Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | August 20, 2009

Kuwait Courtyard House

This is a home I designed as a modern interpretation of a traditional Kuwaiti courtyard house. It is not a stylistic evolution; I am not trying to make the old mud houses look modern and sexy, rather I began by defining what made the old homes work and what would be the best way to design a built environment that reflects the values which defined the traditional architecture.

Front

Front Elevation

Most importantly, the home has to allow for absolute privacy in all interior spaces. There’s no point in having street-facing windows if they’re always going to be shuttered. This means that a functional separation between the public elements of the home and the private areas is critical. It became clear that the best way to achieve this is to simply place a two-level family home on top of a pedestal which would contain all the public and service elements.

Diagram

All of the rooms would have direct access to a large and private family courtyard. This space would be shielded from the elements by a structural frame which would in time be completely covered by climbing vines which would block direct sunlight and filter the dust out of the air. A waterfall would cool the space through convection heat transfer and evaporative cooling.

Bedroom1

View from Bedroom 1

The micro-climate created inside the courtyard would allow for an inviting outdoor space that is comfortable and habitable in all but the most extreme weather conditions. Fallen leaves would be carried by the pool onto another waterfall on the other end of the lap pool (not visible in the image) which would allow for easy collection and disposal. Pests and insects will become somewhat of a concern, but they arrive with birds and butterflies as well.

Bedroom2

View from Bedroom 2

The door on the left of the above image leads to the master suite. Access to the courtyard from the rooms can be as large as possible without sacrificing privacy or heat gain. There is corridor access on the other side of the rooms for practical reasons, however I imagine most of the access would be to and from the courtyard side.

Bedroom3

View from Bedroom 3

Optimally, children would have constant access to the courtyard, so they play outside and not in their rooms; this allows for the rooms to be smaller and for the children to play with each other and facilitate deeper family bonding. The large sliding glass doors on the left of the above image lead to the main living and kitchen/dining space. The sliding doors, once opened, allow for a seamless connection between the courtyard and the interior living spaces.

Bedroom4

View from Bedroom 4

The spiral staircase is a sculptural and structural element which breaks the rigid linearity of the design. The swimming pool is small compared to others (3m x 8m), however it also includes a 16m long lap pool. The large panels can be used as a projection screen for movies and videogames.

Courtyard

Courtyard

This particular design is 400m2 on one street facing east, with 5 bedrooms and a 2 car parking garage. There is no basement. The project is a prototype examining the alternatives to the typical residential offerings in Kuwait. I am currently looking for investors to help me build the house.


Responses

  1. i love the design but i may deffer on the coloring…what overhead expense we are looking at???

    • Thanks. Materiality is more important than color, but I understand people have different tastes. Can you be more specific about the expense? In general, there’s nothing out of the ordinary. The structural system is very typical, the materials are not ‘luxury’ but good quality, and the aluminum framework will only support itself and the vines. The fact that there isn’t a basement means that you save thousands, but the trade off is that the usable floor space in the house is a lot less than the typical pancake home.

      The HVAC and plumbing has been designed to be very pragmatic and functional, and the orientation and location of openings allow for as little heat gain in the home as possible. I’m currently conducting a cost analysis on the design, but i’m not expecting it to exceed the average amount for a typical home of similar size (in fact, i’m expecting it to be less).

  2. I like it. Especially the projector instead of a TV really does create a more open space. Yet I worry about the water pool, wouldnt that also increase humidty? What about the roof? Seems like you got space there for other accommodations and facilities.

    • The waterfall won’t really affect humidity, but it creates water droplets that fill the air; this is different from humidity, as the droplets are still liquid, they’re just floating. Once the droplets land on a hot surface, they evaporate. This evaporation causes that surface (the ground, your skin, etc) to cool down significantly. This is why those water sprays in public spaces work so well in hot dry climates. If its already humid, evaporative cooling won’t work, so I guess you can just turn off the waterfall.

      The roof has some service spaces and the maids room. Also, a large part of the roof is dedicated to allow for the vines (‘Majnoona’) to have enough room to grow. There’s also a decent sized roof garden.

  3. Upon first glance I felt like I would be be able to critique some aspect of the design, but the general ideas look solid to me. I started to see how your research from your previous posts led you to this point. Maybe if you can share some plans with us it would bring up some issues to be discussed? Currently, there is nothing that reveal your ground floor and the guts of the private mass.

    Oh one thing came to mind, do you think the pool is sufficient enough to collect all the fallen leaves from the majnoona trees. I imagine daily maintenance will only barely keep up with that volume of plans, and that would become a heavy chore on the family (or their maid)!

    • Well, of course the pool doesn’t cover the entire area underneath the vines, but that’s not a problem for any good leaf-blower. The main issue that I can see regarding the vines is the constant need to prune and pinch. For the vine to flower, it needs to be pinched (cutting a bit of the ends of the shoots). If you don’t pinch them, they end up growing in a straight line, and that doesn’t look as good as when its spreads out; pinching the end forces the vine to split off into two or more branches instead of continuing in one line. Since some of the areas are very hard to reach, its going to be a problem finding ways to do that maintenance work (keep in mind that the majnoona has some really sharp thorns). Also, it will take at least two years for the vines to mature and reach a stage where it looks similar to the renderings.

  4. i have been meaning to say this for a while now, i am not an architecture student, i couldn’t draw if my life depended on it, i am not organized or possess any of the tools a good average poor archetict would need besides having experince in building cities of lego, houses and what not. But ur FREAKING BLOG MAKES ME WANT TO GROW UP HAVE A MILLION DINARS SO I MIGHT BE ABLE TO AFFORD U AND THEN GET U TO DESIGN ME A HOUSE!! WALLA!!! AND I LOVE UR BLOG, yeah i have never fisalt chithi before bas i really do, i can only pray that by some miracle you get an ofer to help redesign places of importance and places u deem important by the govt. Thank you for your efforts in your posts. I expect a discount in 15 years or so!

    • Wow, thanks. I’m glad that you feel this way, but I have to admit that of this new generation of architects most of them can’t draw if their life depended on it. They’re so used to computers that they hardly ever touch a pencil. I’m one of them, heh.

  5. Yeah me too, can’t draw. My livelihood depends on Sketchup & 3dS

  6. interesting do you think an archetict who can draw is possible at an advadtage, or possibly better than arketekts who can’t?

  7. Barrak: I admire your choice of materials (and colors). Although maintenance might be a big issue, especially the outdoor wooden areas and the waterfall, it might require a little bit of tweaking while executing. I agree with Faisal though, we do need to see a plan, specifically because in the renders the courtyard seems small to have activities other than sitting and watching the screen.

    K5: This used to be the issue. In the past architects who can draw have a bigger advantage than those who don’t. This is basically due to the fact that one needs any medium (method) to express ones ideas. Model making is one of them, except that it takes a lot longer than sketching. Nowadays Computer modeling and drafting is a minimum requirement.

  8. Clean, progressive, and pragmatic.

    What is most impressive I believe is that the house is not a box. It’s definitely not a box when you walk in it. But I am impressed by the way the house preserves it’s privacy without being a box. The facade signifies that there is a spatial complexity inside the house (which can get passer-bys jealous –a valid criteria for a house in the gulf!)

    Because of its contained design, I was wondering if you’ve made explorations if this house could be the model for a compound, i.e. row housing (ARC202 style!)

    Keep it up man,,,

    • Thanks. Yeah, it’s very easy to aggregate the design into a sort of townhouse model. I’ve tried that a few times and there is potential for it work with a few changes.

  9. Great work. Would love it see a 3d walkthru of it. Again, great work and I like the greys.

  10. I like the idea of a projection screen, but the design seems too boxy for me! I like some curves which would give it life!

  11. I am back from a long vacation I think. Barrak, I like the way the project ended up from the last time I saw it a month ago. I wish it had lighter colors though the color scheme you chose seems fit for our climate. I appreciate the research you’ve done, yet I wonder how will it work in reality. To me, the best part of this design is the fact it ignores the sun orientation yet it takes it into account. This is a very important issue in Kuwait.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. I’m fascinated by Architecture, especially modern contemporary. The problem with Architecture in Kuwait is there’s so much waste in space and design, every house looks exactly the same with cheap design and even cheaper finishings. Kudos for the amazing design.

  13. Barrak, I think its really cool and like everyone has said its solid and you’ve done your research properly when it comes to the microclimate in the courtyard. I love how you put a pedestal below the private mass, and I understand how the building functions volumetrically, but I would like to see a plan to understand the relationships more clearly. It would be cool to see how many different iterations come out of this research driven home with time–in a couple of years might be worth compiling in a book!

  14. Marzouq: Thanks. Modernism in architecture, which is the same in art, is all about removing all the excessive ornamentation of classical architecture. It can sometimes go too far and become an impractical statement of design (and maybe I went too far myself, I don’t know) but just because it’s boxy doesn’t mean there’s no life in it. The life comes from the people that live in it, not curves and angles. As long as a space is comfortable, naturally lit and engaging it’ll be a great stage for life to happen.

    Jassem: I’m sure you’ll be surprised once you see it in reality. I’m certain that it won’t work as well as I want it to, but i’m also certain that the space will be more than comfortable. Regarding the sun orientation, its kind of hurts that, after all that, it kind of doesn’t matter really in terms of absolute orientation. I guess that’s another great advantage of courtyard houses. See? The fun never stops.

    Dhari: Thank you. I know what you mean, it’s very depressing that so much construction is going on with very little thought behind it. Let’s hope that once people change their attitude once they see what good architecture is all about. People have to understand that a good building doesn’t necessarily cost more than a bad one. If only as much thought went into designing buildings as we do designing cars, the world would be a much, much better place. (We spend far more time and money on buildings, yet we generally allow incompetent people to design and build them). I can go on forever like this, so i’ll stop right here.

    Aisha: It’s great to have you back again. Thanks for the compliments. Well, most houses in Kuwait generally have a sort of hidden pedestal/plinth configuration anyway. The ground floor is usually completely dedicated to guest reception and services. I just decided to make the distinction official and separate them in volume and program. It works surprisingly well in delineating the private/public boundary, which is the whole point, I guess.

  15. Thanks, I’ve been a bit behind reading your posts, just a bit too busy for a while there. Thats true, and I can never understand why people would want lush gardens/pools and then have them only exposed to their public areas. I have to admit though that I’m encouraged by the number of people I encounter who are interested in spaces that will improve their quality of life, rather than a huge ballroom that will be used scarcely over the years.

  16. Hey you, followed your brother’s link from facebook back to here. Wow, just great. I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time going through your blog, it’s very interesting. Glad to see you’re as zealous as you used to be.

  17. brk,

    in the elevation (first image), is that a property wall? I ask this question because I’ve been struggling with it for a long time now.

    The earlier model (internal/external space arranged around an open to sky courtyard) has been substituted by a new and imported model (free standing object with a garden and a wall around it). This has happened for many reasons (money? status?). However, (and you know I’ve never been to Kuwait, but I’m making a leap of faith from my knowledge of other similar places), the wall serves no real function. It fails at being a tool for privacy because most private spaces are always placed on top. The villa always rises above the wall, and does so with such glamor. As you point out, there is no need for windows if they will remain closed. You have attempted to return to the earlier (arguably more successful) model, but retained some of the imported pieces, of which the wall is most offensive to the original model.

    My question is, why is the wall still there? purely as a property demarcation? Can that not be expressed in new “designed” ways?

  18. Zoning laws and building code. They force you into making these decisions. Unless you have the neighbors consent (or if you own the adjacent property) you have to set back from them. I’m not really sure which wall you’re talking about specifically. If it’s the front wall, that’s just the garage door; there’s no real ‘fence’ around the house. If it was up to me, and the evil building codes are ignored, i’d generally start with the entire volume of the site and carve spaces out (creating introverted spaces).

    If you mean the big gray things on either side of the house, those are supposed to be the neighbors. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  19. I really like the out of the box approach to the house rather than having the same old drabby looking houses one finds in Kuwait. The interface between the spaces has been well thought out and as for the issue of pest control, I believe SS nets would resolve this issue without taking away from the aesthetics of the project.

    • Thank you for you comment. Although I agree that in general most houses in Kuwait do look boring, I think the deeper problem is that they just don’t work. Aesthetics is subjective to some extent, but functionality and cost-effectiveness isn’t.

      A stainless steel net would probably cause more problems than it solves. The vines that thrive in Kuwait have very sharp and stiff thorns that would be claw at the mesh. The battle between the plant and the net would only result in ruined growth or a torn up and destroyed mesh. Also, the dead leaves and petals would pile up and decompose. The would be a good thing if they’re falling where the roots are, but in this case its not. Another personal reason is that I want butterflies and birds to find their way into the garden, I don’t want to push them out. There are friendlier ways to balance out the ecosystem; Ladybugs can hunt down aphids. A cat can control spiders and larger pests, UV traps can control mosquitoes.

      In any case, I don’t think the pest problem would be severe enough to warrant a dedicated solution, but if it is, I don’t think wrapping the courtyard in a net is the best answer.

  20. Wow. Truly phenomenal.


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