Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | June 17, 2009

Innovation Inhibitors

Why is architectural and design innovation in Kuwait so rare? What is holding back architects and designers from expressing their full intent and exploring new ideas? We can’t simply blame the economic crisis, as this poverty of innovation has been around for decades. Not since the sixties have we seen real architectural progress in this country. Why?

Land Value: Residential and Commercial land values have skyrocketed in the past decade. This phenomenon is seen around the globe, but in Kuwait, the average value of a suburban residential plot is far above normal. Young people are finding it impossible to enter the housing market. Developing land and designing projects becomes an exercise in squeezing as much usable space as possible. People feel that they have to maximize the use of their land, otherwise they would be wasting it. You end up having identical mini-mansions that are constructed to the absolute maximum of building code limits. Almost every new house built in the past few years is much bigger than it has to be. This psychological factor forces clients to feel as if they’re not getting their money’s worth and will always force projects to be bloated and suffocate the space.

The Sun: For around 9 months of the year, the weather in Kuwait is wonderful. In the three months of extreme heat we can employ passive cooling methods, building orientation and massing to create comfortable micro-climates that manipulate the weather and make it surprisingly bearable. The sun has a profound effect on the design decisions being made in Kuwait. We can either work with the sun and find ways to adapt our building methods, or we can surrender and hide in refrigerators.

Jealousy: Unfortunately, Kuwaitis have long been trapped in a cycle of jealousy and spite. Enormous wealth often brings with it the desire to show off and prove superiority. This leads to people going out of their way to inhibit the success of others and to suffocate every attempt at creating competition. This ultimately leads to design stagnation, which is seen in the stale and uninspiring environment we inherited.

-The Solution? We need to have a design revolution that would shatter the myths and change our patterns of living. We are isolating ourselves from each other and from the environment in ways that are harmful to our mind, body and spirit. We have to reject the easy answers and ask the right questions.

I am not satisfied with Kuwait City. I feel that the direction it is heading in is not sustainable. We live in bigger homes with colder air conditioners, but are our lives really any better because of them? We fear change and progress, but where are we going by standing still?


Responses

  1. Jealousy = Keeping up with the Jones’s🙂

  2. well I find jealousy is a bit invalid, it is rather the way people discuss over ideas, it always ending up into either offensive defensive manner, or over-praising and thanking manner… I rarely find people discuss properly. what you said is right we need to do a revolution

  3. Yes, Deema, we do not have a culture that allows for acceptable critique. It’s always seen as a personal attack. How would these attitudes change? Can we do something about it? Or is it something inherent in the Arab psyche?

  4. I wish there are workshops here in Kuwait where we can involve in the approach for knowing, thinking and intervention without academic standards, but rather evaluation standards that are set over experiments and dialogues and knowledge sharing.

  5. Of the four factors, I think Land price & scarcity is the worse innovation inhibitor in Kuwait. Just today, I met with yet another client who wants to rebuild his father’s residence & sardine pack his parents, his wife & kids, his brother/wife & kids, and his other brother’s future family along with two maids & a driver in one 400sqm plot.

    How can I design this to be anything other than a 4 stories box of uninspiring concrete?

    • Faisal you are so right! what your client wants is but a flat for him and his wife, but as the building code allows for sardine packages ad 3×3 facade window code, people think that they can transform suburbs into a mini residential complexes where people live in a city life [a small flat] style with a suburbs make belief.

  6. What if they sell the house and buy an apartment somewhere? They’ll probably live in a similar (or better) space and have a LOT of money left over. Like Deema said, you can’t really force a living condition that doesn’t fit and expect no problems arising.

    Of course, they’ll say ‘we won’t live in an apartment!’. But how is it any different than living in a pancake house?

  7. There are plenty of existing templates for how various living settings could be origanized (found in places such as Japan or Holland) and how to squeeze the most of a limited plot size. What this entails is, simply put, the application of ‘architecture’ in a building sceme. This does not, as sometimes implied, mean having a choice between designing a residence according to a ‘Classical’ or ‘Adobe’ style, but a much more inherent reflection and consideration of the proposed building’s site, vernacular and user.
    How some of the aforementioned pattern can or should be applied and developed to match the needs and requirements of Kuwait remains to be seen, but advancing and discovering such solutions is the fun part..!

    Let’s keep the debate going…

  8. Deema, you ave a point about our suburbs turning into mini apartment complexes, indeed that is what I would eventually have to design for them.

    Barrak, living in an apartment is very different than living in their own pancake house. We value our privacy the most and an apartment complex will never provide this as opposed to your own mini complex. That is the key difference.

  9. @Faisal: what is your client’s alternative? There are no new cities, no new neighbourhoods, and no new developments to move to. He probably won’t be able to save enough for a plot/a house for years. And its not like he’s gonna get a plot from the government if he applied any time soon. Frankly, its only logical that they build a mini mansion.

    At the moment, we need to be expanding, we need to build new cities and the housing typology must change. We need to rethink the way our suburbs are designed; they’re not cohesive and unsustainable. We’re also at a crucial time, something must be done with regards to housing very soon; we’re sitting on a crisis waiting to break.

    We also need to find a way for people to build their homes in a cost effective way. Many people don’t seek specialists because they have this idea that everything will be costly. Then they build according to their own whims, take some suggestions from their contractor and end up dissatisfied with the final result.

    And I enthusiastically support the design revolution!

  10. @Aisha, I agree there are no alternatives! I think I am going ahead with this client and It will be a challenge.

    Barrak, I am also for a design revolution, but how do you begin a revolt! the obvious way is through a professional league to educate the public and inspire decision makers to make the right decisions. We have a mediocre league of architects (part of the Kuwait society of engineers) whose only concern it appears is to appeal for Kadar (Salary increases) every once in a while and send its members out to 7ajj and 3omra trips. Aside from a professional league, I see no other ways to inspire the masses.

  11. Firstly i would like to say what a great site – some very interesting ideas and clearly a drive and energy to want to make a change in Kuwait.

    I have been involved in a number of large buildings/infrastructure projects in Kuwait over the last six years, and have a few thoughts observations that relate to some if not all the topics discussed, based on my personal and professional working experiences.

    Energy – your remarks and suggestions for change are spot on – the tariff should as a very minmum reflect the cost of production. This would be politically difficult but could be introduced with an energy rebate as suggested.

    A lower tariff during hours of low consumption would reduce the peaks and troughs. It would also incentivise thermal storage solutions for centralized district cooling plant – currently with the flat rate there is little incentive to do this.

    I understand that many consumers in Kuwait dont pay anything at all because there is little financial benefit, if any, in the suppliers collecting revenues – this really has to change.

    Fuel – GGC countries’ policy on fuel (subsidy) are viewed with disdain by the wider international community, and are completely out of kilter with international policy and strategy to reduce climate change impacts. Kuwait should seek to address this negative perception of the wider world this should be significantly increased, but in phases to make it less unpaletable for the electorate (?) The increased revenues should be ring fenced to help offset running costs of a public transit systems (they are unlikely to pay for themselves through revenue alone).
    There would be no need for expensive and potentialBig Brother ) technology solutions if Kuwait simply levied a tax on fuel – it would address all the issues and subsidise alternative choices such as the metro or a decent bus system.

    In my experience (in other Middle east countries not just Kuwait, is that the low cost of fossil fuels is a real disincentive for developers to embrace alternativve forms of energy generation technology such as PV, solar concentratros and wind. This has to be addressed and i can see no reason why the oil rich countries dont do this (although i notice that some are beginning to reduce subsidies to be fair)

    Culture and Education – I believe the culture of education system needs to review its approach and change its philosophy; a modern society needs an environment where they learn how to think, question and learn, rather than be taught facts and what to think. i believe this goes to the core of the culture, and has far reaching implications for the society both in terms of development of its political landscape, but also on peoples value judgements and individuals developing a sense of personal ownership toward some of the more global issues and not just issues that affect their immediate families.

    You have identified some very strong ideas and potential incentives most of which are readily implementable; the real challenge is engendering a political will to want to make a change. The question is why don’t the current people of influence and power see these issues as a priority, and how can you start to influence them?

  12. Physical limitations and inhibitors may make it more challenging to break out of old architectural designs, but these obstacles should not inhibit innovation. Innovation is not a unique design that demonstrates the architect’s creativity. Innovation is the ability to overcome design challenges (the sun, land value, etc.) to develop a structure that meets all the needs of its occupants. If one of the needs is for the structure to be aesthetically pleasing, then it is a valid driver for innovation.

    The real inhibitor to innovation in Kuwait, and the rest of the Gulf, is apathy, as I wrote in my recent blog post “Enemy inside the Gate.” See the link below and let me know if you agree or not.

    http://i360insight.com/2009/11/08/enemy-inside-the-gate-the-number-one-barrier-to-innovation-in-the-middle-east/


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