Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | June 19, 2009

Architects in Kuwait

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.

architect

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.

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Responses

  1. while you are referring to our borrowed architecture as weakness, I find it more of great quality, when we have more of an amalgamation of elements and space distributions it would be a real challenge to understand and design the anchoring strategy of the whole.

    on the other hand, what is authentic in architecture? architecture has many layers authenticity can reach from materiality to systems or plans.. I really don’t think that each city has an architecture for its own, it is all subject to land geography, land use and land developers… architects have to work the scale of difference and the value of living, thus I think visual authenticity comes as an output..

  2. As a registered architect I sometimes wonder what our role is. There are a few notions that come to mind, that might summarize some of the actions and responsibilities that the practice of architecture entails. Firstly, we determine the bigger picture – it is our job to understand and assimilate all the various factors, variables and nuances involved in a project, be this for a small building extension, a residence or even a new township, into a coherent whole. Such an action involves both an aim for objective analysis (as far as that is possible) that inevitably needs to conclude as a subjective intepretation, a design.
    We also need to be ‘Jacks of all trades’, i.e. polymaths, which means that we need to digest and master an overwhelming quantity of more and less apparent information. Examples of the former would be, say, the country’s building codes or more common construction practices; examples of the latter would be things such as a society’s cultural and social idiosyncrasies. As a protean professional who also ends up being responsible for someones usually biggest single, both financial and thus often emotional, commitment one often also needs to be prepared to function as a financial consultant, psychologist, philosophers, marriage councilor, technical advisor, artist (ic advisor), inventor, innovator (along with engineers, interior designers & decorators, garden designers, etc.) to mention a few, of a project…

    We should also thus be the ethical backbone of the design (and almost all things, be it a screw, a meal, a flower-arrangement, a chair, car, room, library, streetscape, and city are designed)…

    So, as it stands, perhaps it is not surprising that the formal training of an architect requires about double the time it takes to become an engineer, and that it is common to refer to architect below the age of 50 as ‘pip-squeaks’…

    We need to be the ones asking the difficult and challenging questions regarding a task, and be prepared to be the ones who will find a (usually multi-dimensional) solution to any such inevitably toilsome actions to be.
    There’s the somewhat dry ‘joke’ that ask: How many architects does it take to change a light-bulb? The answer being: ‘Does it have to be a light’bulb?
    We need to be the (epistemological) ‘meta-thinkers’ (thinkers about thinking) that, if needed, answer a query with a question. Occasionally we need to be the ‘lateral thinkers’ that understand the underlying fundamentals of a task, and re-formulate the question to befit or align better with the desired outcome. We need to understand the ‘bigger picture’ whilst being aware of the meso and micro scale aspect of a proposed intervention…

    (so much for late night musings that probably won’t make much sense the following morning)…

    Tom – over and out from Spain…

  3. Best Kuwaiti blog in 2009 ..Good Jop guyss ..keep going :)

  4. Thank you Mohammed.

  5. lovely and interesting give and take in this post.. please allow my belated comment here..

    I do agree with the notion that architects should have a bigger role in the “space conceptualizing and manufacturing process” i totally agree.. yet my point to add to this discusion would be summarized in the following:

    what about the interaction of the differently built micro spaes (being buildings) to the whole adjacent environemtn (being the city)?

    i think all architects should really invest a lot of time – as you have put it – to produce a lovely living environment for its users (i don’t mean just visually lovely), yet when the city/town has a proper zoning codes along with well defined licensing systems and procedures that are really researched and derived from really defendable legal backgrounds, then the role of architects would be a little bit easier TO produce lovlier and livelier built spaces.

    i know that some might say: challenges for the architects are good for the good ones of them, yet i don’t think that what we have as architected spaces for the last 30 or 40 years really shows that. I don’t think that the MAJORITY of the architects (or drafters!) who worked on them are really great (i would go with little average).

    Last, I can say:

    Great few Architects along with Great few city planners (Urban Architects) in the position to draw the lines of cities would really bless the total population for ages to come. While some ignorants who know non, and don’t want to undestand a thing, yield a population that cuss all!

    keep the lovely blog alive….


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