Posted by: A. Benjasem | August 29, 2009

Tall Buildings of Kuwait

The urban form of Kuwait City is going through major developments. Tall buildings of commercial use are starting to take over. But are we going in the right direction? Let us take a few minutes to examine the issues related to the tall buildings of Kuwait.



Materiality: One similarity that governs tall buildings here is the choice of one material; Glass. No doubt there are obvious advantages that are offered with the use of glass curtain walls; Availability of glass by fabrication, low cost and aesthetic value are a few of them. Moreover, view and ventilation are two main reasons for using glass. Sadly in Kuwait, the weather is dusty therefore the glass looks dirty most of the time. For eight to nine months, the temperature in Kuwait varies from 35-50 degrees. Ventilation by opening the window is not a choice in those towers as all the cool air conditioned air will escape.

Orientation: You might not really appreciate the importance of orientation until you work in an office facing south or west. The building’s orientation is very important anywhere, but especially in hot countries like Kuwait. In the northern hemisphere the sun rises from the East, moves South and sets in the West. Western walls of buildings should be insulated as much as possible. From what I’ve seen, it is as if the architects design the building as a stand-alone element in the middle of nowhere, then they stick it on site. There is no regard whatsoever to the amount of heat transferred through the glass to the interiors.

Al-Shaheed Tower

Identity: At a glance, the tall glass buildings in Kuwait look pretty much the same.  One can argue that most of the tall buildings here don’t have an identity. Except Dar alAwadi and the under construction United Towers, the buildings are a simple extruded footprint. Identity in a building doesn’t necessarily mean to make it look Kuwaiti. It is completely wrong to take buildings designed for the States and force them in desert environment like Kuwait. A simple regard for the heat, dust and other regional aspects will eventually result in much better buildings.

Context: In every design project, the architects ask the question of whether they want the building to stand out or to blend in with it’s surrounding. Although I do believe that every designer has the right to create something that is unique which could be regarded as a landmark, I wonder at times what would happen if every architect decides that their building should stand out. What would happen to the overall urbanism of Kuwait city? would it look like Las Vegas or Dubai.

These simple yet profoundly important elements are critical to the success of any building. Looking around at our burgeoning skyline, it seems obvious that they are being taken for granted. Many buildings use wildly incorrect materials, are blind to orientation, lack in identity and are oblivious to their context. These are not complicated issues, yet their effect on space is enormous. Let’s try to get it right.



  1. But you have to admit, our skyline is starting to look gorgeous despite all of these points! 🙂

    Seriously though, I want add one more point to the identity section. In the race by investors to create the next talk-of-the-town architecture, we saw our towers beginning to dance and shake and twirl and do things concrete and steel were not meant to do. It has almost become a style that is synonymous with gulf architecture, but it is wasteful and unnecessary.

    Tall-buildings must invoke a sense of uniqueness and identity, yet they should remain efficient, sustainability and functional.

  2. I agree with Faisal on his last point, and wonder what kind of identity can we inject in a tower? skyscrapers are a relatively new invention, something that have one culture, and that is making money.

    I enjoy how the towers have become the new guide into locating the different area’s of Kuwait City. One can be standing in Sharq looking all the way to Rakan tower in Jibla, It’s fun.

  3. If you’re lucky enough to be out on a boat facing the Kuwait Towers, around sunset…. the view of the skyline is truly spectacular!

    That said… I wonder about parking, is there enough for all these people driving to work in these buildings?

    And what about the slums of Sharq, i.e. all the car repair garages and tyre shops that stretch from Mubarak Al-Kabeer street to Istiqlal? How can we have a supposed “commercial center” or “business town” with all these towers looking right down on these eyesores?

    Also, the really old and decaying buildings side by side to glass towers.. something has to be done about them. Either fix them up or sell the land to build more towers or parking

  4. I agree about your point about context; a designer should be creative but I do believe a city should be coherent. At the moment, our city is not. The irony is, that when you have a number of buildings that act as a background, you can use their traits to create something that is both contextual and architecturally bold. But if they’re all different, all of these buildings might be interesting on their own, but if they’re not done right you will end up with a puzzling urban environment–which is what we’re seeing today.

    Another thing that makes our city towers so generic is that our city is not really mixed use. In the morning is about banks and businesses, later on it belongs to male expat workers. There are a few bright spots of course but they’re few and far between; having United Tower be mixed use is a bold step and it should be interesting to see how it evolves and if what impact it will have on the city.

    @ Zaydoun: I think the new zoning requires that these buildings have parking, but I don’t think the number required is way under the projected building capacity.

  5. Aisha, you make an excellent point about coherence. I agree that we need our towers to almost look the same for some to be unique and to stand out. Those, standing out, would be landmarks and would cost higher to build.
    The mix use is another good point, and this is what needs to change.

    I rather focus on building regular, decent, well designed, low to mid rise buildings and race to the sky with few projects. This needs to be explored I think.

  6. Jasem, I’m not sure those background buildings ‘looking the same’ is what’s needed, and maybe that’s not what you meant. I think we need to establish a sort of contemporary Kuwaiti architectural language; one based on our climate, culture and sociological patterns all using the best technologies and the most suited materials.

    Are there any examples in Kuwait of a successful project that can be used as a starting point to define this language?

  7. It is quiet important that we conceive the city as a coherent design like Aisha said. However, we should not confuse coherence with similarity. In my opinion, a good coherent design of a city needs balance, some contrast (Jasem’s point), and unity. These can be established by planning the city in many ways. For example, it could be planned according to buildings’ forms (high or low) or the use and function of the buildings. A question comes to mind though, is it too late to (urban) plan Kuwait?

  8. Exactly Amenah, I did not intend for coherent coherent to mean ‘sameness.’ What I mean is there is ample opportunity for buildings to be contextual, thought provoking, intelligently designed and beautifully detailed without being the new urban icon. I’m thinking more along the lines of Moneo’s City Hall in Murcia. I would rather a whole city made up of those kind buildings that 10 different landmarks that are poorly designed.

    Barrak, what about the Scientific Center?

  9. the view of the skyline is gorgeous .. however it is as though the city is being filled with tall buildings – not working together and more importantly not working with the culture and identity of kuwaiti architecture, i love the old houses scattered throughout kuwait, some in bnied al gar others in random areas of salmiya , i would love to see some inspiration drawn from those when creating new “modern” buildings that would make up kuwait city ..

  10. Im really enjoying your articles, keep them coming.

    Regarding Materiality; The municipality has building codes and regulation to address the heat gain through glass facades. They limit the R-Value of materials and the transfer coefficient of the glass accepted by the municipality so as not to increase the overall heat gain of a building. They also limit the amount of energy the building may use per square meter or per floor depending on the location within Kuwait City so as not to increase the load on the Ministry of Electricity and Water. In some cases, companies design power generators within their structures to power the buildings themselves.

    Orientation; its still in underappreciated in Kuwait but most architects are aware of the orientation’s effect of buildings in Kuwait. But consider this, you buy a plot of land somewhere in deera, it is very expensive and the plot of land faces only west and east (which a great deal of buildings in Kuwait city do), would you limit the aesthetics of the building to save energy when you have already paid millions in real estate cost? Or better still would you as an architect risk your job designing a sustainable or green building when the majority of owners want something pretty? I sure wouldn’t. I would attempt to reduce as much as I can to save money and not energy; most of these companies are money orientated and not energy orientated.

    Identity, as far as building uniqueness in Kuwait, I can name quite a few that are impossible to mistake for others. But I am intrigued at why you neglected to mention Burj Al-Hamra, which is now internationally renown for its innovative design. According to Al-Hamra’s administration, during a site visit they informed me that the building has won quite a few awards regarding it’s design. And if im not mistaken it is the first skyscraper in the world with an exterior shell that is 100% asymmetrical, no other building has an exterior shell that is sculpted more than designed like this one.

    Ive seen the schematics and drawings of the new NBK building designed by Foster and Partners; it will be the first building in Kuwait to apply photovoltaic’s to 85% of its exterior shell, and to apply wind turbines, it produces something like 75% of its total needed power and has a reduced heat gain by nearly 60% if im not mistaken. And according to the files I saw it would be the first building in Kuwait to gain LEED Platinum Certification when built.

    A great deal of factors go into the design of a skyscraper, little of which is architectural. And as you know, the skyscraper is the brainchild of a capitalist mastermind, so its safe to assume the design depends more on economical factors than architectural.

  11. bumo, you mention some very interesting points:

    Materiality: The codes are very lenient and in some cases unenforceable. Also, just the fact that so many buildings are wrapped entirely in glass makes me doubt the potency of the restrictions. The rules have to be so fearsome so as to somehow force designers to think sustainably and respectful of environmental context. I would love it if we enforce LEED on all commercial projects. Everyone benefits.

    Orientation: I think you’re falsely making an either-or argument. Why can’t you have both? A building that has an active and engaged facade that is both permeable and efficient. I’m thinking of Ken Yeang and Foster. You don’t have to sacrifice the hot sides of a building to achieve comfort, you only have to control them.

    Identity: I think the alHamra is a wonderful example of a really good skyscraper. I do wonder what exactly makes it localized, though. Like most others, you can just plop it anywhere. I can’t accept that, it just seems lazy to me. What I want to see happen is for a technologically advanced, socially and environmentally aware Kuwaiti vernacular to emerge. I don’t think alHamra is a good example of that, and frankly I doubt that a skyscraper could ever become that. I’m not saying I want buildings to look superficially ‘Kuwaiti’ and pastiche either, that’s even worse.

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