Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | February 5, 2011

Kuwait Opera House

Kuwait is planning on investing in culture and the government has announced that it will be building eight new theaters as part of its economic development plan. It is great news indeed. Kuwait lacks good, modern, and sophisticated theaters. The government also announced that it allocated about 50,000 square meters to build an Opera House.

As controversial as that might be, it should be great news as well for anyone who loves culture, music, and especially for architects. I am hopeful that this Opera house would do something Kuwait in desperate need of, a starchitect building.

In recent years, the Kuwaiti landscape and skyline has changed dramatically. Massive construction took place and international firms like SOM, HOK, KPF, among others have designed and built projects here but not one the so-called ‘starchitects’ has ever designed anything for Kuwait that has materialized.

There is a need for good architecture in Kuwait for both the professionals and students alike. An experience that only a master architect like, Steven Holl, Tadoa Ando and Zaha Hadid could bring to our city. Those architects have earned their name and reputation because they defy the norms, undertake a design process that is research and analytically driven, and are trend setting, if I may dare to call it that. Big firms hardly do that anymore, they tend to deliver great works of architecture, but is short of thought provoking and hardly inspirational.

Kuwait managed to get back to its infancy in architecture, after being a leading country in the region in 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Qatar, for example, have now more buildings of famous architects than Kuwait does.

Kuwait University has an architectural program, and the students need something to inspire them. They, as well as other local professionals, are infants in architecture ,and like infants, we need to observe, imitate, and learn the process all over again. The only way I can imagine that can happen is, either we travel around the world looking into examples, which we can do, or have some examples built here.

I don’t care if a starchitect does a bad job at designing the Opera House, as long as it is design by someone famous with credible work. Someone who is conceptual, analytical, formal, and theoretical. We need a built example, even if it ends up badly, cause that might be the lesson to learn. If we are investing in culture we should invest in its totality, and architecture is the finest of all cultural matters, subjects and desciplines

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Responses

  1. Our airport was designed by Kenzo Tange in 70′s… The Massaleh/Taameer towers were designed by I.M. Pei in the 80′s

    Both of them vowed never to work in Kuwait again!

    • I can only imagine why… :)

  2. Jassem, i’m not sure if I agree with you.

    I have a big problem with the idea of the ‘starchitect’. It seems to embody everything that’s going wrong in our region, this idea that all we need to do is build something that looks super sexy. Most of the famous examples of these are terribly inefficient and don’t really fit within their context.

    I can understand a city wanting to have an iconic symbol that can be the face of a city, but we already have that! The Kuwait Towers are pretty iconic. There’s a lot less value in being the second most iconic structure in a city.

    I think we have far more pressing problems than building an example of ‘good architecture’. That’s also a very subjective term, and you seem to want to just build a startchitect-endorsed (that’s all they do, they don’t really design anymore) icon for Kuwait, regardless if it works or not. You say a failed example is just as important for practicing and future architects. That seems really wrong to me. I know we’re a rich country but I think one flashy building isn’t going to do much of anything. In fact, I think it might exacerbate the problem we have of thinking about architecture as isolated buildings unrelated to their context (unless the project is contextually sensitive, which they rarely are when you get someone from the outside to design by email).

    I don’t know, I think it’s just as well if every year architecture students go on a field trip to Bilbao or wherever and visit existing works instead of building useless white elephants here in Kuwait.

    I would much rather they invest in a culture and theater district, where people are encouraged to just walk around and have a good time. The emphasis in the design would be to experiment with ideas of how to integrate that district with its surroundings, how each building works within the site, how people get there and move around, how the landscape holds everything together. I think that would be a far more exciting and productive experiment than building one beautiful icon and walking away.

  3. zaydoun, I never knew I.M.Pie designed anything in Kuwait, thank you for the info. I can’t blame them for vowing not to work in Kuwait anymore, we aren’t the friendliest country for architecture.

    Barrak, I would’ve been disappointed have you agreed with me, even at 10% of what I wrote. You’re comment is through and very passionate, and needs a post cause you upon a very important subject without you mentioning it, and that is the master plan.

    but a quick reply, students over here won’t travel alone to destinations without a guide from university. Kuwait University seems to be unable, to say it mildly, to organize such trips.
    A bad example is as important, if not more so, than a good example. We learn from our mistakes only, no one notice a well designed building, that works, it is suppose to work.
    Bad examples don’t happen in the Gulf region only, we have plenty of bad architecture in Asia, the United States and Europe, done by famous architects.
    Last point is, this isn’t about building an iconic building, it is about setting an example. I am talking about research, analysis, data gathering, and international standards. If those aren’t met, then I would agree with you that it’s a failure, but then again, that should be learned. This project is not needed in Kuwait to start with, Kuwait has no sopranos, no orchestra, nor any classical musicians, why do we need an opera house? We should embrace architecture that is research driven, which is my point here, Big international firms won’t do it, and local firms, no matter how big can’t perform it. The only thing I see fit is a starchitect, and I’m sticking to my point.
    You have forced me to start writing two posts now. wait for me tomorrow.

  4. The sad part is that even though we got some of the stars of modernist architecture to design iconic masterpieces for Kuwait in the 1970s, most of their buildings have since been entirely transformed/destroyed (i.e. Tange’s airport, Arne Jacobsen’s Central Bank, and even the reconstruction of the Parliament building after the invasion abandoned most of Jørn Utzon’s original ideas). The respect for architecture just doesn’t seem to exist here. We either tear things down or gut them and transform them beyond recognition.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with Barrack’s point. The real problem with Kuwait’s urbanism is not the absence of starchitecture but of a coherent urban landscape. That has always been the biggest problem in/with our city, post-1950.

    Anyway, this is a great blog and as a researcher on Kuwait’s urban history it makes me happy and relieved to see young Kuwaiti architects engaging in these debates.

    • Thank you very much, Farah. I hope you stick around and share with us more of your thoughts and comments. I really do appreciate it.

  5. And for the love of God can we please stop calling them Opera Houses??! That’s the main reason we can’t get general public support behind these projects, it’s because the general populace doesn’t care about “opera”, myself included. It also sounds quite laughable and pretentious for this region.

    They should be simply called Arts or Cultural Centers, and I give you two very fine examples: The Lincoln Center in NYC and The Kennedy Center in DC… the word ‘opera’ doesn’t appear and yet they regularly hold opera performances and many other types of performance

    End of rant

    • That’s true. Usually, though, the people that try to push opera are the ones that are trying to ‘educate’ the masses into being cultured. I’m guilty of doing that sometimes, but you’ll never find me advocating for opera! That’s one of the most ridiculous anachronistic, obsolete events there are. If Mozart where alive today he’d be a film director or a jazz composer (?) but he sure as hell won’t be writing operas.

      Kuwait has a very rich history of theatre and drama. We need a big, grand stage to reignite that golden age. Calling it an ‘Opera House’ makes it sounds way too effete and unapproachable. You’re right.

  6. I agree with Zaydon’s last comment … I am exposed to some extent to the progress of the opera house in Kuwait and I know there has been some ‘obstacles’ (aw 3araqeel more like it!) just because of the use of ‘opera’ … I also see that most Opera houses around the world had shifted their original use..

    I’ve been looking also into the ‘starchitect’ list for the opera house which is impressive but I wasn’t excited to see names such as Zaha hadeed and others who already have projects around the region or even similar projects.. and I wanted to see more upandcoming architects with new visions..

  7. Mohammed; I want to thank you first of all for coming back, reading and commenting on the blog. Second, I agree with you and Zaidon about the naming, as I wrote that we in Kuwait don’t actually need an Opera house.
    Third; I would also agree with you that there are big names out there that are becoming ever more boring and predictable, Zaha is among them. I totally agree we should invest in freshness and a newer generation of architects. I would suggest Big, Sanaa, Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects to name a few rising new stars in the architectural world today.
    No one would be happier for a Kuwaiti firm participating in such a competition than I am, but I have my doubts about our abilities, experiences, and professionalism in regards to designing such a demanding project. I hope to be proven wrong.
    I am writing about two subjects regarding this issue, will be posting them soon.

  8. That sounds like a great idea for Kuwait to invest in that! I really hope that once they do there are people that will actually perform in them

  9. Dear Jasem,

    are there any news on starting a project of Kuwait Opera House building? I would love to hear some news. Best of luck.


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