Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | November 24, 2012

Jaber Bridge

Without traffic the bridge will save about 25 minutes from the journey. Let’s say someone lives in Mishref and wants to work in Silk City. In order for that person to drive to the entrance of the bridge they have to go through the traffic leading to it, which is through Shuwaikh Industrial and the port. This area is already congested and will be more so with everyone passing through to get to the bridge. The same will be true on the Silk City side. In the end, I will be very surprised if the total journey is less that it would be to take the longer detour around the city and the bay.

It might seem like the bridge will save about 20 minutes or so from every journey but in order to do so there will be more traffic in the city as a result, having paid KD20 million for each kilometer. The project will be a national disaster. We should not wait for that to happen and we must scrap the project entirely. It is an ecological nightmare, a fiscal disaster and will add to the existing traffic gridlock.

A more fiscally prudent and ecologically sensitive solution would be to just use the existing road to Silk City/Subbiya. What’s wrong with that? We don’t ruin Kuwait Bay, we don’t burn KD700 million and we don’t increase the traffic problems in our already crippled city. In fact, we can use the land there to extend the city further. The bridge would slow this down.

There are far better uses for the money than this terrible idea of the bridge. I understand that it’s an easy way for some to loot public funds, but i’d rather we find a way without leaving us with a 35 km monster for us to forever deal with.

Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | November 13, 2012

Hidden Taxes in Kuwait

There’s a difference between pride and patriotism. People keep asking for more handouts and assume that we don’t pay any taxes in Kuwait. Sure, our salaries and income isn’t literally taxed, but we pay for our political and social dysfunction in other ways.

We pay an incompetence tax when regulations aren’t enforced and food is tainted, buildings overdeveloped and stocks manipulated. We pay a monopoly tax when land is restricted and severely overpriced while laughably slow internet is unreasonably expensive. We pay an inflation tax as every time the government raises salaries and benefits so does the price of everything else. We pay an inequality tax when insecure parents enroll their children in exclusive private schools that increase segregation and stratification. We pay an opportunity tax when smart, passionate and creative individuals are numbed by an indifferent and hostile bureaucracy into a life of stable monotony or even exile to achieve their dreams.

Money is great but more money is usually a bad thing. It skews incentives and unbalances relationships. I’d rather be taxed at 60% and live in a country blessed with justice, opportunity and freedom for all, but we’re blessed with oil and that solves everything, right? Is it not patriotic to want to be proud of our country?

Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | July 9, 2012

Dialogue

1- Building Codes

Jassem: Building codes needs revisiting by the authorities. We are building way too much on a small piece of land. I can’t think of any reason why someone is capable of building a 40 floors of apartments on 3000 sqm. Where are people are suppose to park their cars? How efficient are the roads leading and surrounding such buildings? If one area has several buildings of similar density, how congested is that area? How is that congestion being handled? In case of fire, how will the fire department can handle such fire?

Barrak: I don’t see it as a problem that we’re building densely. What worries me is the lack of transportation alternatives and an infrastructure that can cope with the density, like you said. Very few people in Manhattan, London or Hong Kong have cars and that’s because there are viable transportation alternatives. We don’t have those. I’d also prefer us to spread out densely instead of concentrating into a few skyscrapers with open space around them. It’s better for shading and creating a more inhabitable ground plane, similar to the old pre-oil Kuwait. So I don’t think the building codes are so much a problem as it is the lack of comprehensive city planning. I guess that’s an even bigger issue.

Jassem: Comparing Kuwait, as a country to cities like Manhattan or London is a joke. Kuwait building codes allows developers to construct massive buildings anywhere in the country as long as they are in accordance with the codes. This means that someone with the right size of land can build up to 40 floors high of apartment building, with complete disregard to the actual density, or the actual need of the site. These codes are there to allow developers to make more money by building more on their small or large plots. Kuwait does not have the proper infra-structure to accommodate all this, should everyone decides to take advantage of these codes. You are right however, Barrak, that we definitely lack proper city planning which should be a more of a reason not to build so much. At least not before we zone, plan, build proper infra-structures that can suit the demands.

2- Residential Overcapacity

Jassem: Same thoughts with residential houses. Do people realize that they are building beyond their needs and means? Why do we need a basement, ground floor, first floor, second floor, and something extra on top? What for? How many occasions does a single family have to be hosting so many people in so many different rooms annually? Did the authorities think about the infrastructure of residential areas? Is our sewage network capable of handling such a population? Are the streets wide enough to accommodate the extra traffic?

Barrak: People have their needs. We can’t dictate to them what they should want. Especially not when the land is almost twice as expensive as the house they’re building on it. That makes them feel that they have to utilize every legally allowable space they can afford. It’s a sane response that I can understand. I’d prefer if residential codes were even more relaxed, as long as there was a very strict enforcement of traffic violations. Build as much as you want, but if you park on the street, your car gets towed. If that’s how the rules are enforced then people will end up adding parking within their premises and not abuse the public space. Again, I don’t think the building codes themselves are to blame, it’s a matter of enforcement and what people think they can get away with.

Jassem: The building codes have allowed people to build too much for their own houses. Prices of lands have soared as a direct response to such increases in buildable areas. What has happened is some rich people have started to buy lots of plots and constructing mini residential towers, with huge profit margins. I totally understand that some families are building to house their sons when they grow up and decide to get married, but on the other side, the amount you build adds to the value of the land. Imagine, a 400 sqm land in Khairan residential city costs an average 65000-70000 KD’s, and that city is near the southern boarders of Kuwait, this is outrageous. That is making lands everywhere less affordable to average people.

3- Decentralization

Jassem: It is great to de-centralize the city, because it makes it more efficient and sustainable. Massive construction is underway in South Surra governmental district. Have the authorities thought of the massive traffic those building would generate when they’re operational? Did the people living think about that? Especially when they are paying a premium to purchase a house there? Looking at the streets surrounding those buildings, it is clear to me that traffic jams will be happening on a daily basis and it won’t be a day-time thing. The massive hospital being built, along with the huge shopping mall would make sure that the traffic jams continue until nightfall.

Barrak: We don’t really have a decentralized traffic system. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of that. The streets are interconnected within the areas, but to get from one area to the other you always have to enter a highway or a major road. There are always bottlenecks. A decentralized traffic system means that there are multiple ways to get from one place to another, so traffic tends to disperse around areas of actual concentration instead of being restricted by the flaws of the highway system.

Jassem:  This point I agree with you on, mostly. I totally agree with the notion of different transportation systems, with the metro as being prime, however, people will always use their cars. For as long as the automobile is a relatively cheap, people will always opt for it. Having different transport systems alone won’t solve our problems.

4- Large Parks

Jassem: How come there aren’t any massive parks in Kuwait? Every major city in the world has one, at least. Dubai has Zabeel Park which is split into two parts connected with a pedestrian bridge. Don’t the authorities think it’s important to improve the quality of life of people living here?

Barrak: Why would you want a massive park? I’d rather break that up into thousands of smaller parks and have those spread out everywhere. Our climate isn’t really suited to the large park typology, where you usually have large open spaces for people to play in. There are a lots of empty pockets of land everywhere and i’d prefer if we do something with those to benefit the local area around it, where they can walk to it every day if they choose, instead of ‘destination’ parks like the new one in Salmiya where you have to drive to it.

Jassem: I have not said that we don’t need smaller parks everywhere. I just said a massive park, which is what you have already proposed here on this blah a few years back with the first ring road green strip, which constitutes a huge park. I agree our weather is not the best for such things, however, there are many trees and many other vegetation that can work nicely in our climate. What is wrong with driving to a place, any place? How many theme parks can a city have? How many hospitals? Again, traffic will persist regardless, unless we make the vehicle expensive, allowing for alternative modes of transportation to take over.

5- Parking Structures

Jassem: Why aren’t there enough parking buildings in the city? People are suffering from the lack of sufficient parking and its the main reason for most traffic jams in the early hours of the morning. Why can’t we simply build multi-story, multi-function parking structures that would house vehicles, offices, and shops, like what Kuwait was doing back in the 1970’s and 1980’s? Isn’t that desperately needed now?

Barrak: I think they’ve started to build a lot of new parking structures, but it’s never going to be enough. The easier it is to drive to the city and find a space the more people will want to go there. There will always be more cars, so it won’t ‘fix’ the problem. Again, we need to have an alternative network (metro, pedestrian, trams, etc) to help disperse the traffic and add variety. Park and rides around the periphery of the city might be a way instead of having the parking structures right in the middle of the city, especially since the highways narrow considerably once you’re past the first ring road.

Jassem: Again, for as long as the car is relatively cheap, people will opt for using it. The only solution is to make it expensive.

6- Residential Styles

Jassem: Why are people fascinated with Moroccan, European, Islamic and whatever style for their houses? How are we in the 21st century related to such styles? What is it that connects Kuwait with Europe that we need to copy them? Why can’t we invent our own “style” that reflects our own way of life? People don’t realize that architecture is a reflection of our thinking process and philosophy, it is our heritage for future generations, do we want to leave behind a legacy of copying other civilizations? What’s our input? What do we make of this world we live in today?

Barrak: The old Kuwaiti style looked the way it did because of the materials and building methods that were used. We don’t use those anymore and what we have now are anonymous concrete blocks that are pretty ugly to look at, usually. I don’t blame people for trying to add a personal veneer to give it a look that represents their individuality. It can get out of hand sometimes, but I don’t think it’s really our place to dictate what people should do with their lives. They should have the freedom to build the ugliest houses they want as long as they’re happy with it. More freedom to them. I don’t want someone dictating to me how I should live my life, either.

Jassem:  I am not talking about how people used to build, because that’s a different era with different circumstances. We need to encourage contemporary means of representation. Architecture should reflect our times, our own values and traditions, our own habits and climate. I know people have different tastes and opinions, it is our job as architects to show them the correct path, not to passive about people ignorance. We must educate them, much like what we are doing here, I hope. I wonder Barrak, have you ever designed a thematic house? Moroccan, or Andalusian style villa?

Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | July 8, 2012

Is It Hot Outside?

It feels so good inside ourselves we don’t want to move.*

Obesity has been linked by some with the constant use of central air conditioning. I’m not sure i’d go that far, but it does help us maintain a comfortable sedentary existence which is generally the cause of a lot of our health problems as a society. Comfort is killing us.

There’s usually a struggle to find a way to design a house with livable and usable outdoor space while expecting the ‘inside’ of the house to stay airtight all the time. What about the dust? How would you stop the cold air from escaping? There are lots of alternatives to central air. It’s silly and selfish to keep a big indoor space cool when there’s no one in it.

Our bodies have not evolved with the luxury of a constant and perfect climate. We store food to have spare energy to burn when it gets a little colder than we’d like, or when there are days when food is scarce. Ramadhan is round the corner and as usual people will gain weight. There isn’t an easy answer to being healthy and living sustainably as a society both in terms of bodily and economic health.

We have to accept the reality that there are compromises that have to be made. A little less comfort can be a good thing, but I still don’t want to move. Change is hard and i’m comfortable right now.

*Sly

Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | July 1, 2012

A Gaze onto the City

I am sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Kuwait City. I am enjoying my cup of coffee while browsing the net, checking my timeline on twitter, and gazing out to the street. The sight from where I’m sitting shows how far the city went towards the sky. Shiny skyscrapers are popping up at  every corner, competing against each other and seeking attention. A variety of complex tall structures looks impressive for those who aren’t trained to differentiate between good architecture and bad. It also reflects how we as a society view development in the 21st century. It’s printed in our minds that taller buildings means a rich, modern, sophisticated country, yet that can not be further from the truth.

A. alFoudry

Unfortunately, as I continue to gaze and take a deeper look towards the streets, it shows how poor we are in urban design. Our streets are anti-pedestrian, anti-automobile, and simply anti-human. Nothing in our urban fabric is connected other than the pavements of the street and the sidewalks. almost no vegetation, no urban furniture, no proper signage, and no amenities to be seen anywhere. I will not even discuss the fact that there aren’t enough parking for all the cars that are starting to block the roads and create traffic jams.  The city is being experienced by the car only, which is a shame.

This, however, wasn’t the case all the time. Back in the 1960’s while Kuwait experienced a boom in construction till the early 1980’s, trees where everywhere, urban furniture was placed properly on both sides of the street, and public amenities where available. Enough parking spaces were also available according to the capacity of surrounding buildings, that the building codes allowed back in the day.

We are reaching high to the sky, looking upwards, feeling mighty, only to ignore where we stand. This is bound to fail and will eventually collapse. We need to re-think, re-imagine, re-cycle our city for proper usage. We need to think of our selves as users of our biggest city as human beings not as automated vehicles. I think how we treat our streets and how we connect the different parts of the city is what makes us truly a rich society. From where I’m sitting I see a lot of potential for creating a true urban life in the city, if only we can shift our focus from the heavens and be humble enough to look at where we stand.

Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | July 1, 2012

مربعات

أنا بدأت أشعر بالقلق إزاء وجود اتجاه سيء للغاية في تصميم المنازل الكويتية . عملاء يطلبون نظرة و أسلوب “عصري” دون فهم حقيقي لما هم يطلبون. لمعظم الناس الطراز العصري يعني الصندوق البارد، ذو زوايا حادة مع الكثير من النوافذ المستطيلة والأثاث باهظة الثمن. الحداثة ليست طراز، وانها عملية. يمكنك تغيير التثليج على الكعكة، لكنها لازالت شوكولاته في الداخل.

الشيء الأكثر أهمية، وخاصة بالنسبة للبنية السكنية، هو أن الفضاء يحسن نوعية الحياة للسكان بقدر ما يمكن في حدود الميزانية المتاحة.

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عملاء يطالبون أنهم لا يعيشون في صناديق. عندما كنت أطلب منهم التعبير عن السبب في ذلك، فإنها عادة ما تنتهي بحجة أن الجميع يبنون مربعات مملة،  غير “خلاقة”. وأعتقد أن انهم قلقون من أن الشكل الممل يمثل سكن ممل. من يهتم؟ لماذا يجب أن يكون  الشكل الخارجي الهدف الأساسي من التصميم؟ المنازل ليست شيئا ينبغي أن ينظر إلي. أنت تعيش فيها.

ما أحاول أن أؤكد عليه بقدر ما يمكنني هو أن نوعية الحياة هي العنصر الأكثر أهمية، وليس عدد الغرف أو المساحة. تلك هي مجرد وسائل للمطورين العقاريين لبيع المنازل، وهو في الحقيقة لا معنى له في الواقع. ما هي الهدف في وجود المزيد من الغرف أكثر مما تحتاج إليه إذا كانت كلها مواجهة للجيران، مضاءة بشكل سيئ، وأثاث غير مناسب أليس كذلك؟ لماذا يكون لمنازل بهو كبير في الإستقبال إذا كنت في نهاية المطاف من الذين يعيشون في الطابق العلوي معظم حياتك ونادرا ما تنفق أي وقت في الطابق الأرضي؟ تكلفة الفرصة البديلة من المساحات المهدرة هائلة. الناس فقط لا يستطيعون تصور بديل، والفاشل في نهاية المطاف هو المعماري لأنه من واجبنا أن نساعد في توضيح ما يمكن أن يكون، وينبغي القيام به.

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فيلا سافوي

فيلا سافوي Savoye هي  من المفترض أن تعتبر تحفة للحداثة. وقد صممت من قبل المعماري  لي كوربوزييه، رحبوا بها واعتبروها رمزا للحداثة واسلوبا عالميا لأنها كانت جديدة ومختلفة بالكامل. يمكن وضعها في أي مكان في العالم. بأنها آلة للحياة. في الحقيقة، كانت في الواقع كارثة. وطالب المعماري أن يكون السقف مسطح، لانه كان يعتقد ان الأسقف الحديثة ينبغي أن تكون مسطحة. تسربت الماء من السقف. وقد طالب المعماري أن لا تضاف  أي قطعةأثاث إلى تصميمه. هناك العديد من الأفكار الجيدة التي يتعين اتخاذها من فيلا سافوي (كيف تم رفع المنزل طابق واحد على أعمدة لاطلاق سراحه من الأرض)، وتفاعل رائع بين المساحات والفناء في الطابق الأول. كانت المشكلة في غرور المعماري التي سمح للطراز ليحل محل التطبيق العملي. نتيجة لهذا، فقد اكتسبت الحداثة  بأنها غير عملية. في الكويت، أرى الشيء نفسه مع الناس, بناء البيوت ذات النوافذ العملاقة التي تواجه الشمس. طبعا هم ليست عملية، ولكن مهلا، يبدو المنزل عصري وبالتالي فإن الناس الذين يعيشون فيه يجب أن يكونوا عصريين.

 
Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | June 23, 2012

المنزل الكويتي

ما هو البيت الكويتي؟ كيف نعرفه؟ للبدء في الإجابة عن هذا السؤال، علينا أولا أن نعرف من هو الكويتي و ما هو نمط الحياة الكويتية ومن ثم محاولة إظهار هذا في بيئة مبنية. على المنزل إيجاد توازن بين العوامل البيئية للموقع وخيارات نمط الحياة لسكانه .

بالطبع، لايوجد شخصين متطابقان، ولكن يمكننا على الأقل تحديد الاحتياجات الأساسية والطموحات والمعايير الثقافية التي تجعل من الشخص كويتي. لدينا جميعا رغبة أساسية للخصوصية الشخصية. لا أحد يريد أن يعيش في منزل هولندي حيث النشاط داخل المنزل ظاهرلجميع المارة بالشارع. لدينا جميعا رغبة في أسر متماسكة حيث وجبات الطعام الثلاثة تكون مشتركة ونمضي الوقت معا قدر الإمكان. معظم الناس يشعرون بالحاجة إلى وجود مساحة مخصصة للترفيه عن الضيوف.

مناخنا هو في الأساس جاف، شديد الحرارة في الصيف والرياح شمالية غربية. الشتاء بارد ورطب قليلا. يمكن التخفيف من الحرارة الجافة من خلال التظليل والتبريد التبخيري. الشتاء رائع و لايحتاج سوى تلاعب بسيط ليشعر بالراحة فيه.

بالأخذ بهذه القواعد الأساسية ربما نستطيع أن نفترض أننا سوف نعيش في منازل ذات فناء داخلي (حوش و ليوان) ذو إطلالة داخلية. هذا من شأنه أن يتيح أقصى قدر من الخصوصية، وخلق مناخ من شأنه أن يقلل من اكتساب المنزل الحرارة وخلق المساحات في الهواء الطلق مريحة حتى في أحر أيام الصيف. هذه هي الطريقة التي الكويتيين عاشوا تقليديا. فناء المنازل في الأحياء راسخة حيث كل وسائل الراحة وتتوفر على مسافة مشي قصيرة.

ولكن ونحن ننظر حولنا اليوم الغالبية العظمى من المنازل في الكويت هي منازل عملاقة. نحن نعيش في ثلاجات بوسط الصحراء. متى حدث هذا التغيير بطريقة التفكير و العقلية؟ لماذا نعتمد على نحو أعمى للنموذج الغربي لمنزل بمنتصف القسيمة مع نوافذ تطل بكل إتجاه؟

أنظروا حولنا في جميع المنازل في الكويت نوافذ عملاقة تواجه الشارع. تقريبا جميعهم إما مظللة بالبرادي والستائرأو ببساطة أغلقت تماما. لماذا لديهم نوافذ كبيرة جدا في المقام الأول؟ فمجرد رفعها عن مستوى العين يعني أنه يمكنك رؤية السماء، والسماح للضوء بالدخول دون السماح للناس بالنظر إلى داخل منزلك من الشارع.

لماذا الناس يشعرون كما لو كان اكبر كان أفضل, دائما؟ الغرف الضخمة للأطفال يعني أنه سيكون لديهم كل ما يحتاجونه فيها ليس فقط للنوم و الدراسة، لكن للترفيه عن أنفسهم وأصدقائهم، وأنك لن تراهم. إذا كان لنا أن نفكر في غرفة الطفل بأنه مجرد مكان للدراسة والنوم سوف نجد أننا نراهم في أكثر الأحيان. وسوف يضطرون إلى مغادرة الغرفة ليرفهون عن أنفسهم و يتعلمون  فن المحادثة بدلا من الإنحباس في غرف ضخمة فيها كل وسائل الترفية. و بهذا يمكن إستخدام المساحات لأمور أكثر أهمية، مثل منطقة مظللة في الهواء الطلق مع المساحات الخضراء وإنارة طبيعية.

اختيارات الناس لعقاراتهم مثيرة للشفقة. جميع المنازل بالطريقة نفسها، و لا تنتمي للكويت. في الأسابيع القادمة وسوف نسلط الضوء البدائل التي فعالة من حيث التكلفة وتتكيف مع المناخ وثقافتنا. لا يمكننا الاستمرار في المسار ذاته لا يمكن تحملها. علينا أن نستيقظ.

نشر في 10/7/2009

براك البابطين

Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | October 20, 2011

Congestion Pricing

A depressing series of studies (here, here and here) seem to indicate that no matter what we do, we will always have traffic. Building more roads, the metro and having more buses will not, it seems, make that much of a difference. People just find it very convenient to drive. The only way to make a real difference is by having a good public transport system coupled with a tough congestion charge.

Anyone who’s been to London in the past few years will have noticed that there aren’t that many cars on the road other than taxis and buses. The reason is that anyone driving in London has to pay a hefty fee in order to do so. That’s enough to persuade most people into taking the extra effort to walk to the bus or underground train. Dubai has a sort of congestion charge (Salik) which is more like a frictionless toll booth. I remember it having a positive effect.

This can never work unless we first build the public transport infrastructure. Without alternatives to driving we will just be punishing people without giving them a viable, safe and efficient option and the traffic will just migrate around the congestion charge zones creating new bottlenecks. I’m just saying that once the metro is built we may have to implement a congestion charge for it to effectively solve the traffic problem, otherwise it won’t do much.

Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | October 14, 2011

Park Fence Removal

They are going to start demolishing all the fences that surround public parks. I’ve asked for this a couple of times (here and here) and it seems their reason for removing them was mainly to stop people abusing the parks for ‘immoral acts’. I can also understand the concerns of parents worried about their kids. I wouldn’t mind child proofing the kids play areas, where there are swings and activities (maybe have a 1m high fence around those areas?) but I also think those fears are exaggerated. The problem parents should concentrate on is trying to find ways to reduce the speed of cars in residential neighborhoods. That’s the real problem and one which I don’t see much effort going towards fixing it. Still, this is a good step towards improving the walkability of Kuwaiti neighborhoods and every step makes it easier to take the next one and get us closer towards safer, healthier and more stimulating neighborhoods.

Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | September 17, 2011

Gubei Gold Street

When thinking of what Salem alMubarak Street could be this is what I kept imagining, a great urban renewal project in Shanghai that has almost the same scale and density as SAM Street.

People usually think of buildings without caring about what happens in the space between them. We keep making that mistake in Kuwait.

Before and after shots of the renewal of the pedestrian promenade in Gubei, which I hope is one day replicated in Kuwait:

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