Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | October 26, 2009

Residential Variety

Most of our residential neighborhoods can be described as a sprawl of very large houses packed fairly close to each other. Why is there such little variety in the type of dwelling? Even when people attempt to create a dense living arrangement, it is usually by refitting a house to become a mini apartment block. Are zoning laws and building codes the reason why this has happened?

3. There are a variety of dwelling types — usually houses, rowhouses, and apartments — so that younger and older people, singles, and families, the poor, and the wealthy may find places to live.

This is quickly becoming a critical issue for Kuwait. Young people really have nowhere to live. More and more people are having to renovate and reuse space in their homes to accommodate their grown children living with them. This should not be happening. Finding a place to live should not a privilege, it’s a right. Most young people don’t mind living in smaller spaces, but they would rather be closer to home. Why can’t there be a variety of dwelling types in, for example, Qortuba? Why can’t there be apartments and rowhouses that compliment the standard 500m2+ house? Heck, why not a tower? It’s not as if we have a timeless architectural history to protect. This simple issue of re-zoning would solve so many problems and all it takes is a signature.


Responses

  1. The solution is not to pack more people close the the current centre(s). Wanting to be ‘close’ is not always possible.

    The solution is to de-centralise into two new cities – one in the North and one in the South!

  2. I think the problem has a cultural side impeded in our psyche. As a eastern society, it is a given that dwelling houses several generations and families all into one large divided house. This is not something new to Kuwait or the region where that parents simply provide a living and functional space to their children when they grow up and start their own families. Look at Al-Bader family house in Jibla on the gulf road in Kuwait City, right next to the new central Library of kuwait, that also house the house of sadow.
    The house was designed to simply accommodate several families of Al-Bader clan.
    Another major important thing is proximity, like Bu Yousef have mentioned, people want to be closer to Kuwait city, period. It tells a lot of the social class of people in Kuwait. It is a bit of an irony that the more expensive suburbs are the ones attached to the City rather than those far away from it like in other countries.

    This is a whole post on its own I think.

  3. There is one clear fact..the way our urban planning look like..have no relation to the way we live or culture..
    lack of the veriety in the sizes of plot areas is a problem..small plots limit the ability of the house to expand..
    for example albader house u mentioned wasn’t in the same size it is now..in fact it did grow with the growth of albader family..

  4. Rational people go to the suburbs because its cheaper and you can get a much bigger house. In Kuwait, there’s a weird sense of exclusivity that comes with living closer to the city. Its almost as if people want it to be expensive because it either says something about them, or it keeps ‘unwanted’ people out. It’s very weird. I never saw this in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but it’s around in the more entrenched ‘old money’ regions of New England for example. It’s a way of creating a sort of club. I doubt that the value of the land is really worth what it is, and most of it is just this added exclusivity-value.

    Still, this really shouldn’t stop us from making the residential areas a lot denser. I agree with your point about families, and in fact this should be a reason why we should increase density. What I find illogical is that we seem stuck in this square, independent and isolated home typology. Why is that? Why can’t they be more complex structures that are much more than simple houses.

  5. I think it’s because people like the idea of living in houses or owning their own house; it is a purely ego-related matter. As mentioned earlier, “unwanted” people are kept out of the circle. Generally Kuwaiti people don’t like to mingle with expatriates, especially neighborhood-wise. For example, it’s known that areas like Salmiya and Hawally are mainly composed of expats while Khaldiya and Qortuba of nationals. Thus introducing multi-floor buildings in Kuwaiti residential areas may encourage expats to move into these areas.

    Additionally, the size is a major concern. A house allows freedom of space whereas apartments do not, especially those that have been built in the recent years. New buildings that have replaced older ones have cubicle-sized apartments. It’s needless to say this is because more apartments can be accommodated in one floor and hence more rents collected by the owner. That is why there is growing trend of non-Kuwaitis moving to houses for the extra space provided.

  6. I don’t think its xenophobic really, its more of an economic thing. I don’t think Kuwaitis in general care who lives next to them as long as it’s safe and quiet. Maybe i’m wrong…

    I think the problem you pose is fairly easy to solve. Simple having a minimum floor area rule that is very high will force developers to build towers (15-20 floors) that are marketed at young Kuwaiti couples or fairly well-off expats. You can have duplex apartments and double volume spaces. Having them market the apartments to that demographic means that they’ll also take much more care with services (parking, amenities), overall design and finish quality. They won’t be cheap ‘cubicles’.

    I think the main reason of having towers at the center of a residential area is to seed the density needed to ignite pedestrian activity. If the Metro stops in every neighborhood center, and every neighborhood center has a dozen or so high-quality towers, then you’ll find that a lot of cool, fun activity will begin to develop around that node. It will become a mixed-use neighborhood. But I think you can’t have that without the density, and you can’t really have the density with just a matte of houses with no higher density dwelling option.

  7. But doesn’t the fact that non-Kuwaitis can’t own property or land in Kuwait play a role in the local vs. expat division of neighborhoods..?

    There are many examples elsewhere where ex-office buildings are converted into residential units. This is fairly straightforward to do as office buildings usually are open plan and, in most of the office buildings of the last number of decades, have had raised floors – allowing for various replacements services without too much hassle… I’m sure this principal of adaptability can also be applied here…

    Tom


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