Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | August 28, 2009

Public Squares

There is a historical public square in Kuwait called Al Safat Square, yet a square is not an appropriate description for it. Today, it serves as a traffic interchange where you pass by noticing it only because of the monument erected at its center. The rest of the historical square is a pedestrian underpass to connect the three parts that surround the Al Safat Square. It’s tragic that modern day Kuwait City has no public square nor are there any plans to have one, at least none that I know of.

Public squares are an important component of any town or city. It is an open air space, usually rectangular in shape, that serves for public gatherings for different functions. They are widely used as open air markets due to its pavement. In the old days, major governmental announcements happen there, sometimes even carrying out punishments for criminal acts in public.

safat

mhels_13, flickr

The need for a public square in Kuwait has not escaped us. During the famous 2005 protests, the parliament members alongside their constituents and supporters used the open space in front of the National Assembly building to gather and voice their anger at the government. That space is now locally called ‘saahat al erada’, meaning Determination Square. It is understandable that the government of Kuwait, given the recent history of ‘saahat al erada’, won’t rush to create new public squares. However, the need to have a public space in the city that acts as a ‘breather’ is critically important.

Imagine a space downtown where you can see people from all over the world, since Kuwait City is becoming a cosmopolitan place with people coming and living here from about 200 nationalities. A space where it serves many different functions, from political protest to religious gatherings. It becomes a gathering space, a focal point, something like the Solidere in Beirut or Trafalgar Square in London. We should look back at how our illiterate grandfathers created the old town with all it’s working components, and see how today in the 21st century we struggle to overcome the shortcomings of modernism in the past 40 years.


Responses

  1. agreed, i know that people in kuwait feel the need to be in a public space because, when its good weather, so many people flock to places like the marina crescent or souk sharq, however, these are private property places and therefore these spaces cannot have multipurpose functions. one of the things i miss most from back home is the idea of a main square, where people can join together and just watch people pass by, and more importantly, where children can mingle with other kids. in the plaza in my hometown, all the children of the city play with each other, even if they do not know each other. its another space for improvised activity.

  2. Jassim I can’t believe that you beat me to it (I was planning to post about it). Al-safat is one of my favorite places in Kuwait. Apart from the fact that it is a “breather”, I really appreciate the way it is designed. It is so sad that this space is not properly used.
    Can you imagine what kind of lovely space we would have if some good coffee shops open in what we call “blockat or the blocks”, and the exterior seating area would overlook the monument. In fact the whole block has a colonnade or a shaded outdoor corridor that is acting as a buffer zone. It is well designed.

    Although I have to admit, this space is still regarded as a square. Especially if you visit the place on Friday night.

  3. Amenah, you can still write about Al-Safat or any other public space in Kuwait. I can see where you’re heading with what you’re suggesting, which sounds great. Maybe that can be implemented elsewhere in the City.
    Victoria, you bring up a very important point, a children space. We lack that at the moment, and i think its a shame. We should investigate it more in our future posts.

  4. Every year, at least one of the studio design classes of the Department of Architecture attempts to address the situation of Sahat Al-Safat with a form of revitalization project. Last semester a graduate student attempted to address the issue for her graduation project and i found her design to be remarkable.

    It is an issue all architects find important yet the municipality still does not find it at all relevant for further development other than a misunderstood monument to what it used to stand for.

    Sahat Al-Safat was an international trading ground, with many events taking place in that square, ranging from trade and entertainment all the way to public trials and executions. It literally was the heart of Kuwait City.

    It would be great to see it actually revitalized, to see some these designs implemented and not just multiple designed produced and not manufactured endlessly over and over again.

    Unfortunatly, the Baladiya does not feel the need to do something about it, even though the actual Baladiya HQ resides in Sahat Al-Safat.

  5. Kuwaits climate might be harsh, but that’s no excuse to not see a single child playing on the water front during early summers or the short autumn period. Though kuwait has these public spaces but have you thought about how “socially incorrect” it is if a group of girls and boys sit around listening to music? or is it even allowed for one to just bring out his/her instrument and just play in such public places (not for monetiary gain but just as a hobby) ?? this is what breaks my heart.. that the freedom of one is restrained. To quote an example, i recently went to barcelona and i saw some local as well as expatriots people, making sculptures with sand ( it stays stable by spraying water.. ) and then i thought to my self.. what talent and how it is chanalised.. i mean there are loads of talented people everywhere and kuwait is no exception..then is it so that our lack of freedom also restricts our talents?!?


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