Why do we have so many malls? People seem content to walk inside them in circles. Lots of people walking, but only a few with shopping bags. They’re there for the experience. People attracting people who attract people. The mall itself seems almost irrelevant in all this. It’s just the excuse, the agreed upon destination for this gathering to happen.
Without the crowd the mall is useless, but without the mall, can you still get the crowd? What’s wrong with malls anyway? They seem convenient; lots of shops, restaurants and girls. What more do you want? Well, a shopping mall is very efficient at serving itself by segregating and isolating spaces within the city. It is a self-sufficient island detached from its context.
Let’s look at a successful mall such as The Avenues. So many people are attracted to it every day, yet the space beyond its border hasn’t changed at all. It’s as if you freeze a puddle of water and you get one shiny ice cube surrounded by dry nothing. If the city is filled with ice cubes, we all end up living in the dull emptiness between them.
What we need is a hip and trendy node that energizes and regenerates its context. A good example is that strip near Seif Palace with all those cool shops and restaurants. They’re not in a mall, nobody owns the street, yet people love it there. The problem is that it has a well defined boundary that confines the space, and that discourages exploration beyond it. Still, it is part of a public space. Someone can go there with a guitar and just play; no one will stop them. If three guys stand around in a mall, the man with the walkie-talkie will get them to move along. A public space means it is owned by the public. No one can tell you what to do.
Souq Waqif, Doha, Qatar
Kuwait, I think, has been recently blessed with a wonderfully innovative generation. We are all part of a burgeoning creative class. Artists, musicians, actors, designers, film-makers and architects. There is so much talent out there that is not fulfilling its potential. What we need to do is find a place that can welcome this burst of creativity and allow it to flourish into something special.
The only way for that to work is if you develop the density first. Maki proved with its first restaurant that you don’t need to be in a place with a built in customer base to succeed. It was in the middle of a dirty street with nothing near it, yet it was a great success. People will flock to good stuff no matter where it is. It won’t take much for this node to develop and organically grow into the cultural heart of Kuwait City.
I imagine the place to be a very dense, crowded and linear pedestrian-only promenade that has lots of very successful restaurants and cafes. Street performers fill the place, there’s always some kind of live music playing. Street vendors and artists everywhere too. There are little alleyways that lead to small nooks that have niche boutiques and art galleries. Theaters that house small productions of local plays. A small cinema that shows Kuwaiti films and has a drama school upstairs. People that go there love to explore the place, always discovering something new by accident. You meet people there, because the place induces conversation. I can imagine lots of marriages that trace their origin to an accidental meeting there.
This cannot happen at a mall. It’s too messy and unpredictable and they’ll never allow it. It has to be a publicly owned pedestrian promenade. People own the shops of course, but anything can happen in the street and alleyways. There will be security, the place has to be kept safe and clean at all times, but it has to allow for casual spontaneity. The place has to be as hip as the people that made it and the only way for that to happen is if it emerges naturally and free. Kuwait has the potential to be the creative capital of the region. Let’s not suffocate this opportunity because we fear the challenge. Kuwait deserves more than malls.