Monthly Archives: October 2009

Kid-Friendly Neighborhood

By | Neighborhood, Qortuba, Social, Urban | 6 Comments

Childhood obesity is an epidemic in Kuwait. Computer games and television has made it easy for kids to live a sedentary lifestyle. For some, the only exercise is the few hours of PE class in school every week. Neighborhoods have a social duty to provide children with a safe environment to play with other kids and have fun.

6. An elementary school is close enough so that most children can walk from their home.

Summer break means that kids are spared the worst months of summer, so a walk to school is mostly pleasant. Of course, the entire length should be shaded, and every morning there should be someone at each road crossing to stop traffic and allow the kids to safely cross the street. To do this, sidewalks have to be wide enough to allow people to walk. The problem with most neighborhoods in Kuwait is that the sidewalk is too narrow and each house has far too many cars; the cars park on the sidewalk filling the entire space. This forces people to walk on the street. If it was up to me this would be illegal. The public owns the sidewalk and nobody should force me to walk on the street.

Playground

7. There are small playgrounds accessible to every dwelling — not more than 150 meters away.

We have a unique opportunity to create a hybrid community center by merging a playground with a mosque. Both have to be within walking distance of every dwelling, so why not combine the two? The playground becomes part of the mosque infrastructure. During prayer time, adults using the mosque will create a feeling of safety through community policing. It can become a new hybrid community center; a mosque, playground, learning center and local library all in one seamless small urban space.

lesezeichen, magdeburg

Mixed-Use Neighborhoods

By | Neighborhood, Social, Urban | 5 Comments

A decision was made a long time ago to divide Kuwait into distinct zones; residential, offices, industrial and commercial. At the time it seemed like a natural thing to do. I remember doing it all the time playing Sim City as a kid. This is where people work, this is where they live, and that’s where they play.

The problem with this is that you end up with very dedicated zones that serve a very specific purpose. People tend to work at the same time, sleep at night, and have fun at the weekend. This creates a lot of migration at predictable patterns which results in traffic from the evacuating masses, redundant spaces and a wasteful allocation of resources.

A good example of trying to break up this pattern is the location of The Avenues. Simply having a shopping mall located outside the designated ‘shopping district’ allowed for a completely new pattern to emerge. We need to do more of this and break up the monolithic ‘zones’ into more mixed-use spaces where people live, work and play.

4. At the edge of the neighborhood, there are shops and offices of sufficiently varied types to supply the weekly needs of a household.

This is fairly self explanatory. A lot of areas in Kuwait already have this and they’re successful in reducing the number of car trips the residents around them make. The goal here is to have them in locations where it is easy and safe to approach them by foot. If more people walk to them and the stigma against walking is overcome, we’ll see the option of walking become safer and more pleasant. People feel safer when other people are around.

Mixed-Use

5. A small ancillary building or garage apartment is permitted within the backyard of each house. It may be used as a rental unit or place to work (for example, an office or craft workshop).

This would be very successful in Kuwait. Many young people have ambitions of starting a side-business or workshop, but don’t have the money to rent an office or don’t want to bother with another daily commute. This would provide a way for them to make that happen while also transforming our neighborhoods into a lively, mixed use live-work environment.

Residential Variety

By | Architecture, Neighborhood, Social, Urban | 7 Comments

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.

Walking Distance

By | Metro, Neighborhood, Social, Urban | 4 Comments

The heat in Kuwait in the summer is unbearable. Yet this is only a problem between June and September. The rest of the year is fairly pleasant, especially in the morning and evening. We have to design our spaces with that in mind and not be trapped because we fear the hot months. Scandinavia is basically frozen for half the year, yet they design knowing that for the other half the weather is very good. We should do the same.

2. Most of the dwellings are within a five-minute walk of the center, an average of roughly 400 meters.

In an ideal world, the Metro would criss-cross our radial residential areas and have stops in each neighborhood center. This would officially make Kuwait a walkable city, as it means that everyone has the option of living a car-free lifestyle. I’m sure this isn’t economically feasible, but as a public health initiative, it’s priceless.

The neighborhood centers don’t have to be physically connected to each other, of course. The point is that everyone can simply go outside and have a pleasant walk and arriving at a unique and exciting destination. This would also allow the residential areas to be exponentially denser without fear of the transportation system failing because every area is now mixed-use and self sufficient.

This would eventually lead to the collapse of the ‘mall mentality’. The neighborhood centers become a truly democratic and public space. Instead of going to The Avenues to hang out, you might go to the Shamiya center and have dinner, watch a show and have a nice stroll there meeting a friend who lives in Shamiya. You get all the amenities and advantages of a mall without the parking headache.

Every neighborhood center would grow to have its own distinct character. Malls are only as imaginative as the developers that built them. A public space is democratic in nature, meaning that it is up to the people to decide how the space should evolve. I know for a fact that young, creative Kuwaitis are far more imaginative than even the best developer. A subsidy for young Kuwaiti entrepreneurs will help encourage them to converge and all use the space together, focusing their creative energies into creating a wonderfully unique, distinctly Kuwaiti experience.

Kuwait Metro Residential

-A stupid idea, but I can’t think of a better way to waste money.

Kuwait-Metro-Residential2

Edited: Slightly less stupid (fewer interchanges) but still wasteful.

Neighborhood Center

By | Neighborhood, Qortuba, Social | 2 Comments

Neighborhoods in Kuwait have lost their charm and have become glorified parking lots. What can we do about it and are there any guidelines that can help us in designing better neighborhoods? According to Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, a husband-wife team of town planners and two of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, the design of neighborhoods can be defined by thirteen elements:

1. The neighborhood has a discernible center. This is often a square or a green and sometimes a busy or memorable street corner. A transit stop would be located at this center.

This neighborhood center would be a small urban space dominated by the main mosque and filled with dense shopping and landscape architecture. Shopping should be fragmented into smaller elements that serve specialized needs; a florist, a butcher, an electronics repair shop, etc. The main groceries shopping should be far smaller than the current tradition of building co-op ‘malls’ in the center of every residential area. The malls are so big and the only way to approach them is by car. Parking is usually shared with the central mosque which means that during prayer time the parking is cannibalized between the two and nobody benefits. We have to stop consolidating everything into one building but rather think of it as a town center similar to what it used to be in the old days.

The idea of a ‘jam’eyiah’ is very foreign and they’ve recently started to become bloated and have evolved into mini-malls. I don’t mind the fact that they now have a wide-ranging selection; cafes, restaurants, boutique shops, etc. It is the fact that they are all being crammed into one (usually badly designed) building. What if they are all part of a public, covered, pedestrian street? The shops will be available to rent for whoever wants to, and subsidies will be given to young people of the area so that they can do what they’ve always dreamed. If the space is given to them at an affordable price they will make sure the street is fun, clean and safe. This will attract more young people to the neighborhood center and it will have a very fun and young vibe.

800px-Buenos_Aires_-_Retiro_-_Calle_Florida

-A Kuwaiti neighborhood center?

Edit: This was one very long post with around 13 points. I decided to cut it into smaller pieces with each number being it’s own post. I have a feeling this will better incite discussion and help us develop the points further. Sorry for the confusion. The list will be compiled into the new ‘Neighborhood’ category found on the right.

An Anti-Mall

By | Qortuba, Social, Urban | 28 Comments

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.

Avenues

flickr- Toomz

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.

SouqWaqif

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.

StreetPerformer

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.