Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | July 22, 2010

Al-Hamra Again

Al-Hamra tower is an iconic building and the tallest sculpted tower in the world. It will be, once completed, the most prominent feature of Kuwait city’s skyline.

This tower would be a touristic feature to Kuwait and an asset to the country’s economy. We would find people flying to Kuwait to snap a few shots of its curved structure, dine in its sky restaurant, which will be the highest in the world, and shop in its mall. Despite that, this project is an urban error.

Let’s examine its location; The tower is built on a corner of a low density intersection in downtown Kuwait City. This location hosted two movie theaters, one of which was AlHamra Cinema, hence the name of the development. This is an extension to what once was a residential area of AlMaqwaa AlSharqi (I hope that’s the correct spelling) which housed small 2 story houses.

This is one of the biggest weakness of the location, since that immediate neighboring structures are either old houses left for ruins, which are rented out to low income expatriates, or often cheap very commercialized residential towers that have sprawled across the neighborhood, housing a slightly more affluent expatriates and some companies.

The front and most luxurious entrance to the development is in fact stuck next to, not one, but two old ruined houses that are full of labour expatriates, which is one of the biggest visual contrasts I’ve seen ever. That entrance is designed to receive the most distinguished, prestige businessmen/women, executives and high profile guests from all over the world. They are greeted with ruins on the entrance of the most expensive piece of property in the commercial market of Kuwait.

The other side of this development is what should be the most luxurious mall in Kuwait is also greeted with a famous Indian cuisine restaurant and the diners use its common areas between the two structures as a parking space when they visit.

The intersection is a massive underdevelopment for a project of this scale. Traffic will be a nightmare to say the least. No services road is built to serve this development, which I believe will be of importance to maintain this project. The biggest draw back though is the parking building which is on the backside which simply lacks proper access to the main roads and it’s not very clear if that parking is sufficient for the development users once in operation.

To me the most shameful aspect of the location is the complete lack of a real public plaza for tourist to come, snap photos, marvel at the might of the structure and appreciate the architecture. The left over space between the tower/mall and the intersection simply is that, left over, nothing more. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this tower can only be seen in its glory from a far distance. That perhaps is one of the perks of its sheer bulkiness. To me the tower is too big honestly, but that’s only me. Isn’t it a shame that no one can simply stand in front of AlHamra and gaze at it in full and be able to take pictures of it. I say this in comparison to Burj Khaleefa in Dubai.

The Burj in Dubai is the tallest tower in the world, which is designed by the famous architecture practice SOM, which also happen to be the designers of AlHamra tower. Over in Dubai, the planner realize the opportunity this massive structure offer for tourism, thus they created one of the most dynamic water fountain in an artificial lake just in front of the main entrance to the tower opposite to the largest mall in the world. As fake as it sounds, the planning works brilliantly, yet sky scrapers are fake if not designed out of necessity. People gather around the lake and admire the not so impressive tower in comparison to the AlHamra. This is a shame.

Over all, I am happy that they are building it. I am however disappointed that this would end up being a waste of money when it comes to bystanders and regular people passing by. Tourists won’t be happy when they come in masses, They simply won’t be able to take pictures of themselves with this tower easily, I fail to see a drop off point for tourist buses.

Kuwait needs to wake up from its coma and realize each action would have a reaction, in this case a massive urban chaos in the city in reaction to this massive building.


Responses

  1. I’m not sure why it’s so important to have that picture postcard moment. So what if you can’t take a picture of the thing. Can’t you just walk down the street to the United Tower and take a photo from there?

    I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the parking structure, but how do you get up there? What do you mean there’s no service road? How would they get trucks and stuff to service the shops/restaurants in the mall? Probably from the back, where Mughal Mahal is, right?

    Also, how big is each floor on average? Any idea?

  2. Each floor is 1100 square meters on average. The postcard picture is tourism in its popular form. I haven’t seen any service road around this project, have you? and as weird as this may look, yes you have to go all the way to where Magal Mahal is to park your car.
    This project is not an urban error, its an Urban disaster.

  3. Hello,

    I am pessimistic about Al-Hamra’s tourism power. There will always be another tower that will be built later, to be bigger and better. Hamra is part of the Gulf’s peculiar fascination with skyscrapers. I also wonder if all the offices will be filled and rented later. Kuwait needs to develop its tourism service much more at a basic level. I do agree with you that the location of Hamra, and the area around it, doesn’t really fit its grandeur. This is part of the larger mismatch in Kuwait between the buildings themselves and their surroundings.

    You mention a VERY important point that is often overlooked. In fact, I don’t know if it has ever been mentioned on this blog before, although it is a very much a part of the urban fabric in Kuwait. I might be wrong about whether its been written about before on the blog, so correct me if I am mistaken.

    “Old houses left in ruins rented out to low-income expatriots”.

    Kuwait, while not having slum neighborhoods, has a significant amount of buildings, and unfortunately, renters, living in slum-like conditions. This is unacceptable. What is even more striking, as you rightly mention, is that these are often located adjacent to areas of luxury…near Marina Mall, near some of the nicest tall towers….go along the 30 road towards Kuwait City and look to your right…you will see rows of derilect buildings of people living in inhumane conditions. I would like to see re:kuwait write about how to tackle this issue in a way that moves beyond two unfortunate outcomes a) demolishing the old houses rather than restoring them (look at some of Bahrain’s restoration of houses in Muharraq, its incredible) and b) displacing already marginalized and poor residents, probably through unjust evictions.

    Lets not forget that the people who built Hamra tower, probably in perilous conditions, are often those residing in this sub-standard housing. Kuwait has signed several international legal agrements that stipulate the right to adequate housing.

    I’d like to hear a blog entry about this if you guys get a chance. I was surprised in Kuwait by how little people saw adequate low-income housing in Kuwait as a problem. For me, it was one of the first things that jumped out at me when I arrived to the country.

  4. maybe this will help illustrate my point: http://www.flickr.com/photos/40135332@N08/page1/

  5. I work right next to an area similar to what you just described. I look down and I see an open air bathroom (the roof collapsed, I guess). Almost every day, even during the cold winter, you can see them bathe out in the open.

    I’m not sure what could be a good solution for the problem. We’re inevitably heading for gentrification of the area once the zoning requirements change (end of this year). People are basically holding on to the land, not doing anything, and waiting for the law to change. But now after the crisis and the oversupply of office space, maybe that won’t happen after all.

    It’s a really weird stasis and the juxtaposition is very jarring when seen for the first time. I guess the fact that we’ve been here so long that we got used to it…

    It is funny how Al Hamra is just completely ignorant of the surrounding buildings. It’s as if it was designed without any consideration beyond its site perimeter. Then again, that’s not really the job of the architects, its the job of the city urban planners (which don’t exist).

  6. Great to see an entry about ALHAMRA on ur blog. I am a member of ALHAMRA team and it will be our pleasure to invite u to our client relations center to present the project in details and show u the complexity and the challenges of the design and construction . If interested please do email me .

  7. Tourism?? What are you talking about? Kuwait doesn’t welcome tourism anymore than it welcomes rock bands… and as Victoria said above, we need to improve our basic tourism facilities first before we worry about missed opportunities at Al-Hamra. Visas anyone??

    The skyscraper/slum juxtaposition has been a pet peeve of mine for quite some time. I feel that skyscraper developers should at least extend their efforts to gentrifying or fixing their surroundings as much as they can

  8. “The skyscraper/slum juxtaposition has been a pet peeve of mine for quite some time. I feel that skyscraper developers should at least extend their efforts to gentrifying or fixing their surroundings as much as they can”

    That’s true, but it’s not really part of their job description is it? It’s the job of an urban designer and we don’t have any of those in positions of power in the government. It’s easy to blame the developers for trying to make money by maximizing everything under their control without caring about anything beyond the perimeter of their site, but that’s not the real problem.

    We lack direction, planning and leadership in terms of laying out a successful vision for Kuwait City. It’s just a series of patchworks now without a ‘higher power’ guiding everything in the right direction.

  9. I do partly share some of the opinions mentioned above, though I have my positive impression with regards to Al-Hamra tower, it does have a distinguished & such a unique designs & am glad that being the tallest was not one of objectives of the building. Though, the notation that it will simply be symbolic icon for tourism in Kuwait takes more much more than that.

    I do agree with you that the location is major drawback here, but here comes the governmental role to address such an issue. The surroundings need to look more aesthetic in order to let the building stand out more.

  10. Hi, Great post and great comments.

    If you do take the offer of ALHAMRA team, please fill us in. It would be really interesting to know what their justifications are regarding the many issues you all mentioned above.

    Be it on a personal or corporate level …. does the absence of regulation or the lack of enforcement …. mean absolutely no accountability ?

  11. I disagree with all who say that old buildings and skyscrapers being side by side is ugly and unacceptable. I think those old buildings need a face lift and that’s it. In a way, the old run down buildings being next to new glass sky scrapers gives the city it’s character; as ugly as it may be. If the whold city turns out to be tall skyscrapers it will just be like any other city. I think what we lack in the city is proper land scaping and green space, and proper lighting. Trees and shrubs, and proper light fixtures, if placed in the right place and maintained in the right way, will make the ugliest building look nice.

    I’d rather see the ugly run down buildings of the 50s and 60s than new aluminium cladded sky scrapers.

    O salamatkum

  12. I think it should be built in Jileeb Shayouhk, this will really showcase the real Kuwait. it would show the rest of the world what a third world country Kuwait. still has human rights problems.

    PS. lets change the name to Bidoon Tower.

  13. When comparing old and new, it’s wise to think a little longer term! I agree with some of the other points but the architectural mix will mature eventually.

    @Nugsters

    Kuwait IS a third-world country. It doesn’t change with a nice building… Change comes with education and acceptance. Human rights will improve with better freedom. I challenge you to show me a more ‘free’ country in this region than Kuwait! Keep things in context and keep your jealousy to yourself!

  14. Our main issue is the baladiya, it is an all ruling power. From my last discussion with some of the people working on the project, they offered to fix and adjust the roads around the whole area to accomodate for traffic, even expanding it into their land but the Baladiya refused.

    Regarding these slum-like houses, its a mess but their shud be a standard rule within the baladiya, that it has to be of certain age to require being demolished,30-40+ years and not well maintained, if their was a home owners association then they would have the right to take action. They invested because they believe in the project but their hands are tied in regards to the area around it.

    Its also about Zoning, and the baladeya guys want to take advantage as well so they are building these cheap towers next to it to profit from this new building.

    • “Its also about Zoning, and the baladeya guys want to take advantage as well so they are building these cheap towers next to it to profit from this new building.”

      I’m not sure what you mean by this. Care to elaborate?

  15. It would look much better if it was built in Jileeb Alshayookh. I bet more tourism would clambering to come to Kuwait. This will also show case the hidden beauty of Kuwait and how the Bidoon live.

    or better yet and perhaps this building should be built around where the bang-lies live.

  16. Actually the area per floor is about 1700 sqm

  17. Planning my visit close to dubai marina property for this summer from Seattle. This will be my 3rd trip to dubai marina property and I have spent a week near dubai marina property each time. I can’t wait!! I congratulate your advertising but I am selfish and want it to myself. Just kidding. I try to promote the area close Devons Torridge Marina every chance I get so the local business (Al-Hamra Again re:kuwait) get some tourism monies. Kind Regards Victor – Albert@torridgemarina.co.uk


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