Monthly Archives: January 2010

Site Update

By | Other | 8 Comments

I’ve been meaning to change the site for a while now and I finally got around to doing that. The improvements are mostly cosmetic, a new header and color scheme. It looks a lot more optimistic now, and that’s a feeling that we hope reflects what we write about.

re:kuwait is now 9 months old. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the positive response and we’re thankful for all the views, but we don’t think that we have really achieved what we set out to accomplish yet. Our goal is to communicate with non-architects about urban design and architecture, and how a good built environment can affect peoples lives for the better. There are a lot of venues to discuss these ideas, but they’re mostly happening in echo chambers amongst architects and peers, and the message isn’t expanding to the general public.

We created this website to talk about architectural ideas and issues in a way that appeals to everyone. The hope is that it will help incite a change in mentality. I don’t know how successful we’ve been, but i’m sure we can do a lot better. Thanks for reading and please be involved as much as you can by asking questions and commenting.

Event Recap: Pecha Kucha

By | Architecture, Metro, Neighborhood, Other, Social, Urban | 14 Comments
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6dtbe-w7PA]

 

There was a huge turnout at PK#4, more than #3. I’m guessing it was over 300 but I could be wrong, it might have been more. Thanks to Dr. Aseel and all the organizers for their wonderful job, and I hope the next one is even better. For those that were there, thanks for coming and i’m sorry I had to read it from my iPhone. I couldn’t wing it, and since there wasn’t a podium I couldn’t bring notes.

For those who weren’t there, i’ll post the entire presentation:

People tell me that it’s just too hot to walk in Kuwait. That there’s no point in designing outdoor spaces because you can’t use them. I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse. I believe that the way we built the city has forced us to think like that, and not the other way around.

If you look back at all the major developments of the past 20 years, you’ll find that they’re mostly private shopping malls. The problem is that they’re very inward looking. They don’t interface with their surroundings. We end up with great looking buildings but isolated buildings. They’re not part of an urban fabric and they’re very self serving. You can pick them up and plop them anywhere and it wouldn’t make a difference.

It’s now a sort of virtual city where every place is a destination but there’s nothing in between. Just a transitory haze you see outside a car window. So we begin to ask ourselves, for a nation so wealthy, why is our public space so impoverished?

All of these small decisions accumulate and start to develop into a sort vicious cycle. Places are isolated and you can only get there by car. You have to drive now to go anywhere. This makes the city car dependent which encourages more driving. The cycle goes on and on forever and we no longer have a choice.

A good example of this design mentality is Arraya. The face of the building is entirely wasted. They ignored what I think is the most important part of the building. There’s actually a service corridor behind that wall. The space looks nice, but it doesn’t really do anything. It’s a wasted economic opportunity.

What if they decided to open up the wall to the shops and restaurants inside? You’d have a similar sort of experience as Salhiya and the Slider Station strip and it would have been a wonderful place to be this time of year. The action is an alluring invitation.

Our residential neighborhoods are slowly turning into glorified parking lots. Sometimes you’re forced to walk on the street because there’s no room. People have become anonymous within their own neighborhoods as there’s no public space to meet and for kids to play and no room to walk and exercise.

That’s because there’s a sort of uniform density in most areas that imposes just one dwelling type to exist; the large family home. The problem now is that so many people want to live in those areas that the density keeps increasing. More people and cars are filling up the same space and it’s reaching a critical mass where it no longer works.

What if we go back in time. What could we have done differently? What would Kuwait be like?

An important step would be to introduce a way to have two different dwelling types to exist and compliment each other. We would do that by having a varied density to the residential areas. In the middle, instead of the shopping center, we would have a high density core.

Surrounding that would be spaces that have much lower density. There would be wide, green public spaces with large front gardens and a long strip for walking, separate from parking. Most importantly, there’s now enough room to have trees lining every street on both sides.

This would create shade and filter the air the air from dust. There’s room for kids to play and people to meet and exercise. In the dense core, we would have a mixed-use urban park, with restaurants and shops and green areas surrounded by a few apartment towers. Most of the apartments will have people from the neighborhood living in them, people that want to live close to their families but can’t afford to buy a house.

So instead of building a floor on their existing home and ruining it and adding more cars, they could just live a few blocks away in a comfortable apartment. So now we have two dwelling types that are sharing the same walkable space; single family homes and apartments. Two modes of living that accommodate different lifestyles and budgets.

Another thing we would have done is build the Kuwait Metro. This project has been in the planning stages for decades, and I hope now that Dubai has beat us to it, that we might start getting jealous and build one ourselves. Kuwait can benefit a lot more from a metro, because we already have somewhat walkable areas, such as parts of Hawalli, Salmiya and the City and linking them together gives people the option of living a car free lifestyle.

As you can see, all of the major university campuses, malls and ministries have a metro station. I’d also have one at the urban cores of the residential neighborhoods, so you have a stop in Qortuba, Keefan, Al Nuzha, etc. This would mean that all of our urban cores are now linked together. A dense network of walkable spaces will start to emerge around each metro station. You would now have the option of walking anywhere you want.

All these decisions will start to accumulate and a virtuous cycle now starts to form. More walking encourages safer streets, which encourages more people to walk, and people attract more people and it keeps getting better and safer.

What emerges from that is a dense, rich, urban ecosystem where multiple modes of transportation interact to compliment each other. The city will feel far more alive and nourished. You can encourage social and economic progress through good urban design, and simply saying that it’s just too hot to try isn’t really good enough. We can do a lot better.

Event: Pecha Kucha Night

By | Other, Social | 4 Comments

I will be presenting at the upcoming Pecha Kucha Night that will take place on Thursday January 14, 7:30 in the Scientific Center in Salmiya, outdoors behind the Costa Coffee. I’ll be talking about ‘Kuwait Urban Density’ and will touch upon themes from the blog, such as how to make Kuwait walkable and the metro.

Attendance is free and all are welcome. I’ve seen a few of the presentations already and they’re really interesting and concise. It seems we’re finally getting the hang of it!

What is it?

PechaKucha Night was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public.

It has turned into a massive celebration, with events happening in hundreds of cities around the world, inspiring creatives worldwide. Drawing its name from the Japanese term for the sound of conversation (“chit chat”, and pronounced P-CHuh K-CHuh), it rests on a presentation format that is based on a simple idea: 20 images x 20 seconds.
It’s a format that makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace.

This is the fourth Pecha Kucha event in Kuwait.

Where is it?

Scientific Center in Salmiya, outdoors behind the Costa Coffee, around the circular garden area. There will be signs.

When is it?

Thursday, January 14, 7:30pm-9:30pm

To find out more about the event, visit their facebook page. People who have been to the previous three know how wonderful it is, and I hope to see you all there! The atmosphere is one that is rarely found in Kuwait, and i’d like to give a big thanks to the organizers for making it all happen and keeping it going.

Event: A Night for Architecture

By | Other | One Comment

T-Square Magazine, a student based architectural magazine together with KASA (Kuwait Architectural Student Association) and AIAS (American Institute for Architecture Students) are organizing an event titled “A Night for Architecture” at the Americani Cultural Center, January 13, 2010 6-9PM.

The event is held under the theme of T-Square magazine’s upcoming issue “Why Design? Cause and Effect”. There will be a mini-exhibition showcasing a sample of this academic year’s design work by KASA.

They have a great website and their magazine is wonderful. I’ll be attending the event on Wednesday, and I hope to see some of you there. To attend you have to contact the organizers to register and there is an attendance fee of 5KD.

Izala: Trees

By | Neighborhood, Social, Urban | 8 Comments

Trees shade the sun and filter the air. They look good and give us peace of mind. Why does our government rush to cut down trees? Is it a random act of green violence, or is there more behind this? There are lots of blog posts about this topic and a facebook page dedicated to stopping it.

The point of the Izala campaign, as far as I can tell, is to do two things:

  1. Stop people from claiming public land as their own by planting a ‘wall of trees’ around public land adjacent to their home.
  2. Make sure that a 1 meter wide strip adjacent to the street is free of any physical barriers (trees, lights, landscape elements, etc) so that pedestrian access is not blocked.

We can all agree that building a wall of trees to claim public land is basically property theft. It’s very easy to spot that and remove the trees. The point of contention is how to deal with isolated trees that are too close to the street. The problem is that low wage workers are given clear instructions to cut down anything that is planted a certain distance from the street. There is no subtlety to it, no way to appeal the process and it’s simple enough that any guy with a chainsaw could do it.

In Toronto, as with most developed cities, it is against the law to cut down a tree unless you are qualified and authorized to do so:

“Trees protected by city by-laws may not be removed, injured or destroyed in any way without written authorization from the city. And that covers all parts of the tree—roots included. Tree pruning and root cutting may only be done by the City of Toronto, Urban Forestry Services. No exceptions.”

I think what should happen is that for these isolated cases (such as in the image above) the owner should be given notice to appeal. Let’s say the owner is given 1 week to either relocate the tree (onto private property, or sold to a nursery) or appeal the decision. The example in the image is a great case because the owner could argue that there is enough room for people to walk alongside the tree, it’s not blocking access. There is enough room for a wheelchair to pass.

I do applaud their efforts in trying to make sure that people can walk safely in our neighborhoods. They cut down a few of our trees that were a little too close to the curb. What I don’t appreciate is that it’s being done in such a brutal and inflexible way. If they care so much about pedestrian access, they should also start slapping tickets on all parked cars that block the pedestrian path. Now that would be something.

If you feel like that’s not enough and you want to fight back, try Guerrilla Gardening.