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:
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.
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.
-Souq Sharq (Cajie-flickr)
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.
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?