Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | June 3, 2009

Defining Kuwait

What is urbanism? Why do we critique? What is Kuwait City?

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Before we begin deconstructing and analyzing Kuwait City we have to be able to clearly define the basic nomenclature involved. Our goal in re:kuwait is to broaden the discussion beyond the esoteric echo-chamber of architects and urban designers. As such, it is necessary to begin by understanding the basic concepts of urbanism.

urbanismUrbanism is the study of cities. It is the integration of the geographic, economic, political, social and cultural parameters that generate our built environment. It is understanding why cities are the way they are; and imagining how they could be. It is the study of how people live in cities and how the built environment responds to or generates changes in urban function.

critiqueA critique is the process of understanding, analyzing and passing judgment on something. There is no shame in offering a critique or accepting one, yet in our conservative Arab culture it is often seen as a personal attack. To be be critiqued is not an admission of weakness, but an opportunity to explore multiple viewpoints through collective analysis. We have to shed this useless armor and expose our ideas to criticism and interpretation.

kuwaitcity

We begin this process without preconceptions. We will use all the tools at our disposal to analyze and critique the urbanism of Kuwait City. Our goal is to understand how the urban evolution of the City has come about as well as propose solutions to the serious problems that have developed. We begin this process by asking the simplest and most fundamental question; What is Kuwait City?


Responses

  1. I just love that this discussion is even taking place… eager to read your thoughts

  2. What is Kuwait City? I’ll attempt to start the discussion.

    The answer to this question will need to have two parts; this is to make apparent the dichotomy between pre-oil and modern Kuwait. At the junction between the two, the urban form and all parameters of urbanism have not only shifted or evolved but were rather shattered or turned on their heads, making today’s Kuwait an unrecognizable town from its former past.

    So a definition of Kuwait city must contain a definition of what it was, and a definition of it has become. Maybe I’m saying the obvious but its a start!

  3. I agree with Faisal on the disjuncture of what Kuwait was and is now. I think one of the main points of departure of Kuwait in pre and post war state is (as my fellow blogger Thomas Meedan pointed out) the lack of contemporary urban projects that advocate mixed-use architecture. I would love to see a return to this in Kuwait.

  4. While I agree that the vast majority of the built environment that existed pre-oil has been forgotten and destroyed; I don’t think it is gone completely. There are still remnants of pre-oil Kuwait inside the soor; and of course the collective memory of that pre-oil time (nostalgia) remains in Kuwaiti culture. We are not an international people with no history; we have a rich culture and wonderful traditions. Does our built environment represent a physical manifestation of those cultural ideals and social norms?

    One can argue that during the pre-oil years, the small (human) scale urbanism of Old Kuwait did in fact represent such a physical manifestation. The fireej allowed for strong family and neighborhood bonds. Homes were sheltered from the heat and prying eyes. People walked to the mosque and to the shops which were all just around the corner. Neighborhoods were a self sufficient network of small, passively cooled, mixed-use spaces.

    What urban methodology can we salvage from our past and adapt for use in our modern urbanity? It’s not enough to simply yearn for the past and criticize the mistakes made. We have to propose pragmatic and feasible solutions.

  5. What is Kuwait City?: A city that opposes urbanity. It is by definition an anti-urban city.

  6. Great blog you guys! Looking forward to reading more posts!

  7. I think my next post will elaborate more on how do define Kuwait City.

  8. The other day I went into Bneid El Gar, which is one of the ugliest neighborhoods in town, and yet blessed with a prime location on the sea.

    All I could think of was, how did this happen? Why isn’t this prime residential property instead of the slums that overrun it? It’s a total mess! You can tell that some of Kuwait’s wealthier families had attempted to settle there in the 1950s or 1960s. The wonderful Al-Sayer residence is a case in point, but the rest of the area is a disaster

    Slums and the “slumlord millionaires” who control them should be a whole subject on its own

  9. Barrak, I was intrigued by how you paralleled nostalgia with actual physical remnants of pre-oil Kuwait. Indeed we are only left with a memory of the former city, which explains why most diwaniyas hang Al-Ayoub’s nostalgic paintings and why they are building an entire block as a copy of the former city in Disney-like fashion.

    Jasem, looking forward to reading your method of defining Kuwait city.

  10. for that matter, what is the newly opened office of UN Habitat (UN programme for human settlements-aka the main UN branch on urbanization, cities, and urban development) doing in Kuwait to create more inclusive cities?

  11. Victoria, I have not heard about that UN Habitat branch in Kuwait; I will dig it up. Faisal; Kuwait City is a city that was rushed into modernism back in the late 50’s early 60’s and abruptly stopped somehow, leaving vast vacant lots everywhere.
    It is important to examine how it evolved before we can try to find solutions to its urban problems.

    Zaydoun; Bnied algar was subject to an ambitious redevelopment about a decade ago but never saw the day of light. don’t actually know what happened.

    shame.

  12. Really? I had no idea… what can one do to resurrect this redevelopment plan?

  13. Zaydoun, I am trying to find out who made such plans and publish it. stay tuned


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