Monthly Archives: August 2009

Kuwait Courtyard House

By | albabtain|design, Architecture, Social | 27 Comments

This is a home I designed as a modern interpretation of a traditional Kuwaiti courtyard house. It is not a stylistic evolution; I am not trying to make the old mud houses look modern and sexy, rather I began by defining what made the old homes work and what would be the best way to design a built environment that reflects the values which defined the traditional architecture.


Front Elevation

Most importantly, the home has to allow for absolute privacy in all interior spaces. There’s no point in having street-facing windows if they’re always going to be shuttered. This means that a functional separation between the public elements of the home and the private areas is critical. It became clear that the best way to achieve this is to simply place a two-level family home on top of a pedestal which would contain all the public and service elements.


All of the rooms would have direct access to a large and private family courtyard. This space would be shielded from the elements by a structural frame which would in time be completely covered by climbing vines which would block direct sunlight and filter the dust out of the air. A waterfall would cool the space through convection heat transfer and evaporative cooling.


View from Bedroom 1

The micro-climate created inside the courtyard would allow for an inviting outdoor space that is comfortable and habitable in all but the most extreme weather conditions. Fallen leaves would be carried by the pool onto another waterfall on the other end of the lap pool (not visible in the image) which would allow for easy collection and disposal. Pests and insects will become somewhat of a concern, but they arrive with birds and butterflies as well.


View from Bedroom 2

The door on the left of the above image leads to the master suite. Access to the courtyard from the rooms can be as large as possible without sacrificing privacy or heat gain. There is corridor access on the other side of the rooms for practical reasons, however I imagine most of the access would be to and from the courtyard side.


View from Bedroom 3

Optimally, children would have constant access to the courtyard, so they play outside and not in their rooms; this allows for the rooms to be smaller and for the children to play with each other and facilitate deeper family bonding. The large sliding glass doors on the left of the above image lead to the main living and kitchen/dining space. The sliding doors, once opened, allow for a seamless connection between the courtyard and the interior living spaces.


View from Bedroom 4

The spiral staircase is a sculptural and structural element which breaks the rigid linearity of the design. The swimming pool is small compared to others (3m x 8m), however it also includes a 16m long lap pool. The large panels can be used as a projection screen for movies and videogames.



This particular design is 400m2 on one street facing east, with 5 bedrooms and a 2 car parking garage. There is no basement. The project is a prototype examining the alternatives to the typical residential offerings in Kuwait. I am currently looking for investors to help me build the house.

Boring Schools

By | Architecture, Education, Social | 13 Comments

What is a school? Is it simply a building where children go to learn about the world, or is it more important? It’s a cliche to think that our greatest natural resource is not the oil under our feet, but those kids in our schools. Even so, I think that we should be very careful in the way we design the spaces where they learn and play. Almost all of the schools in Kuwait have not been designed with kids in mind. They’re all drab, dreary, unimaginative and boring. I remember my school had a fence with barbed wire surrounding the playground. What kind of message does that send to the kids?


What’s with this recent obsession with new schools being named ‘X’BS (Bilingual School), seemingly oblivious to the common use of BS in the English language? It’s not as important what kids learn, but rather that they know how to learn. Most of the schools have the same curriculum and pedagogical model, and they all even look the same, except that they’re all painted a different color.


I want my future children to have every opportunity that can be provided to them. The problem is that looking around, the choices are depressingly scarce. What is a kid friendly space? The most important thing is that the physical space around them sort of gives them the permission to be free and curious. An authoritarian space drives discipline and order, but it also discourages freedom of expression. When kids feel like they can’t express themselves openly, they’ll find other ways to do so in secret, destructive ways.


I’m not a defender of the flowery self-esteem movement that has practically created a generation of Americans that feel undeservedly self-entitled and content with their incompetence and ignorance. I don’t want that for Kuwait. What I want is the option to have a school that understands the importance of creativity and imagination in the development of a young child, and would do everything it can to encourage that. The first step is to build a school that is, for lack of a better word, cool. It has to challenge children to be creative, to live up to and exceed the example set by the building.


Second, the curriculum needs to be flexible and geared towards the independent development cycle of each child. Every child is different and some need more guidance and supervision than others. Simply putting thirty kids in a room and demanding that they all learn at the same pace is very illogical. Similarly, tests will always be a part of the school system, but the curriculum should not revolve around what’s on the test. School has to be fun. For example, a teacher discovers that an unmotivated student in an English class is a hip hop fan; The teacher could ask that student to write a rap song as a class project. It’s not in the curriculum, but with some flexibility, that unmotivated student would be extremely interested to do something in class.


Finally, teachers should be allowed to experiment with alternative methods of teaching based on the situation they find themselves in. For example, if there are disruptive students in the class, they shouldn’t be allowed to slow down the rest of the class. They should quickly be reassigned to a special, albeit temporary, class that would include all the disruptive students. Of course, this special class would have a far more disciplined teacher and stricter penalties and a more structured environment. What I mean to say is that the environment has to be malleable enough to adapt to most situations. Every child is different, and we can’t treat them all the same.