A problem that faces the general public in Kuwait when meeting an architect is understanding exactly what an architect does. People seem unable to know how to categorize an architect. Are they engineers or artists? When asked, most people assume that an architects job is drawing the outside of a building, since an interior designer deals with the inside.
They seem to clearly be able to define the job of an interior designer, which to the general public seems like a logical profession. They design the interiors. If you ask them how, the most common reply will be that they choose the furniture and fabrics, paint the walls and add some lighting. That is not what an interior designer does; that is the job of a decorator.
Most Kuwaitis can relate to decorators easily because they deal with most of the same issues on a daily basis. Architecture, however, is an immensely complex domain. What does an architect do? An architect is a trained and licensed professional that designs and builds habitable spaces. What does that mean? The word architecture is derived from Greek arkhitekton (arkhi-, chief + tekton, builder), i.e. Chief Builder. An architect is the master builder of ancient times. In fact during the reign of the pharaohs in Ancient Egypt the chief architect was second in ranking after the great pharaoh, simply because he was responsible for building the empire.
An architect should be able to translate the culture of a given society, the history, philosophy, thoughts, ideas, and hopes into a functional built reality (the local vernacular). Architecture is a product of philosophy and thus it is considered to be a physical manifestation of the fine arts.
In Kuwait, however, architects are seen merely as hobbyists with a degree. They certainly aren’t engineers because engineers are far more serious in their profession. Architects don’t calculate anything. Architects also can’t be painters because most architects these days can’t even draw. An architect is someone very foreign to most people and the profession is almost ridiculed.
People are puzzled mainly because of one factor; we never had a true civilization in this region. We borrow everything from our neighbors but never really understood and accepted that we have never accomplished their status. Simply importing culture and building methods are not great accomplishments. Nothing has ever originated from Kuwait that has contributed positively to the greater world civilization like our historical neighbors in Iraq, Persia and India. Since we have no historical built environment, we have not developed a culture that rewards innovation. We cannot imagine the value of creativity, and have devolved to merely import creative thought, replicate and consume it.
Architects create spaces, a word which has no literal translation into arabic. In creating those spaces they consider cultural factors, environmental factors, circulation within the spaces, the relationship between the designed building and its context within the site and so much more. For architects to engage the Kuwaiti public they should first begin by explaining the complexities of the profession and the potential for change that an architect can instigate.