There are a small number of names that crop up in every design or architecture-related conversation in Kuwait. Jassim Al Saddah is one of those names. His company, bab.nimnim, was established at the beginning of the decade although, such has been its influence on our society, it feels like Jassim and bab.nimnim have been around far longer.

Who better to address for us the role of design for 21st century Kuwait? Recent years have seen a rapid change in the direction of design in the city. Projects that once appeared impossible are now regularly being manifested in the heart of downtown and throughout the suburbs. Kuwait has, at last, gained confidence in design and architecture.

What is the role of design in Kuwait in the 21stcentury? And do you see this role being allowed to fulfil itself?

To be frank, for design in the sense of architecture and product design, Kuwait is quite young and is not a player within the global design scene. Whereas, within the region I think we can compete within certain areas of the food and beverage sector, as there is a huge influx of new local concept eateries opening up which are very interesting.

I do see a future where Kuwait could fulfil the role of being a player in the global design field by opening up its market and being more of an international city like Dubai.

What would definitely accelerate this development is by being more supportive and inclusive of the different spectrums of talented young people locally, and by focusing on supporting the arts and culture from the inside and being inspired by the outside. Currently we remain heavily dependent on the outside – this needs to change.

Design, be it architecture, graphic or any discipline, has its trends. What are the current trends in Kuwait and the region?

Well, certainly the current trend, and it’s one which no one could have failed to notice, is the ‘speak-easy’ theme. This has a little bit of retro blended with a huge focus on the modernization of heritage. It’s being delivered through clean lines with minimal finishing and a sharp – yet warm – look.

Sometimes it could also involve the occasional ‘unfinished’ concrete wall or some exposed brick similar to those we see in New York lofts.

But this is not the only popular theme, there has been a huge revival of many different vintage and retro design looks. These are fun and more colorful that others, and we have reached a point where we can recycle any era we find interesting.

Any design can be worked at based on a few simple directions:

For graphics: use simple and clean typography, for the logo. Apply some simple embellishments on it like an axonometric extrusion or some simple and clean graphic lines that may initially represent the logo. Long gone are the days where the logo is the main focus, now the main objective is to have a very strong font that is clear and easy to read and notice.

For architecture: it really depends on what the newest material is that’s being used and its detailing, or reinventing the conventional use of a simple and known material. Facades of buildings are very important and surely designing a beautiful exterior should be reflected within the interior. The form of a building is usually what makes it iconic yet the interior function is as important and should follow form, and vice versa. The modernistic ideals of Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos do not apply to our modern world with the advantage of how technology is developing and the unprecedented speed of human intellectual evolution is truly changing the way we live, work and function.

Finally, ‘god is in the details’ – the finesse and acknowledgement of good design is defined by the level of workmanship and detail applied within the project itself.

Are we design leaders, or followers?

Kuwait has always been a design leader in the sense that, in the 1950s, we were the first country in the GCC region to be hyper-modernized. (A valuable reference for this is the book ‘Modern Architecture Kuwait 1949-1989’). Unfortunately, that trust of building a new Kuwait City with a modernistic view was entirely broken and dictated by Western urban ideologies with no reference or accommodation to the local traditions, society and community that lived here. What has survived are just remnants of what used to exist.

The UAE is certainly a leader now in the design field, and is a global competitor with a plethora of exhibitions and festivals that support the arts.

Lebanon, hands down, is the most creative and well-developed centre for design in the region, and it has definitely nurtured and given the world a number of the very best designers.

For hundreds of years, the region had a clear design style. It reflected the world in which we lived. Do you see a Middle Eastern design identity emerging? Or is the region too consumed with its attempt to be part of a global concept of design?

The whole ‘identity’ issue has been a subject of great interest to me personally. What is frustrating is that we do not need to recreate our identity (we might recreate cartoony versions of it) because it’s already here, in all its beautiful glory and its rich history found in our wondrous cities.

What needs to be done is to conserve this history – be it a visual or physical – for future generations and to record it by truly learning from it. What needs to be embraced is the now! Not to follow trends or fads but reanalyze, readapt and implement what we learn from the global scene of architecture, as we must accept that we’re living in a globalized world. This will help us to become up to date by considering the attributes of our climate and region to further enhance our way of living, instead of pursuing a slimmed-down version of westernized design.

Design has golden rules. What are your key rules that remain inherent in producing good design?

  • process, process, process
  • analyze and detach/dissect/disassemble
  • re-attach in a new way that would be interesting by questioning the important facts that were dissected
  • experiment with form (try to make it as pure as you can)
  • function ; make sure that you can truly move in the space by thinking of the end user and visualizing every step
  • detailing ; think of what makes this project
  • teamwork ; with a strong and supportive team, the sky is the limit

Do you design for style or substance? There must be elements of both. How do you find the balance?

Actually both. Style is truly subjective, but the substance is to actually create a consistent line of thought between all the projects you produce in order to have a particular identity to what you design. This only comes through practice and discovering your style by growth and experience.

How do you view the future of design in the region? Are the current and next generation of designers well-briefed on the basics of ‘good’ design?

I think there needs to be associations and examinations for the different disciplines of design in practice. Unfortunately, for architecture we do not have an association that represents the discipline. The purpose of this association is so that it can accredit graduate architects to pass exams for licensing, which would have a quality control on who truly understands the profession and can work in it, and creates a platform for professionalism and pursuing a greater good for the visual aspect of what is being built in Kuwait and can be critiqued.

Beyond that the only architecture program in Kuwait was established at Kuwait University in 1997. So it’s still a very young school. They definitely are alone here in Kuwait and would need other universities to open architecture colleges to enhance the level of competition and make more readily available architects to take jobs within the country and build it.

What most excites you about the future of design in the region, and what role do you feel you can play?

What’s exciting me right now is this surge of energy from the younger generations. I truly feel there is a huge wave of change, especially with the aid of technology where hidden-truths are starting to be exposed! I do hope that I can inspire and nurture graduates and young designers with my experience and then let them go off in to the world in order to see them develop beside me whilst I continue to encourage them.

I do hope that we at babnimnim can inspire and nurture a few graduates and young designers with our experience and then let them go in order to see them develop beside us, while encouraging them.

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