Kuwait is a desert, yet you wouldn’t know this by looking at our architecture. What does it mean to design for a desert climate? The most important thing is to understand three basic rules:
- Understand the movement of the sun
- Know how different materials react to the sun
- Be aware of our physiological reaction to uncomfortable environments
It really amazes me that so much of the recent architecture built in Kuwait does not follow these basic rules. You see villas with giant windows facing west. Skyscrapers with glass facades on every side. It’s crazy. The only reason they can get away with this is because electricity is so cheap and they can afford to pump in chilled air all day long.
The image above is the building where my office is. The glass facades are facing south and west, which is where the sun is from noon until evening. The problem is made worse by the fact that the thermostats are deeper inside the building and so the space gets really hot during the day and suddenly, after sunset, it becomes very cold.
Good desert architecture should be able to reduce the daily heat gain inside a building to a comfortable level with as little mechanical cooling as possible. We can do this by respecting the sun. Another way to do this in residential architecture is to have as much shading as possible and to use materials that are natural insulators and reflect a lot of the heat. Most of the heat is gained through the roof, so having a well insulated roof that is white and reflective will help out a lot. Another idea is to build underground. This takes advantage of the insulating effect of the ground that will surround the building, like a blanket. It will make it cooler during the summer, and warmer in winter.
That’s why I believe a sunken, courtyard house design is the most practical residential model for Kuwait; both in terms of the environmental aspect as well as the cultural advantage of having absolute privacy. An inward looking house would allow you to have as big an opening as you want without having to worry about people looking into your house.