Bling bling architecture: Iconic buildings to remake Kuwait
August 31, 2007
KUWAIT: The Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the Flatiron Building, London Bridge and Big Ben, Malaysia's Petronas Towers and the Bilbao Guggenheim all share one thing in common. They are among the world's most iconic architectural wonders.
The Kuwait Towers is the country's current icon of record. But while it might be recognized by people who live in the region, it doesn't enjoy global status like the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House.
Architecturally speaking, the most recognized and awe-inspiring of icons in the Middle East is the recently built Burj Al-Arab in Dubai. Among the elite globally-recognized icons, the Burj Al-Arab is not only the tallest hotel in the world but a symbol of Dubai's modernity, extravagance and extraordinary development.
Its architects have now set their sights on Kuwait. The global design and consultancy firm Atkins has put together concept designs for four new buildings in Kuwait. Each suggest an attempt at the iconic. From a slim-line high rise office building that seems to sway in the breeze to a hotel, commercial building resembling a king cobra, the structures - if built - would add a touch of the extraordinary and the fantastic to the skyline of Kuwait.
What Kuwait needs is an icon that will put it on the global map, or so says Neville Purchase, General Manager for Atkins Middle East. He argues that Kuwait needs a building "that can be put on your number plate. A job that's worthy of national recognition. This needs to be something that people accept as an icon for their country.
Toward that end, Atkins has opened a branch office in Kuwait. At least two of the four buildings it has designed for Kuwaiti clients are now before the Municipality, awaiting approval.
But designing and building an icon is no easy matter. Kuwait's sky high land prices, height and building restrictions and labyrinth bureaucracy can force the price of even a normal building into the multiple millions of dinars.
The building is sometimes only a third of the total investment cost, two thirds of the investment cost is the land," notes Purchase. "Kuwait is sort of a blank canvas," says Atkins' principal architect Nicolas Bailey, who hopes to fill in the empty space with iconic buildings of his own design.
Atkins has done work in Kuwait on and off since 1977, but mostly on the Ring Road system and Al-Qurain. The firm only recently gained commercial registration, allowing it to open a branch in the country.
We're the first international consultant to apply for commercial registration in Kuwait. There is no one else with a front door office in Kuwait," says Purchase.
Only now ready to tackle the private sector building market in Kuwait, Atkins is a long time player in Dubai. Along with the iconic Burj Al-Arab, Atkins has been involved in dozens of private and public sector projects in Dubai.
Dubai is becoming a little bit predictable but Kuwait is a quite interesting an opportunity," points out Bailey. "This is certainly an exciting time for Kuwait," he says.
Charles Jencks, architect and author of The Iconic Building, has criticized the popularity of modern icon landmark buildings. He suggests that iconic landmarks should serve not only as functional buildings but also as important metaphors that symbolize an idea or value of the city in which it's built.
The Burj Al-Arab is a case in point. The tallest hotel in the world, built on its own island in the Gulf just off the coast of Dubai, it symbolizes the emirate's modernity and ability to achieve what seems impossible - to turn a tiny, impoverished emirate into the region's financial and business hub, for example.
Would a cobra personify and symbolize Kuwait? Will it be what some have labeled 'bling bling architecture'? Or will the building of iconic buildings in Kuwait serve to spur development and growth and give Kuwait an identity recognized and respected by the rest of the globe?