Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | May 31, 2009

Souq Sharq

Souq Sharq is classic example of an architect crippling a design by attempting to force one single idea on a project regardless of negative consequences. It is an attempt at creating iconographic architecture at the expense of more basic circulatory, programmatic and conceptual strategies.

Souq Sharq’s one big idea:

bigidea

The focal point of the design is obviously the artificial marina. The designer has decided to squeeze it in between the mall and Gulf Road. This design decision carries with it enormous consequences as every element in the project is basically subservient to this concept. I have to admit, the view of the boats lined up in neat little rows with Souq Sharq in the background is a wonderful panorama. It does worry me that the architect has organized the design strategy based on this postcard image and has missed many architectural and urban opportunities while also committing crippling errors that, in my view, ruin the entire project.

06-24-07-SHARQ-002

views

The site is located beautifully on the Arabian Gulf Road, with stunning potential views of the nearby Kuwait Towers, and walking distance from the Great Mosque and Sief Palace. The architects decided to build on reclaimed land from the Gulf to create the artificial marina. This decision must have cost the developer millions in dewatering and to lay underwater foundations, yet most of the reclaimed land is inexplicably filled with parking! The image above shows the overall shape of the mall. The prominent protrusion with the ‘?’ is obviously the most important element in the building. It has views on all three sides of the Arabian Gulf. It is the cinema. The architect has decided to place the one program that does not require any natural light whatsoever (let alone stunning views of the Gulf) and placed it in a prime location. This is architectural treason. Demolishing any wall in the movie theater will open up breathtaking views of the Arabian Gulf. Isn’t that sad?

The mall itself has many more problems as well. The image below shows a major flaw in the project. When was the photo taken? During the day or at night? You really can’t tell because even though the site has incredible views at every direction, the architect has failed completely to provide any natural light or even a way to look outside. Once you’re inside, you’re effectively cut off from the outside world. This is how architects design casinos and big box stores; places where the owner wants you to lose all track of place and time. It is not a pleasant experience.

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-Souq Sharq (Cajie-flickr)

street

The project is such a tragic missed opportunity. The site is blessed with amazing views and water all around. What has the architect decided to do? Fill more than 70% of the site with ugly parking. Couldn’t they have built a multistory parking facility right where the Fishing Market is? This would have freed up all that wasted space which could have been a green park zone filled with cafes, restaurants, water sports facilities or even a beach. It becomes clear studying the site that the perimeter is the most important element of the project, not the artificial marina. The designer forced a condition onto the site that didn’t belong there, and by doing so, wasted the true potential of the site. Why not have the marina on the outside surrounding the project? This would have freed the space currently used up by the marina to have more multistory parking or space for expanding the mall into additional phases. The marina also forced the car circulation to bottleneck into only two arteries. This means that on weekends most of the traffic is not from people looking for parking, but people trying to drive in or out of the mall.

waste

The project is a failure. It was the first major national project built after the Gulf War. The intention was to create a new national icon. I think we can all agree that it has failed miserably. Souq Sharq is a bunker. It is a sad example of iconographic architecture. The building simply does not work. The potential for a pleasant pedestrian promenade on the waterfront was never realized. The only good thing that came out of it was that the developers of The Avenues learned from these mistakes and have created a project that does work. Just imagine if The Avenues were built on Souq Sharq’s location. Wouldn’t that have been wonderful?



Responses

  1. I totally agree!🙂

  2. Man you rock for talking about this!!! I agree with everything, especially the bunker aspect of the Souk Sharq, except I disagree with you on two points. 1. one redeeming quality of souk sharq is its more-than-average sensitivity for incorporating traditional design into its architecture…precisely why i hate the avenues (apart from MANY things) is that it just perpetuates this architectural bling-sleek blah plastic luxury design. so i prefer to keep avenues (as it has been designed) and its mallrat flock in the urban fringes though i agree that the commercial areas near to ocean need to learn to maximize the beauty and pedestrian potential of their location…this is why it pains me to see kfcs and pizza huts on the gulf road, isolated fast food bubbles when so much more could be done with the coastline.

  3. @Victoria: Thanks! Yes, you’re absolutely right with regards to the ‘food bubbles’. The utter lack of imagination in their conception is pathetic. Most of the space on our coastline now is taken up by landscaped parking lots. You find people on the weekends enjoying a picnic on this tiny strip of landscaped infill between parking lots.

    With regards to Souq Sharq’s ‘sensitivity for incorporating traditional design’, I simply do not accept that. It surely incorporates the image and visual representation of traditional Kuwaiti design, but it has absolutely nothing in common with it beyond the facade. This is Disney architecture. Make it -look- traditional, and people will be satisfied. Had Souq Sharq really been designed to represent traditional architectural methodology, it would have incorporated courtyard gardens that create comfortable micro-climates, transition zones so that you don’t suffer body shock and playful interplay with light and shadows. Souq Sharq as it is is basically a boring linear mall wrapped in a ‘nice’ traditional facade. I don’t buy it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love it if we had a destination in Kuwait (maybe not a mall, but a small, walkable shopping district) that has the elements of the old markets, but using modern architectural methods and a contemporary design language. I would have done something like that if I was designing Souq Sharq all over again. It would have been a traditional, walkable market, but somehow sheltered from the sun and humidity and with robust transportation and parking infrastructure; but clients don’t really trust young, energetic architects, do they?

    Thanks for your comment Victoria, but you mentioned that you disagree on two points, and I could only find one. What’s the second?

  4. Hi All,

    We need to take a step back even further, and question the whole ‘raison d’etre’ of malls themselves. Why do they need to be such hermetically sealed containers in the first place? There are a number of different passive methods – strategic landscaping, inclusion of water-features, the orientation and distribution of the architectural volumes, thermal massing, etc. to control both the cooling or heating of a space. These won’t necessarily exclude more mechanical methods, but it’s important the there is a basic understanding of both the site and its micro-climate (the predominant wind directions, main traffic paths and usage patterns, etc.) before the commencement of a design. Why not ‘blur’ the transition form inside to outside? Allow, for example, a small ‘forest’ to surround the building (creating more shading and moisture), and thus cut out some of the harshest affects of the summer heat. Use light pavement colors that, instead of absorbing the heat, reflect it out. Shape the buildings like wind-scoops – direct the cooler northern breezes into the main spaces, thus easing the burden of the mechanical AC systems. There are a number of very subtle things that can be done to create a more pleasant environment, even in Kuwait.
    Avenues in boring, generic and lacks imagination – it’s too repetetive (how many Starbucks does it contain?) and self-similar. It’s also, as suggested by some of the previous comments regarding Souk Sherk (and which seems to apply to most malls in Kuwait) very much about excluding its exterior environments (what benefits have any of the malls brought to their communities?). We should be able to do better than this…
    I’ve heard, for example, that some people go to the Avenues to exercise – why not take advantage of this and even take it a step further? Why not include a running track along the periphery of a longitudal shopping mall such as Avenues? Take full advantage of it ‘community role’. Take this a step further and play with the levels – make the experience more interesting by cutting out some of the extended sight lines, encourage people to ‘discover’ things, invent events and occasions, make it all slightly less predictable and controlled.
    If malls have taken over the role of town centres, how can we begin inserting back some of the dynamic qualities that made souks or village squares such pleasant locales? Do all things have to be new? Shouldn’t we put more effort into updating and even re-inventing existing places – locations which already have an ingrained history (a communal memory) that usually takes generations (many decades) to establish? Where is the ‘heart’ of Kuwait City? Where, beyond the malls, can one take a visitor to experience a flavor of what today’s Kuwait is/ represents? I think we have gone a bit too ‘Disney Native’ on the place, and ‘Malled-out’ much of the inherent character of Kuwait. We should begin finding and re-inventing Kuwait again, starting from understanding the fundamentals of the place, the main ‘there-there’ of what makes it ‘tick’. This can only be achieved by using and practicing ‘design’ in the truest sense of the word…

    • @Tom: It’s interesting that the strategies you described for passive climate control have existed in traditional Kuwaiti (and gulf) culture for centuries. Methods that have been entirely forgotten once the holy grail (Air Conditioning) was discovered.

      I think people in Kuwait have developed an unhealthy addiction to living in refrigerators. I’ve seen an isolated air conditioned bus stop that has been covered in glass with people huddled inside like frozen peas. That can’t be healthy. I’m sure we can all agree that passively cooled transition spaces are absolutely essential to any design in this region. We must never simply adopt the western methodology as the climate and cultural context is completely different.

      “If malls have taken over the role of town centres, how can we begin inserting back some of the dynamic qualities that made souks or village squares such pleasant locales? Do all things have to be new? Shouldn’t we put more effort into updating and even re-inventing existing places – locations which already have an ingrained history (a communal memory) that usually takes generations (many decades) to establish? Where is the ‘heart’ of Kuwait City?”

      This is a beautiful thought. I remember very being so ashamed when a major foreign diginitary (forgot who) visited Kuwait and the emir took him to visit our greatest accomplishment; The Avenues Mall. Greed is boring.

      Of course, I agree with you completely that without knowing what Kuwait is, we will be forever devoid of a national urban character and will resort to self parody and cliches. Reading that the designers of ‘Silk City’ based their ideas on One Thousand and One Nights was hilariously tragic.

      What is Kuwait? That’s such a daunting question to ask. Any takers?

    • Thank you all for a putting up ideas and discussing the matter.
      Tom: thank you for pinpointing a major factor that i have come to realize with time: Did architects of souk sharq actually study the wind direction as it is a important burden in kuwait? the way it is oriented shields away the northen wind difficult to control. There is a walk track on the sea side and it is hardly used. Is there a reason?
      The gulf waters are often as flat as a lake, could the city view and “the skyscrapers” be a better vista?
      As for day light in the mall, ten years ago it was the practice in the western world to remove any sign of time within, to keep shoppers in as long as possible.
      Now of course, traffic, parking, the disney looks are a total disaster and yes, kuwait is waiting for better alternatives, more coherent and integrated within the community, weather and landscape.

      The mubarakiya souk remains the ultimate experience for any seeker of the real thing. Villa Moda had tried to incorporate their modern shopping experience to an existing souk with their renovated three story venue across from the Hareem aisle. Unfortunately, the idea must have come too soon. The shop closed. The ultimate addressees were not interested.

      Beyond worries for bad design at the Avenues or Souq Sharq, should the architects concern include the future of the Mubarakiya souk (and its past)?

  5. A couple of years ago the firm I was working for was designing a certain project in very close proximity to souk sharq. I was giving a tour of the architecture surrounding the project to two architects from a partner international design firm, and I will never forget their reaction to the mall! They considered it to be the biggest architectural joke, and they were laughing hysterically at it. Their favorite feature I recall was the car park overlooking the prime sea view.

    I’m glad someone finally criticized that architectural FAIL, I was very embarrassed yet I can’t say I didn’t agree with them.

  6. man I completely agree with everything you said. Making the car park overlooking the sea is the dumbest idea ever.

  7. The original location and design for the mall is the complete opposite of what it is now.

    It was suppose to have the marina area facing the sea and the parking near the main road just like you envisioned. Yet due to the British Embassy and Municipality regulations the contractor had to make do with what they had.

    The British Embassies involvement in this? Well they are the oldest embassy in Kuwait and really good with fine print. In their deed with Kuwait on their land it is stated that they will always have an unobstructed view to the sea. So thats why Souq Sharq is located there and not near their original location by the Kuwait Towers.

    Designers and contractors always want to make something that works and is also beautiful. Yet, red tape and financial problems cause them to cut corners and do changes they have to see it completed.

    • Nibaq, can you shed more light on the embassy’s involvement? I recall the souk sharq was a BOT competition, so I assume that the British opposed the final winning design; forcing the architects to redesign their winning entry to the current location and plan.

      Whether this is the case or whether the change came in the early design stage, it does not justify the failure of the current plan. The British embassy red tape was one more urban constraint to adhere to and there were definitely better solutions to propose.

  8. @nibaq: I didn’t know that. That’s very interesting, but I completely disagree with you that ‘red tape and financial problems’ are basically necessary evils to be tolerated but not challenged. For the amount of money the developer undoubtedly spent on Souq Sharq in its current state they could have created a far better and unchallenged project in an entirely different location. The concessions they made to see it ‘completed’ were far too great to justify building it in the first place. If the building won’t work, it just won’t work and you can’t force it. Souq Sharq tried to force it to work, and predictably failed.

    It’s frightening the amount of power the embassy has, though.

  9. Souk Sharq is a disaster that I hated from day 1

  10. Hi Barrak

    I completely forgot to subsribe to comment follow ups so I did not get a chance to your address until now. I definately, completely most whole-heartedly agree with you that the incorporation of tradition into the design of Souk Sharq stops at the facade, but to me, this is at least something-because I find the Avenues, especially from the outside, to be difficult on the eyes and as Tom pointed out “self-similiar”. I completely agree with him, as I think you do to, that Kuwait needs to find an alternative to the mall mentality monopoly. Unfortunately, Kuwait’s harsh climate naturally promotes the inclination for these giant entertainment “refridgerators”. Whereas pure tradition would leave Kuwait sitting on stool in the shade at a souk motionless from the hot sun, and whereas pure modernity without reflection has seen Kuwait’s leisure become dominated by bubble franchises, I really think there must be a third way.

    I think all this dialogue means that we are at the eve of something, but the problem is realizing projects that work, can get funding and can be part of a larger and long-term vision. Isolated experiments are necessary but not sufficient conditions for a change in Kuwait City’s current urbanism.

  11. @Victoria: I don’t know if I agree with you that “Kuwait’s harsh climate naturally promotes the inclination for these giant entertainment “refridgerators”.” The human body did not evolve to physically withstand sudden changes in temperature and humidity. When we constantly move in and out from cold air conditioned environments out into the hot humid heat, we get sick. It’s called body shock. The human body needs to go through a relatively slow and smooth process of getting used to a changed environment. Like Tom says, the human body is surprisingly adaptable to harsh climates; yet it is not as good when it comes to instantaneous response.

    This means that hermetically sealed spaces are not ‘naturally promoted’ by our harsh climate. In fact, it really is the quite the opposite. I believe it’s because as we spend so much time out in the sun, we begin to fantasize about cold, climate controlled spaces (in much the same way I would expect people stuck in snow to be fantasizing about being in a cottage by a warm fire).

  12. I commend you for taking the initiative to start this blog. Kuwait has a wealth of potential and it really is disappointing to see what could be world-class projects fall short because of a simple lack of foresight and proper planning. This is exactlty what Kuwait needs – more educated young people who have the drive and desire to speak up and make positive contributions in our society. Good luck to you and keep up the good work, I’ll be following this blog.

  13. Great post! It really made me think! I never saw it from that perspective! Thank you for sharing!

  14. Can I disagree!

    Without discrediting your strongly convincing presentation, I think Souq Sharq is a very unique urban planning decision diluted in horrible master plan and architecture.

    Pros:
    Peninsula shopping mall (one can imagine the possibilities here)
    Prominent Marina position (emphasizing leisure and shopping, very true to modern day shopping)
    Possibilities for LARGE future expansion through land filling (compare to Al Fanar)

    Cons:
    Huge solid walls/structures block sea views/activities at strategic nods! (sultan center, Dubenhams, Cinescape)
    Rigid post modernist design forced to accommodate unrelated uses, not sure if the design is vernacular. (stupid tall towers as A/C vents!)
    Limited parking spaces.

    One can argue its a cheap building due to the high cost of land filling or a Peninsula footprint creates traffic bottlenecks; all of which can be solved architecturally. But that did not happen and that is the case in my opinion.

    I believe that the general decision of the placement of the mall is not bad. it’s a bold decision and I miss decisions such as those here in Kuwait.

  15. That’s a pretty cool article. Never really thought of this before.
    I am not an architecht. Just came across your blog because I saw my image in the post. You are totally right. Once you are inside, there is no way of knowing whether it’s day or night.

  16. yess , i agree the design was a disaster , but u need to know the story of it , which is a bit funny and shows that the coordination with the architect ( whos is by the way KEO didnt do this concept it was (Chuck Izzo ) who made at the biggest mistake which is the orientation of the building , because he felt that he made a big mistake in his first waterfront project which was very successful which is the Bayside in Miami Fl , however it was criticized by the pedestrians in the downtown area , who were business ppl and intellectuals.. etc . they critized the project for blocking the sea view in that spot which was across from the main station of the metro system ..
    so , he wanted to correct this problem here in kuwait , and he wanted to please the pedestrians , who didnt really exist at that place ( the gulf rd side ) except for some workers and cleaners who didnt care about the marina and the waterview which chuck gave it to them as a gift , but raised the cost of the project on the owner and killed the project literally , and unfortunately nobody questioned all of that at the owner level nor at KEO …

  17. yess , i agree the design was simply a disaster ,
    but u need to know the story of it , which is a bit funny and shows that the coordination with the architect was the source of the problem .( whos is by the way not KEO , its (Chuck Izzo)
    the biggest mistake the architect made is the orientation of the building , he did that , because he felt that he made a big mistake in his first waterfront project which was very successful project commercially , ( the Bayside in Miami Fl ) , however it was criticized by the pedestrians in the downtown area , who were business ppl and intellectuals.. etc . they critized the project for blocking the sea view in that spot which was across from the main station of the metro system ..
    so , he wanted to correct this problem here in kuwait , and he wanted to please the pedestrians , who didnt really exist at that place ( the gulf rd side ) except for some workers and cleaners who didnt care about the marina and the waterview which chuck gave it to them as a gift , but raised the cost of the project on the owner and killed the project literally , and unfortunately nobody questioned all of that at the owner level nor at KEO so the owner rep or the local firm should explain to the architect the urban context of the project …


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