Contrasting with the abomination of Aswaq Al-Qurain (which is close to completion) is a highly successful proposal in Sharq by Boston based architecture firm Office da. The project is a mixed use residential district in the heart of Kuwait City.
At first glance, the cynical amongst you would say ‘Hey this looks just like the other one, but with towers. It even has palm trees’. Yes, it does look like it because the renders both have white boxes and palm trees. So what’s different?
“The Sharq District is developed as a multi-purpose neighborhood containing civic, retail, commercial and residential programs. As such, it is conceived as a self sufficient district as well as a point of destination for others in the Kuwait central city area.
The housing occupies two paradigms: matte building and tower. The matte building benefits from courtyard conditions which offer exceptional value to each household: open space, light, air, views and privacy all features conventionally absent in this class of real estate. Towers define the silhouette of the Sharq district, anchoring the site from different approaching perspectives.
A retail spine connects the Al Shuhada Park to the City on the east-west axis. This axis will house a variety of amenities that will furnish the district with its daily needs (supermarket, hardware store, etc), but will also make available a range of other retail environments.”
As you can see, the current site is occupied by low rise warehouses and run down residential units dating back to the 70s. The site is, in my opinion, one of the best locations in Kuwait. Right across the street from the Shuhada Park, great access to the First Ring road and the Fahaheel Expressway, walking distance to Al-Raya and the new dense high-rise zone that’s coming up there. It’s just incredible. Such a high potential space for redevelopment. The only major downside to the site is that giant graveyard in the middle. (Why aren’t graveyards green?)
The difference in size of the two projects is frightening. I still cannot fathom the absolute vulgarity of the vastness of Aswaq Al-Qurain. The size comparison alone is enough to differentiate the two sites. One is a relatively human scale area that is surgically integrated into a larger urban fabric, and the other is an enormous square that looks so heavy and has such visual gravity that it makes everything around it shrink one order of magnitude smaller.
The developer seems to have rights to build on almost the entire block of land, except for the graveyard and that bottom left corner plot. Also, it seems like that plot in the top and middle isn’t part of the project either. We can see that most of the original street structure was maintained on the left side, but completely redone on the right side. This would mean additional infrastructure work is needed, but the design narrative justifies this.
This diagram shows how car circulation is defined in the project. As you can see, there are no meandering, crisscrossing lines and there are 15 access points around the perimeter of the site. This is far more than what developers usually have (the original site had 6), even though they end up with just as much real estate being taken up by streets. What this means is fewer bottlenecks. I would also expect the narrower streets to be one-way so as to have a more efficient system for parking. Also evident in the diagram is that most of the streets cross the project in one direction. The point of all this is to have an easily walkable space and the only reason there is a street in the first place is to simply get you to your house. The design parameters call for every house having access to the street and that the streets take up as little real estate as possible. This is the most efficient way to do it. You don’t see roundabouts do you? You don’t need them if you just drive in a straight line.
This diagram shows pedestrian circulation. The axis that runs down the site is the main feature of the project. It provides a walkable space that links the Shuhada Park with the rest of the city. If you start at the top left of the project, at the roundabout, you will see a line of shops along the main road. This line continues until it reaches the axis where it then turns right and into the site. This major shift is what will draw people in. Pedestrians walking alone the road will follow the line of shops into the site, where they will walk through a shaded promenade of shops, cafes, green spaces and a small football pitch. This procession will continue along the axis and transition into a bridge that takes you over Soor Street and down into Shuhada Park.
This is what makes this project special. Not floor space calculations. Not nice glittering renders that show people in dishdashas mingling with supermodels. Not a high-end advertising campaign that shows families enjoying a picture perfect life. Good architectural and urban design is understanding the parameters of the site and program and devising a strategy that best solves the problems at hand. I didn’t even mention the towers, the underground parking system, the way the housing units are raised a floor above grade to have a continuous network of courtyards on the ground plane. The space is rich and livable. This is good urban design. We need to make this.
Location: Al-Sharq, Kuwait
Architect: Office da
Design Team: Ghazal Abbasy, Matt Johnson, SGH, Arthur Chang, Nader Tehrani, Anna Goodman, Sean Baccei, Kurt Evans, Monica Ponce de Leon, Ahmad Reza Schricker, Lisa Huang.