Monthly Archives: August 2010

Gray Water Ablution

By | Other | 5 Comments

The topic of tonight’s episode of the brilliant MBC show ‘khawatir’ was about water conservation. They showed how much water was being wasted during ablution. Changing attitudes towards consumption would be great, but to push this even further we need to reuse the water that is collected through the drain.

This waste water is pretty much clean greywater that we can use directly for irrigation. Here’s a study of testing done on ablution wastewater that shows that it can be used safely for irrigation. Under every ablution space there should be a water tank that collects all the water that’s used after ablution. This water is then pumped out at regular intervals to irrigate a garden surrounding the mosque, preferably growing edible plants. This would help reduce the temperature of the space, grow some food and avoid wasting water.

Free Parking

By | Urban | 3 Comments

If shawarmas were free, we would always have a shawarma shortage. Parking is free, that’s why there’s never any free parking spaces. Most people driving around are usually just looking for a place to park and would be willing to pay a fee to park their car instead of wasting their time looking for a space. There is a market here to both generate revenue and reduce traffic and pollution. It’s a win-win situation, so why aren’t we talking about it?

San Francisco has recently implemented a ‘demand-responsive’ public parking scheme. What this means is that the price to park your car is responsive to how many people want to park there at that time. It’s measured by the number of empty spaces, the fewer the free spots the higher the price. The suggested range was as low as a quarter and going up to $6 per hour. This will hopefully encourage people to be selective in their driving and make sure that there’s at least 20% free parking spaces everywhere.

If you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind walking then you would just drive up to the nearest parking garage and park your car there, freeing up the street for people who are willing to pay extra to park there. Of course, in Kuwait, the reality is different from San Francisco. Most people can’t afford to pay 2 KD an hour during rush hour. That’s great. That means that we’re accurately pricing a scarce commodity (parking) and those people will have to find alternate means of parking or transportation. The reality now is not fair to anyone, and adopting ‘demand-responsive’ parking is a way to make life better for everyone. The revenue generated from this should go directly to improvements in public transportation and pedestrian infrastructure.

Why Skyscrapers?

By | Urban | 6 Comments

Kuwait would have benefited from a stricter building height limit. When a city tries to spur development by removing height restrictions the result is usually the opposite. Landowners end up waiting to sell as prices skyrocket because of speculation. The few skyscrapers that get built suck up all the density and leave the rest of the urban fabric with far less demand. You end up with a few shining gems that stand tall amongst impoverished neighbors.

Washington, DC, is a great example of a low rise city that is very dense. Kuwait really had no justifiable reason to start building forty, fifty level towers. It would have been far more beneficial for everyone had this development been spread out over a larger area of Kuwait City. Instead of a few shining, glistening, resource draining towers built by a handful of developers, we could have had hundreds of four or five level mixed use developments. That sort of democratic urbanism would generate a richer urban environment.

Khaldiya/Adailiya Bridge

By | Education, Other | No Comments

I was recently invited at Kuwait University to see the work of a studio researching ‘sustainability’ and solar design. They were attempting to manipulate microclimates through architecture to create livable and comfortable outdoor spaces from a site they picked around Khaldiya campus. I was glad when I saw one team choose the pedestrian bridge, which we discussed in the previous post, as their site.

The shading device they came up with was a tesselated, triangular, disturbed mesh (which they insisted on calling ‘origami’, even though it has nothing to do with folding). That was a cool idea, as some triangles would face the sun directly, and they made that into a photovoltaic cell. Others, facing north, would be open to the sky. That was good enough as an idea, but they inexplicably added mini-wind turbines which edged the design too close to being a parody for my liking. Just stick with one great idea and really develop it, and they came close with their roof structure. It was a very unique project and well worth seeing. Good job, guys.

They also added a cafe on the on the Adailiya side of the street and extended the shading device to cover that and the nearby parking spaces. I forgot there was a bus stop on the Khaldiya side, and that’s another reason to think that this can really be a great starting point for inciting pedestrian activity. I was glad that the team tried to do that in their project, but it could have been taken even further, maybe expanding the site to include the whole ‘mamsha’ as part of their design, turning into a larger scale ‘landscape urbanism’ project, with the focus of the project being a site aimed to educate people on the health benefits of exercise and proving that you can create architecture and landscapes that are comfortable even during the worst summer heat.

In general, I felt that most of the students unfortunately started the project with a defeatist mentality, thinking that there isn’t much you can do to manipulate the microclimate other than erecting some shading devices and calling it a day. I personally think that shading alone is not enough in the summer. You need to have a holistic design that includes evaporative cooling techniques, wind manipulation (pressure studies), vegetation and albedo/material analysis, but I couldn’t find a project that went beyond superficial shading devices as their solution to the heat problem. That’s not enough, but I was glad to know that they’re being taught the fundamentals of the subject. I was just hoping for a better final product at the end of the day.

Connecting Neighborhoods

By | Neighborhood, Social, Urban | 3 Comments

A reader sent me an interesting request asking if there was a way to sort of stitch the areas of Kuwait into one connected fabric:

“…the new trend in kuwait is to become more healthier, more active, more movement involved, so why not be connected closer?. Is there a way in connecting e.g. nuzha and daihya abdullah al salem (walking route)? I’m suggesting that people should be able to move from one place to the other without the use of cars.  If im going to a diwaniya in faiha or dhaiya from nuzha i should have a route allowable for bikers  ( bicycle ) walking etc… besides using bridges.”

What the reader realized is that almost all the areas of Kuwait have been cut and packaged into ostensibly self-sufficient residential ‘cells’. The crisscross of highways prevent people from moving from one cell to the other without a car. The only exclusion from this rule are the few pedestrian bridges that traverse the highways, as you can’t even cross the street because of a chain link fence.

First of all, we need to really care about and enforce rules governing public space in Kuwait. What I mean is that we need to build and maintain better sidewalks. We can’t have people parking their cars on the sidewalks and forcing people to walk on the street. That should be illegal and unless we change this habit we’ll never have walkable neighborhoods. Sidewalks need to be safe, well lit and shaded.

Personally, I don’t see what’s wrong with a pedestrian bridge. I think it’s a more than valid option, and in fact it can offer several unique opportunities. You can only access a typical bridge from two points so it will naturally act as a funnel for pedestrians and bicyclists. This means that around the entrance to a bridge you will have people walking more than in other places. This is usually also the place where most of Kuwait’s ‘mamshas’ (excercise/running paths) are located. Maybe this can be a stimulus for commercial development, which would further attract people there and create a ‘virtuous cycle’ that will get more and more people to walk.

What would the ‘commercial development’ look like? I imagine it starts off with drastically improved ‘mamsha’ infrastructure, meaning more benches, shade, water coolers and most importantly it should be well lit and have clearly delineated termination points, so people know when to turn around and go the other way.

This would develop into nodes that would nudge people to congregate around the pedestrian bridges, and we could invest in juice shops, healthy food cafes, maybe a public swimming pool, a flower garden with space for people to exhibit their homemade work and sell to people walking by, and I would anchor all of this with a mosque/library/daycare center hybrid. Of course, this can only work outside of summer. Even so, it would absolutely be worth the investment because of both the financial rewards as well as the improvements in public health and space. Eventually, as the metro routes currently being considered mostly follow our road patterns, the stops could be located at the foot of the pedestrian bridges. That would be the best place to have them and it will further strengthen the pedestrian culture that will have started to develop.

Short of drastically altering the highways system of Kuwait, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way of stitching back the neighborhood fabric of Kuwait without building more bridges. An interesting mega solution that might work for parts of the First Ring Road and other sunken highways is to extend a park over them so that the highway becomes a tunnel and the new land above it links the two banks of the highway together, like what is being done in Los Angeles.

-A very successful pedestrian bridge in Kuwait, linking Khaldiya Campus with Adailiya.