Continuing our commemoration of this most important of months for Kuwait with a look at the state of the nation; we’ve handed over to a few of our favorite people from the spheres of design, architecture, social activism, and hospitality, and invited them to give their views.
Each a vocal advocate for change, read on as they cast their minds over Kuwait, reflecting on their corner of society as they gauge the temperature of the nation and its pace of change today, and look forward to tomorrow.
PART ONE: AlAnoud Al Sharekh – Social Activist
PART TWO: Talal Al Rashed – Bon Vivant
PART THREE: Ziad Alonaizy – Multidisciplinary Designer
Our fourth and final protagonist is Nasser Abulhasan. A long-time architectural reference for us, Nasser Abulhasan (above, left) is an award-winning Kuwaiti architect with a global view. With offices in Spain and Kuwait, AGi Architects – founded with Joaquin Perez-Goicoechea (above, right) in 2006 – is the only practise from the region engaged by Expo 2020 Dubai. Here, his work will rub shoulders with the like of Foster + Partners, and Grimshaw Architects. Impressed? You should be.
Having grown to a team of more than 70, AGi Architects is a global if, until now, a largely low-key architectural office. Nasser and Joaquin prefer to let their projects do the talking for them.
When we look out across the city, we see a largely schizophrenic urban landscape or apparently random styles, with incoherent structure. Nasser reflects on this, beginning by casting our thoughts back to the early days of an independent Kuwait.
“Kuwait has historically led the region in architecture. Between the 1950s and the 1970s internationally renowned architects were making site-specific and climatically responsible work”, he notes, adding, “but that was 40 years back. Since then, both Kuwait and the region have become detached from what architecture is. Everything since has been created from more of a real-estate development perspective. Architecture in the region has fallen short over the past 40 years – what we see here, and in our neighboring countries, is often not very well built and not well developed”.
Of course, he’s correct, and he goes on to explain a key reason for this lapse in responsibility. “Architecture is not a single-handed mission. Along with a good architect it is necessary to have a good client who is educated enough and prepared to challenge the status quo in order to deliver a good product. Add to this the need for a good contractor and the willingness to do the right thing, and it’s easy to see how our Gulf neighbors accelerated ahead with a focus on developing bigger, faster, and cheaper – but not necessarily better. The pressure from these elements doesn’t enable innovation nor, even, responsibility”.
However, he feels change is afoot. Yet, whilst architecture continues to evolve, it has been slow to reveal itself.
“I can see that in Kuwait over the past ten to fifteen years, we are beginning to develop a special type of architecture once again. It is something that is relatable to its environment, that is responsible to climate needs, and to social behaviour. This makes what is happening here very interesting from my point of view.
“There is talent here, and it is growing. Kuwait differs from other Gulf states – it is not as fast to move, nor is it as showy as our regional neighbors. However, a unique talent exists here, and is beginning to show itself”.
While he acknowledges that we are unlikely to witness a wholesale change is our cities in the short term he feels that, given time, huge change is coming.
“We won’t see a significant change in the style of architecture, or in the way architecture is determined to work for the city, within ten years – this is too short a period in the cycle of architecture. But, it will happen over decades. Remember, we are not building for our generation, we are building for generations to come. This is what creating cities is all about”.
There are areas where a visionary change is easier to implement. He cites Kuwait’s F&B sector as a prime example of this. “There are people who are challenging international standards and are trying to produce similar or even better in terms of environment and food. But people can’t expect architects to do the same – in such a short space of time – with the city”.
Passionate about our city and our country, it serves everyone to see it develop its own tempo, rather than for it to become victim to much of the Gulf’s ‘copy / paste’ mentality.
He has good news. “People are once again evolving and localizing designs and ideas in Kuwait. I could use my own company as an example. We are not the same as we were fourteen years ago. We’re still pushing in the same direction, but we’re changing over time. We’ve developed a message, we’re trying to develop that message further, and we’re trying to develop good architecture. None of this happens on Day One. Kuwait is once again finding its place in the region and in the world. And it’s moving in the right direction by using architecture to reinforce this”.
Follow Nasser, Joaquin, and AGi Architects here