It occurred to me while writing the earlier post that we should stress on one point that we have missed all along; Kuwait lacks culture. We design according to our locality and our traditions, and we end up with mediocre architecture that is ill-proportioned or borrowed from another country. How can architects help?
What ignited this was a meeting with a potential client. As she was explaining to me her ideas for her new home, she asked what was it is that I did exactly? Much to her surprise, I told her I am not an engineer, I am an architect. To her mind it seemed that was not a reassuring answer. She kept on asking about what is it exactly that we did? What is design? As we reached the critical moment of any meeting with any client, we discussed our fees, and that made her jump. To her, I am sure, the fee wasn’t justified. I am not an engineer, so what justifies this payment? It was obvious that she thought we were trying to con her, and she felt she was out-smarting us. It was a sad misunderstanding as she never understood what architecture is. To her mind, and to most people in Kuwait, engineers design houses and buildings.
This thought process is not new to me, I faced this over and over again. People simply don’t understand what I am supposed to be doing. This is at the heart of our struggle, as architects, in Kuwait and the rest of the region. Kuwaitis were introduced to modern architecture in the 1960’s through the British. At the same time, Kuwait University opened its doors to students, and had an engineering faculty. Until perhaps the 1980’s, Kuwaitis were reluctant to join this faculty due to its “supposed” difficulty and toughness. They preferred much more lenient disciplines, such as finance, which was seemingly more relevant to our economy.
So, people here admired those brave young men and women who entered the engineering school and graduated, and for about 30 years or so this fascination grew. Architecture as a discipline, was introduced in Kuwait in 1997. This doesn’t mean that there were no Kuwaiti architects, there were a few of them, but most of them never even tried to work in this field. This leaves us with a difficult situation. We need to first educate the people of what architecture is and why it is important. But we can’t do it alone, not architects alone.
Sharbika (2003), by Ghada alKandari
Kuwait is now a country that imports everything, and has very little genuine things to offer. We have no philosophers and thinkers that contribute to the development of the country. We have no authors and writers that make us run to purchase their books. No painters or sculptors. Although I am generalizing a bit, because there are a few, but its sporadic and chaotic. In a society that is used to importing everything, even people that come to serve us for a short while and then leave, these things never appealed to the general public. I think we are simply too lazy to discuss and argue and read. I mean here the majority of the society.
We need something of a movement, a philosophical, cultural uprising. We as Kuwaiti architects and designers need to come together and collaborate with kuwaiti novelists and scholars in different cultural forms. I believe if only 1/3 of Kuwaitis truly understand what architecture is, we’d be the greatest country in the Arab world.
It all starts with the mind. As that client showed me, no matter what kind of portfolio you have, it is a mind set that needs to be fixed first and for that reason we need to be vocal to incite change.