are reminiscent of Isfahan’s enormous dome-covered bazaar. Like traditional Islamic architecture, Utzon’s interior, including the debating chamber, has no windows while the offices are illuminated only from the courtyards. Indirect light is provided to corridors, the library and the cafeteria by means of skylights in the form of half-barrel vaults which can be seen jutting up from the flat roof. The complex is also inspired by the expansive structure of a tree: the central walkway, 130 m long and 10 m wide serve as the trunk with corridors and stairs — the branches — supporting ministerial rooms and offices as their foliage.
The overall area of the complex is 18,000 square meters (150 m by 120 m). The main structure consists of a basement housing the services and two upper levels with offices, reception, meeting rooms, the library, and the cafeteria. In the center is the vast assembly chamber, 82 m by 34 m, with 50 seats for the members and the possibility of expansion to 150 seats. The upper tiers offer 1,000 places for observers and spectators. The public square, similar in structure to the assembly hall, has a huge roof covering the entrance to the complex. Apart from these two halls, all the structures in the complex are in reinforced concrete consisting of 12,800 specially shaped precast elements made up of 150 basic types. All the elements are of white cement concrete with a smooth exposed concrete finish.
Covering an area of some 40 by 80 meters, the public square has an inclined roof that rises up towards the Persian Gulf. It is supported by two rows of columns with semi-cylindrical shells. Unlike traditional constructions, it consists of 11 inclined semi-cylinders, 7.5 meters wide, post-tensioned with steel cables. The columns display an innovative approach to the economical use of concrete, gaining strength, and visual attraction, from their creative shaping.
The huge shell-concrete canopies are in striking contrast with the modular courtyard structures covered by flat roofs. The first canopy inside the enclosure faces northeast while the second, rather more elongated, lies just outside it, facing northwest towards the sea. Both are supported by precast upwardly tapering concrete columns. A third continuously undulating canopy covers the east-west central hall leading from the main entrance to the open square facing the ocean. Here, politicians could address their people like tribal leaders standing in a tent. Utzon explained the positioning had even stronger natural connotations, commenting: “…The hall seems to be born by the meeting between the ocean and the building in the same natural way as the surf is born by the meeting of the sea and the beach…”
With few exceptions, the building consists of prefabricated concrete elements. The semi-cylindrical column elements along the central hall were prefabricated in two halves, obliquely cut at the top. The reception hall and office block are also supported by a series of semi-cylindrical columns. Altogether there were some 70 types of element, including those for the mosque which was finally eliminated from the project.
The Extension of the National Assembly
Resembling a hive, the Ministry of Public Works embarked on a $115 million extension in 2009 for the design and construction of three buildings covering an area of 11,000 sq m. It will include a six-story members’ office building with private, sea view offices for each of the 50 Members of Parliament, as well as offices for 75 staff members, a three-story information technology center and a six-story civil defense building. It will also provide suites and research facilities. The development is situated along the corniche in Kuwait with a total built-up area of the development is 72,000 sq m.
In his book on Utzon, Richard Weston considers that, despite the design and post-completion problems it has faced, “the Kuwait National Assembly Building remains one of the few architecturally compelling achievements by a Western architect in the Middle East… It remains a striking achievement, inviting comparison with the similarly fraught adventures of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn in the Indian sub-continent.
Seif Palace is a former administrative palace and occupied the former seat of the rule of Kuwait; His Highness the Emir. It is located opposite the Grand Mosque and is highlighted by a distinctive watchtower, covered in blue tiles and with a roof plated in pure gold. Local materials such as clay, rocks, limestone, wood, and metals were used in its construction which took place back in 1904. The palace is one of the oldest buildings in Kuwait and was further renovated in 1909, 1964, & 1987. It is currently unoccupied and only used for ceremonial purposes. The old palace is currently surrounded by an expansive, white marble, administrative complex which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (towards the East) and the main executive branches of the government of Kuwait (towards the West) including the Diwan of His Highness the Emir, the Diwan of His Highness the Crown Prince, the Diwan of His Highness the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.
The door of the old palace is adorned with a famous Kuwaiti slogan which translates to: “if it had lasted for others, it wouldn’t have passed to you.” The slogan was placed in 1918.
The tower of the Seif Palace received a direct hit from an incoming missile during the first Gulf War (1990–91), which destroyed the dial room. Smith of Derby Group replaced the iconic clock and was the only non-US company to be awarded a contract in this reconstructive period.
Soor of Kuwait
Kuwait derives its proud name from the diminutive of the Arabic word Kuwt (meaning fortress). According to historical accounts, the date of construction of the fort was around 1669, when Barrak bin Ghurair held the reins of power as the first chief of the region’s powerful Bani Khaled tribe.
The years after 1700 saw a proliferation of clans due to immigration to this new ‘country’. In those years, the Al Sabah, the current rulers of Kuwait, immigrated from Najd in central Arabia and settled in Kuwait. They took the reins of power in 1718. The main problem that affected Kuwait in that period was water shortages and lack of potable water, so the people imported water from the Shatt Al-Arab area of Iraq. The water was transported in tanks by the famous Kuwaiti al-boom dhows.
The main economic activity of Kuwait since its inception was pearl diving and maritime trade, such as palm and timber trade with both India and Iraq and other trades and professions that have been associated largely with maritime activity, such as shipbuilding. But the pearl industry was decimated by the global recession and by the appearance of cheap Japanese cultured pearls in 1934.
From the distance, Kuwait and its bay looked small, like some early watercolor landscape. The wind was clean and strong, made of pure air and saltwater. It hung in the tents heavy as a royal cloak and gave a luminous quality to the shadows inside.
The wall represented one of the historical monuments of Kuwait. You can describe it by saying it was a city with three walls, that inspired other cities to build fences. The wall was to protect Kuwait from attacks by aggressors. The walls were made of mud and surrounded the city from the land side. They contained many large gates that worked according to daily schedules. The doors opened in the morning and closed in the evening. Guards worked at these gates to organize the entry and departure of people and goods.
Freya Stark wrote about these guards: “They lounge in their seat or squat in the windowless den brewing coffee, keeping their eye on who goes in or out, and in their toothless way, uphold the rule of law. They wait for the approaching end of their days with that dignity which is the keynote of Arabia, made of poverty and leisure and of a complete unconsciousness of dress as an asset to respectability, or of physical comfort as an essential to happiness.”
Kuwait knows these three walls defined its history. They represented the defensive line for Kuwait against any possible attacks.
The first wall around Kuwait City was built in the era of Sheikh Abdullah bin Sabah II (1776–1814) in 1793. Its total length was 750 m.
The second wall of Kuwait was built in 1811. It took two months to build, with a total length of 2,300 m. This wall had five gates (darwazas) made of wood. Historical sources indicate that this fence was in place for about 70 years until it was destroyed by climatic factors.
The third soor of Kuwait was built in 1920 in the era of Sheikh Salem Al-Mubarak (1864–1921), the ninth ruler of Kuwait.
With a total length of 6,400 m, work on this wall began in the holy month of Ramadan in the summer. It witnessed the dedication of the people of Kuwait, and many of them donated a lot of money, while some donated various construction tools. This wall had five gates — Darwaza Dasman, Darwaza Al-Shaab, Darwaza Al-Shamiya, Darwaza Al-Jahra and Darwaza Al-Meqsab. With the discovery of oil and the subsequent economic and urban development in various fields, the wall was demolished in 1957.
The fence has been linked in Kuwait’s memory with numerous stories and anecdotes — in springtime, when most Kuwaitis picnic in the desert, groups of women trail their black abayas, their faces hidden, under the gateway. Small donkeys with enormous ears trot in with lime and head out with water. Smugglers move about the village of huts which has grown since the customs law of neighboring Iraq made the risk worthwhile. And a sight most beautiful, no doubt seared in our unconscious memories from the very earliest days of tribal man: In the late afternoon, flocks of goats return with their goatherds, pouring like black velvet through the nail-studded door across the empty open space with the sunlit wall and its towers behind them, until they reach the appointed place where their owners (who pay three annas a month for this service) come to separate them and take them to their homes.
This open place within the walls is also used by boys with time on their hands to lure the common little blue and brown kite from the sky. A decoy is tied to a stone as they sit demurely in the dust, trying, like unhappily married Victorians, to look as if they like it. Nearby, traps are arranged — circular concave metal discs that close with a snap when the spring is released. A white caterpillar is tied by its waist (if a caterpillar’s figure comprises such a thing), that wriggles slowly round and round like a semaphore, succulently obvious from above.
The boys wait at distance and trap four or five birds daily. They then sell them to children who like to walk about with a bird at the end of a string in their hand. It seems all the missionary efforts by Kuwait over a period of many years hasn’t succeeded in eradicating this simple pleasure!
Souq Al Mubarakiya
Kuwait Red Fort
The Red Fort or Red Palace lies about 32 kilometres west of Kuwait City in Al-Jahra.
The building of the fort started one year after the accession of Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah as the seventh ruler of Kuwait in 1897. Its primary purpose was the defense of agriculture in Al-Jahra. The fort was the location of the Battle of Jahra in 1920. The fort is built around a central well filled with brackish water. During the battle of Jahra, well water was used to treat the wounded and was drunk mixed with date palm to sweeten the taste.
The four towers are built with bricks made from mud mixed with local desert shrubs. The towers were designed to give infantrymen a view and line of fire in all directions. The walls around the fort house firing holes for infantrymen and sharpshooters. The fort is almost square, surrounded by a wall about 15 feet high and 2 feet thick, and houses thirty-three rooms and six courtyards. The fort is around 60,720 square feet. The eastern and western walls are 289 and 298 feet long respectively. The northern and southern walls are 211 and 203 feet long respectively.
Dickson House Cultural Center
Built in 1870 for a Kuwaiti merchant, Dickson House or Beit Dickson is a modest white building with blue trim. It is currently maintained as a cultural center. Beit Dickson was the home of former British political agent Lieutenant Colonel Harold Richard Patrick “H.R.P.” Dickson (4 February 1881–14 June 1959) and his wife, Dame Violet Dickson née Lucas-Calcraft, whose love of and contribution to Kuwait are documented in the various archives inside the house. Highlights include a collection of photographs taken during Kuwait’s British protectorate era, a replica museum of the Dicksons’ living quarters and an archive of Kuwaiti-British relations that dates from the 19th century to the 1960s when Kuwait became independent.
The British Political Agency in Kuwait was based in Beit Dickson when the Dicksons moved into the house in 1929, and the building served as the British political agency until 1935. Dickson lived there until his death in 1959 and Dame Violet until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when she was evacuated to Britain. Dame Violet died before the liberation of Kuwait. The house was ransacked during the invasion, but has since been restored by the Kuwaiti National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, and is now a tourist attraction. It is one of few surviving examples of nineteenth century Kuwaiti architecture, with thirty rooms on two floors
Anglo-Italian explorer Freya Stark spent most of March 1937 in the house and, while she adored Kuwait, she described the house as a ‘big ugly box’.
The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre
The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre (JACC), informally known as the Kuwait Opera House, is a prominent cultural center in Kuwait, located on the Gulf Road in the capital Kuwait City. It is the largest cultural center and opera house in the Middle East. The cultural centre is part of the new Kuwait National Cultural District.
The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre is a multidisciplinary public space owned by the Amiri Diwan striving to entertain, educate and inspire the people of Kuwait. It offers a range of events in music, theatre, film, workshops and spoken word for every generation and sector of society. JACC provides a space for dialogue to share and showcase skills and knowledge, giving younger voices a forum in which to speak. The cultural centre is a platform for educational and cultural exchange; moreover, it functions as an influential entertainment and culture powerhouse and productive space for the region.
The cultural complex, which includes theatres, concert halls, music centres, conference and exhibition halls, cinemas, libraries, center for historical documents, and public park, took two years to complete. It is 214,000 m² in size and had a budget of US$775 million
The cultural centre contains four buildings, which are organized around entrance courtyards off a civic plaza. They sit like “Jewels” in a larger public park setting. This enriches the built environment.
The design was inspired by Islamic architectural tradition. These are two dimensional patterns, which are transformed three dimensionally to create spaces below a complex geometric form. The buildings sit independently below the “jewel” which houses the functional requirements of the building.
Dramatic public spaces are created between the two forms using the contrast of light and shadow. Local culture is reinterpreted within the buildings by using technology to deliver complexity with simplicity. The pattern is created to accommodate the cultural need for privacy, views and shading.
The buildings are linked by a linear landscaped podium to the back of the buildings where the car parks and service areas are situated below ground. Visitors move from the car park via lifts and travelators to the courtyard access points at ground level.
The four buildings consist of full span steel envelopes which cover a series of independent concrete buildings. This primary steel grid is wrapped in a rainscreen weathertight envelope, with glazed areas supported by secondary steel, deck and insulation. This ‘inline’ surface is then protected with a series of titanium composite panels.
The buildings beneath are largely constructed of concrete and include a large excavated basement level connected with a series of services tunnels and MEP areas. The buildings are independently circulated with stairs and lifts and walkways, with public level access in most cases being ground level upwards.
Port Authority Headquarters, 1984–1992
An international competition was launched for the Shuwaikh Port Complex, close to Kuwait Shipping Co headquarters, containing a car park for 3,000 vehicles, administrative department offices, general registration offices, customs’ offices, import/export department, goods clearance dept, marine agency, insurance agency, post office, three bank branches, duty-free zone with shops and cafeteria, a multi-purpose hall and the Marine Museum and library. The Centre Georges Pompidou, inaugurated in 1977, was a clear reference for the project’s client.
The requirement for a very large car-parking surface, three times larger than the remaining programme became the relevant condition in generating the 10-storey height volume. A 9.60- by 9.60-metre structural grid through the whole building organises both programmatic dimensions. The exposed concrete facade defines the volume of the car park, while offices and other common areas have a glass curtain framed in aluminium.
The whole scheme is resolved by an elevation within a perfectly square street grid. The corners serve the pedestrian access and the square sides are dominated by the cylindrical car-park ramps. An internal central atrium enclosed by the offices defines the public areas in the building and distributes the surrounding hierarchies.
Kuwait Scientific Center
The Scientific Center of Kuwait (TSCK), located in Salmiya, Kuwait, serves as a center for environmental education of the Arabian Gulf. KSC spans over 80,000 square meters with the building covering over 18,000 square meters. The center also houses the largest aquarium in the Middle East (after the Dubai Mall), holding over 100 different species of animals. Along with the aquarium, it also contains an IMAX theatre, a harbor of historic dhows, and a gift shop among other contents.
TSCK’s exterior consists of a rich array of textured and colored pre cast panels, wood windows and screens, fabric canopies, and glass (to enclosure the central spaces). TSCK occupies an area of 80,000 sqm, some of which is reclaimed land. The built up space of the center is approximately 18,000 sqm and is compromised of three major attractions: the Aquarium, Discovery Place, and the IMAX theatre. In addition the center also houses a gift shop, cafes, and restaurants. The top floors are the premises of the administration offices, training and conference halls. The exterior walls of the center are mud colored, inspired by traditional Kuwaiti dwellings of the past. The tent and sail like structures that appear above and around the center are reminiscent of Kuwait’s maritime history. The ceramic floors of the corridors inside the center contain Islamic art patterns and the walls reveal traditional (sadu) weaving designs.
Jaber Al Ahmad Causeway
Shaheed Park — highline comparison
Ice Skating Rink
The Middle East’s first “artificial island”
Arab Fund Building
Dar Al Athar
Tareq Rajab Museum
Souq Al-Manakh, 1973–75
KIC commissioned PACE for the development of the CBO Commercial Areas 9 and 5. The last of these is Souq Al-Manakh where by the summer of 1982 the Kuwait informal stock market stopped trading. The crash led to the interruption of some of TAC’s ongoing projects, and eventually to its bankruptcy.
The site is interlocked between three bank office towers (Gulf Bank, ABK and CBK) and the State library (former Mubarakiya School). The entrance from Mubarak Al-Kabeer Street provides conditioned access to the underground parking and the entrance from Oman Street to the intermediate floors for public parking. This entrance and exit ramp form with the central covered court a solid core surrounded by a shopping mall that loops in the two lower floors.
On the top level an office-typical floor cantilevers outside providing the opportunity for an external gallery enclosed by perfect arches in sandblasted concrete. The four most exposed corners of the building are defined by prominent staircase towers that allow various vertical circulation options.
Built on the plot of Kuwait first cinema, Al Hamra Tower, derives its name from the historic Al Hamra cinema district in Beirut (the first cinema and modern arts cluster in the Middle East). The Al Hamra Tower had its own star moment when it was featured on an episode of Extreme Engineering in 2010.
Unveiled on 11/11/2011, it is Kuwait’s tallest structure and the tallest carved concrete skyscraper in the world, and the thirtieth tallest building in the world at 414 m (1,358 ft) across 80 stories. Its stately nature to me always looked like a tall sheikh wearing a bisht.
Construction of the skyscraper started in 2005. It was designed by architectural firms Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Ramshir and Callison.
The building utilizes wrapped glass facades on the east, north, and west both for aesthetics and to reduce the amount of reflective surface area on the south facade, which also features brushed Jura limestone. Flared walls reaching from the southwest and southeast corners of the core span the entire height of the tower. There is a column-free 24-meter-tall lobby and a majestic Sky Lounge on the 55th floor.
The tower was included in the list of the best inventions of 2011 by TIME magazine
The top two stories 78th and 79th were originally slated as a restaurant but have remained unoccupied since the tower’s inauguration.
Massaleh — IM Pei
Oak and Smoke
Sabah Al Ahmad Sea City — link to documenatry
L-Shaped Wafra Tower
Dutch architecture studio OMA recently released images of Wafra Tower, a residential development on the coast of the Persian Gulf in Kuwait City.
When complete, it will be the studio’s first built project in Kuwait. Set on the waterfront in the Hessa Al Mubarak district, Wafra Tower is a collaboration between OMA directors Iyad Alsaka and Reinier de Graaf, and local consultants Pace.
OMA is designing the apartment building for Kuwait-based developers Wafra Real Estate Company.
Formed of five blocks stacked around an exposed core, each section of the tower will be rotated slightly off axis. The grid-like facade of the tower will exaggerate its offset vertical form.
Green terraces will be planted on the tops of each block, which will feature sports amenities, swimming pools and diwaniyas — reception or gathering halls where Kuwaiti men can receive guests.
Roughly L-shaped, the wider base will maximise the number of apartments offered at lower levels while the stepped form will give the higher apartments wide views out over the gulf.
Corner apartments will have multiple viewing angles, and large penthouses will be included in the block alongside one, two and three-bedroom apartments.
At ground level, the raised lobby will include lounge areas and co-working spaces that have sea views. Construction is due to start on Wafra Tower at the end of 2020.
British practice Gensler completed twin towers containing offices and a hotel in Kuwait City last year, and Japanese studio Nendo recently designed a trendy coffee shop just south of the capital.
The Secret House
Mist cools the courtyard of this house in Kuwait City while also shielding it from prying neighbours.
Named Secret House, the detached residence by Kuwaiti firm AGi Architects is located in the densely developed Shuwaikh district.
The mist operates on a timer, surging up around the house both to keep it cool and to mask it from the street.
Living areas and bedrooms inside the house are distributed across the ground and first floors while a garage occupies the basement.
The body of the house circles the steaming garden while bridges and staircases cross it from the first floor.
A covered terrace on the second floor overlooks the Kuwait City skyline.
Architecture and mist have been popular partners lately on Dezeen — see our earlier story about a mist-releasing water feature by Tadao Ando.
Kuwait’s urban fabric mostly consists of detached single-family homes highlighting a clear example of city-sprawl. To adapt to the desert climate, the distances between the built volumes are minimal, resulting in shaded spaces between houses. These spaces that work well as temperature regulators result in facades with little privacy and limited views. This creates an added challenge to create projects with personality that are not based purely on an exercise in façade design.
Given these circumstances, our focus was to design a home that expresses the clients’ needs, clearly marking the buffers and transitions that any guest could understand. There are guided routes, hidden areas, exposed areas that are all expressed through the architecture, rather than signage. We want the house from the street to be seen as a resounding permeable volume, that is not transparent, however friendly yet private.
Physical barriers can be seen in varying degrees impeding passage or vision to reach the large opening on the upper terrace that allows you to see through the house. From the inside, the barriers become the volumes that open onto the guests, the rooms that dominate the spaces on the upper levels, defining the spaces below them.
The search for an understanding of the nature of an Islamic family culture living with a Western lifestyle has shaped the overlap of concepts and is reflected in the relevance of the major pieces in the facade, privacy and sun protection.
This house was a very peculiar request. Typically the client has a specific program and an actual site, and our job is to make the two complement one another. In the case of the Secret House, the client was occupying the given site in a house that neither met their aesthetic desires, nor their programmatic needs. This design thus becomes a personal expression of their present conditions, and at the same time creates a space capable of holding their hopes for the future.
It is a place with great potential, with wonderful views of the city, and a family who wants privacy. We plan to design a system that would unify these requirements: a house that looks towards the inside and only at the top level opens up to views towards the skyline of the city.
In this case we had only one street-facing facade, and only from there could one look onto the horizon without being seen. We have placed more public activities on the ground floor, where as you enter, you find a guest living area that is away from the other rooms. On the other side, after a circulation buffer, you find access to a family living area that connects the backyard with the central garden.
On the upper floor, rooms are positioned according to privacy and importance, alternating with areas for daily family use. From this level, a staircase runs through the courtyard and leads up to a more private space with a large covered terrace that opens out on the main façade. This allows you to enjoy both the city skyline and the sea view at the horizon in a private, shaded and lush landscaped area.
Residential Complexes, 1968–1973
The first large built project of Rifat Chadirji in Kuwait, after the completion of M Al-Hamad residence in 1967, is the result of a two-year association between his office, Iraq Consult and the new local design firm, Pan Arab Consultant Engineers.
The mixed-use complex, with a commercial arcade along Beirut Street and nine residential blocks of six-storey height, reflects the aesthetic and material concepts and influences proposed by the author as a modern regionalised architecture.
The expressions of architectural elements is manifested through raw materials such as the brick facade, together with the latest in building technology, generating a strong visual composition: vertically free-standing arcades and small openings meticulously organised.
In this specific case, Chadirji affirms as influences the Jumah congregational Mosque (Iran) and Al-Aqsa Mosque (Jerusalem) through their physical existence but also emotional condition, highlighting the argument of the intermediate semi-private communal spaces in between the residential units. The cross circulation between these and the commercial arcades were fundamental to promoting neighbourhood social activity and importantly humanising the space.
At the same time and for the same client, another project would be built in Salmiya, following the same principles and with very similar results in facade design. Addressing the topography, a wall delineates the perimeter of the plot, creating a platform that underpins the four exclusively residential blocks. Car parking was allocated to the ground level in one of the corners of the plot.
Sunken Stone House
A courtyard lined in pale Omani stone and with a fountain and trees sits at the centre of a pair of houses in Kuwait City by Studio Toggle.
Designed for two brothers and their separate families, this Sunken Stone House in Mishref was conceived as two interlocking houses stacked atop one another.
A communal courtyard space connects the two homes.
The courtyard is sunken to the level of the basement and extends as a lightwell up the building’s four stories.
A fountain and citrus trees occupy the center of the courtyard, which is accessed by a floating staircase clad in matching stone.
Areas of glazing and walkways overlooking the courtyard create visual connections between the two homes.
L-shaped in section, each home occupies one and a half stories, connected vertically by spiral staircases at both ends of the building.
The stair at the edge of the courtyard leads from the basement up to the ground floor.
Another suspended staircase runs all the way up to the second floor of House in Mishref.
Facing into the courtyard, areas of glazing have been shielded with black louvres to create gradations in privacy and light levels for the interiors.
“The courtyard and the void results in an inward-looking typology that can benefit from maximum diffused daylight without compromising on privacy”
Thin louvres in the white exterior of House in Mishref help keep certain areas private, while others look directly out to the city or open onto small balconies.
This white monolith sits atop a stone-clad pediment, set back from a boundary wall that wraps around the site.
On the roof, an external area of decking and a pool shaded by metal brise soleil provides dramatic views out over the city.
Black render on the walls creates a contrast in the white form of the building below.
In the interiors, a simple palette of white and pale wood is offset by contrasting furniture and fittings.
Studio Toggle was founded in 2011 by Hend Almatrouk and Gijo Paul George.
Previous projects in Kuwait include a home that used similar techniques to mediate privacy and daylight, with vertical aluminium slats screening the exterior.
The homes of three families are contained behind the smooth stone facade of this building in Kuwait by local architecture studio Massive Order.
Named Box House, the three-story apartment block is located in Rawda, Kuwait, and accommodates a trio of separate homes, all organized around small glazed terraces.
“The idea is to give each family a unique and private spatial experience, hence the program was divided volumetrically and each volume overlooks a private courtyard”
Externally the building can be read as a large mass of stone. There are very few windows that don’t sit within recesses, and balconies are also set back behind the outer walls for shelter and privacy.
“The stone cladding is to be read as a crust that wraps all three families”
“In order to achieve the perception of a crust, the thickness of the stone is revealed around all openings on the facade. The inside of all openings is finished in stucco to emphasize both perceptions of the crust and the volumes.”
The first and largest of the three homes occupy the majority of the ground floor and a small section of the story above.
Its main entrance sits on the left-hand side of the facade, leading through to a large open-plan living space. Two floors of bedrooms sit just behind, connected by a staircase that winds up behind a double-height window.
The other two residences can be accessed using a second entrance on the right-hand side of the facade. The smaller of the two is located on the middle floor and features a double-height living space, while the third occupies the entire upper level.
In this home, two matching courtyards separate the living spaces from the bedrooms. One contains a small water feature, while the other has been filled with plants.
S Cube Chalet
The S Cube Chalet comprises three small houses connected by walkways and a central staircase, each with private terraces overlooking the sea.
Two of the houses are mirror images of each other and are separated by the staircase, which leads up to the third house on the upper level.
The buildings have been situated to limit their exposure to the sun on the south facade and increase shaded space on the north side which looks out to sea.
The floors, stairs and a dividing wall between two of the houses are clad with Indian sandstone.
The S Cube family chalet is made up of three intertwined beach houses. The owners — two brothers and their sister each with their own families — want to continue enjoying the same exceptional environment in which they grew up, but with complete independence and privacy from each other.
For these reasons, the design of these three small houses calls for a duplicated program that maintains privacy while benefiting from outdoor areas and sea views by the use of several terraces.
Dubbed Star House, the side of the house facing the beach has floor to ceiling windows, affording panoramic views of the sea.
The design was initially for three detached houses, but the family decided on a single residence with two bungalows and a boathouse.
Nestled into the landscape, this beach house blends with the natural topography of the coastline of Kuwait. It slowly unfolds itself to the visitor, as it is approached from the desert.
Upon entry, one gets glimpses of the sea whilst going down to the public space of the chalet. On this lower level, the house extends into the landscape and the sea, accentuated by an infinity pool in the garden.
The private side of the house, located at the entry level, is concealed from the visitors by a bamboo wall. Bedrooms and private living spaces remain isolated from daily activities.
A three-way stair, placed at the center of building, organizes the different flows of family, friends and guests.
The organizational and formal structure of the beach house is dictated by the ability to maximize views to the sea.
The initial design was master planned for three detached dwellings, each with extensive sea views while simultaneously achieving privacy from one another.
The family, instead, opted for a single house, two bungalows and a boathouse, with possible plans for expansion in the future.
Kuwait Airways HQ
Ice Skating Rink