There is a disconnect between Kuwait City’s history and the current spatial reality, but moving forward, the city can reshape itself to better mirror the identity of its people. Here is the story as per the AGSIW of 22 February 2022.
Building a New Urban Identity: Revitalizing Kuwait City
Kuwait City was ahead of other cities in the region in its urban modernization and the growth of its built environment. However, it is now not only racing to catch up with more rapidly modernizing cities, such as Dubai and Riyadh, but is at risk of being left behind.
The city has much potential still unfulfilled, with a plethora of obsolete buildings, unmaintained and decaying structures, and unwelcoming urban spaces. The city’s current state has been shaped by socioeconomic and political factors under the influence of what historians of urban development refer to as post-colonial urbanism. This influence has caused a confusion in the city’s architectural and urban identity. This confusion in identity, in turn, has impacted the city’s development and spatial reality, which has implications for the modern urban experience and longer-term sustainability.
Colonialism in Urban Development
Kuwait was never a colony, though it was a British protectorate from 1899-1961. The British exercised outsized influence and some colonialist accents seeped into Kuwait’s urban development. Kuwait City, in its modern phase, was established after the discovery of oil in the country in 1938, when Kuwaiti officials wanted the urban landscape to reflect the country’s new economic status. The British, along with local merchants and officials, strongly advocated for the demolition of Kuwait’s Old Town in favor of a new Kuwait City.
The native architectural and urban identity of Kuwait’s Old Town was shaped by then-dominant cultural, economic, and environmental conditions. This legacy landscape was then completely repurposed, and a new spatial reality was created, permanently altering the way of life of the Kuwaiti community. The spaces that once served as residential neighborhoods, communal gathering spots, vibrant marketplaces, and political diwaniyas turned into construction sites and were repurposed to fit the new narrative: the modern Arab city.
This globalization and disruption of the spatial heterogeneousness of the Old Town catapulted a small port town into a business metropolis irrespective of its previously diverse and rich cultural identity, all in the name of the Western concept of modernization and progress.
The new city was built rapidly and densely to showcase itself as bold and independent, a version of the “Pearl of the Gulf” emerging, though it never did truly emerge in the eyes of some experts, such as Saba Shiber, an urban planner who worked at the Ministry of Public Works during the process. In reaction to what he viewed as flawed but damaging aspirations, he warned against rapid urban development, fearing it would end up sacrificing the charm of the Old Town and create urban anarchy in its place. He stated that, “Never in the history of mankind has a more costly, more anti-organic urban complex been created with such speed. We try to escape the blazing fires of engineering and architecture, but they are so many and so possessed with momentum, they keep rearing their ugly heads everywhere.” By June 1960, Shiber felt things had gotten so bad that, in his view, “certain urban suicide was at least incipient in the old city.”
When examining Kuwait City now, there is a disconnect between its history and the current spatial reality. There is little to no cultural or historical significance associated with the city’s urban spaces and buildings, having been designed for the most part by foreign architects and urban planners who had little understanding of the local sociocultural context. While this may not be an issue in terms of functionality, it is an issue in terms of identity – urban morphology, the study of urban form, has identified a complicated but powerful relationship between cultural identity and the built environment. For these experts, a city that is designed by those who view it from the outside in, experiencing it while being detached from it, will end up privileging mono-functional urban spaces that are devoid of the true spirit of a city: its people. Asseel Al-Ragam, an associate professor at the College of Architecture at Kuwait University, explained that this disconnect was because, to these foreign designers, Kuwait City was a testing grounds, an experiment in architecture and urban planning, and an opportunity to create a new urban experience.
The Sour Legacy of Urban Planning
Kuwaitis who were born in the 1990s or early 2000s have no collective memories associated with Kuwait City’s commercial buildings. Many have little sentimental attachment to the city. Young Kuwaitis who live in outlying areas tend not to visit it often due to a lack of accessible and efficient public transportation. There is also little incentive to visit the city, because there are limited tourist attractions and leisure activities. The activities that are available are not equally accessible and affordable for all members of society.
Previous generations of Kuwaitis share some fond memories of popular recreational destinations of the 1980s and ‘90s, such as the shopping center Al-Muthanna Complex. Many of these buildings have become obsolete or abandoned, like Al-Muthanna Complex, and some demolished like Al-Sawaber Complex. Regardless of the hold such memories exert, it is unsustainable to rely on nostalgia alone to provide purpose and meaning to architecture and urban space.
Regarding deficiencies, the city lacks spaces that offer scenic views, provoke a deep sense of community, or connect people to their heritage and each other. Instead, a common sight in Kuwait City is empty land plots – some have been repurposed as parking lots and others have become unsightly pits for waste and debris. Another element the city lacks is green spaces and vegetation; this affects both the aesthetic appeal of the city and its sustainability. The city’s barren brown landscape and impermeable infrastructure make it inhospitable and very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
There are some exceptions, such Souq Al-Mubarakiya, one of the oldest souqs in Kuwait, which was left undisturbed by development plans. Also, a project that sparks hope is Al-Shaheed Park, which was built in 2015. It is the largest urban park in Kuwait, and it provides a green space for people to exercise, connect with nature, and learn about historical events. It serves as a good example of an urban space that aims to honor the past (the park name is an ode to the martyrs of Kuwait) and provide a biodiverse and walkable space for new generations. Another positive phenomenon is the refurbishment of spaces in Kuwait City by small businesses, such as cafes, restaurants, and co-working spaces, owned by young Kuwaitis. This improves urban vibrancy and social connectivity and gives the local population a chance to reclaim the city.
A City for the Next Generation
Ragam has argued that, “The historical layers of a city should co-exist together, to be read by different generations.” However, when there is little to read into, there is little that binds residents together. Experts question whether Kuwait City’s current trajectory, on a path without a sense of history, is sustainable, in social, economic, and environmental terms. It also prompts the question of how the city – in terms of a shared sense of heritage – is going to be “passed on” to the next generation.
The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book “The Right to the City” observed that it is often the very people who live and labor in the city who are excluded from shaping it. In the case of Kuwait City, there is an argument to be made that, in Lefebvre’s terms, that “right” to the city was taken from the people of the Old Town and handed over to foreign designers and architects. Bader Bosakher, a senior architect in the Ministry of Public Works’ Department of Architecture, explained that most buildings in Kuwait commissioned by the Ministry of Public Works have been passed on to local design firms. These firms are staffed primarily by foreign designers and the buildings are designed with the aim of pleasing the end user or stakeholder; consideration of local architectural identity is not generally prioritized. Therefore, the architecture and design of urban spaces in Kuwait City continue to neglect local social, environmental, and cultural needs.
Preservation and Sustainable Planning
For people to be able to connect with Kuwait City, and find meaning where architecture and urban space has failed to provide it, a new context and meaning need to be created, through repurposing and sustainable planning. Preservation rather than demolition of the current architecture is a more viable option both economically and environmentally. Repurposing Kuwait City’s neglected buildings and retrofitting them could help revitalize the city. It could also incentivize investment and reduce demolition and the carbon emissions that result from new construction.
Kuwait, with its complex sociopolitical landscape, has a young population that embraces change, while it is also eager for tradition, in the form of a resurgence of the “Pearl of the Gulf.” The expertise of young Kuwaiti architects and urban planners can be enlisted to ensure that the city is continuously being developed and reshaped to accommodate the everchanging sociocultural landscape. One way to encourage this process is for government agencies that play a role in municipal development or architecture in Kuwait City to incorporate smart and sustainable urban planning, prioritizing people and considering social and environmental conditions. Moving forward, Kuwait City has the opportunity to reshape itself to better mirror the identity of its people, to prove that, as the architect and academic Roberto Fabbri put it, the “original sin” of demolishing the Old Town never needed to be committed. It isn’t necessary to erase the past to make room for the future – a sustainable future is built through preserving the present and improving upon it.
Modern Diplomacy advises that in Iraq: an Urgent Call for Education Reforms to Ensure Learning for All Children is nowadays a requirement that is not only to prepare people for life, with all knowledge and skills to contribute to a thriving society. It is to be noted that Iraq historically witnessed writing in its earliest form as a means of communication and education, etc.
Learning levels in Iraq are among the lowest in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region and are likely to decline even further because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on education service delivery, including prolonged school closures.
These low learning levels are putting the future of Iraqi children and the country at risk. A new World Bank report says that while, now more than ever, investments are needed in education to recover lost learning and turn crisis into opportunity, these investments must be accompanied by a comprehensive reform agenda that focuses the system on learning outcomes and builds a more resilient education system for all children.
Human capital is essential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth. However, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), a child born in Iraq today will reach, on average, only 41% of their potential productivity when they grow up.
At the heart of Iraq’s human capital crisis is a learning crisis, with far-reaching implications. Iraq’s poor performance on the HCI is largely attributed to its low learning levels. COVID-19 has led to intermittent school closures across Iraq, impacting more than 11 million Iraqi students since February 2020. This report highlights that, with schools closed over 75% of the time and opportunities for remote learning limited and unequal, Iraqi children are facing another reduction of learning‑adjusted years of schooling. Effectively, students in Iraq are facing more than a “lost year” of learning.
“Iraq can use lessons learned from the current health crisis, turn recovery into opportunity, and “build forward better,” to ensure it provides learning opportunities for all Iraqi children especially its poorest and most vulnerable children” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank is ready to support Iraq in building a more equitable and resilient post-COVID-19 education system that ensures learning for all children and generates the dividends for faster and more inclusive growth”.
The report Building Forward Better to Ensure Learning for All Children in Iraq: An Education Reform Path puts forward for discussion sector-wide reform recommendations, focusing on immediate crisis response as well as medium and long-term needs across six key strategic areas:
1. Engaging in an Emergency Crisis response through the mitigation of immediate learning loss and prevention of further dropouts.
2. Improving foundational skills to set a trajectory for learning through improved learning & teaching materials and strengthened teacher practices with a focus on learning for all children.
3. Focusing on the most urgently needed investments, while ensuring better utilization of resources.
4. Improving the governance of the education sector and promoting evidence‑based decision‑making.
5. Developing and implementing an education sector strategy that focuses on learning and “building forward better”.
6. Aligning skills with labor market needs through targeted programs and reforms.
Dezeen reports that in the United Kingdom architectural professions top the list of all elite occupations. For millennia, humans make and build the most things in the world, but also contaminate it the most, as it is getting more and more obvious these latter days. Would this impact this article’s assertion if generalised to the rest of the world, mean that those privileged society elites are responsible for what we got now?
This means architectural careers such as architects, town planning officers and technicians rank as number one in the study’s list of the 25 most elite occupations in the UK.
The report also found that class-based exclusion is more prominent in the creative industries than in other sectors of the economy, with other creative occupations ranking in the top 25 including artists, journalists and musicians.
Architecture sector “dominated by the privileged”
“Creative occupations such as architects; journalists and editors; musicians; artists; and producers and directors are, in fact, as dominated by the privileged as doctors, dentists, lawyers and judges,” the report states.
“They are even more elite than management consultants and stockbrokers.”
The report also found that in 2020, those from privileged backgrounds were twice as likely to be employed in the creative industries as those from working-class backgrounds (9.8 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively.)
The Social Mobility in the Creative Economy report was carried out by Heather Carey, Dave O’Brien and Olivia Gable as part of a three-year programme led by the Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) exploring class in the creative industries.
In the report, privilege is defined as people who had at least one parent who worked in a “higher or lower managerial, administrative or professional occupation” when they were 14 years old.
This references the National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC), which clusters various occupations together into eight groups. The report considers those who belong to groups I or II, which includes doctors, CEOs and lawyers, to be privileged.
One in four creative roles filled by working class people
The report also states that in 2020 just one in four people working in the creative industries sector were from lower socio-economic backgrounds and this has remained largely unchanged since 2014.
This means that the UK’s creative industries would need to employ 250,000 more working-class people to become as socio-economically diverse as the rest of the economy.
“To put this figure in perspective, this deficit is greater in scale than the size of the creative workforce in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined,” the report states.
As such, the authors of the report have also called on the government and industry to adopt a 10-point plan to establish a socially inclusive creative economy.
Recommendations include prioritising creating fair foundations for success and widening access to higher education, eliminating unpaid internships and accelerating the progression of diverse talent.
EGYPTIAN STREETS in its ARTS & CULTURE posted a commemorative article on how Hassan Fathy, the Egyptian ‘Architect of the Poor’ developed against the then ongoing trends of modernism. Did he contribute in his own specific way to the birth of the Post-Modern movement? One wonders but lets us first have a look at this story.
“[Some] saw him as a lonely guru, reminiscent of Old Testament prophets, promising that the world would reap misery for not listening to the truth of his message.”
These words, written in a study dedicated to Hassan Fathy’s legacy, paint a mysterious picture of the life and work of the controversial, yet highly celebrated, Egyptian architect. But who was he, and what makes him stand out until today as one of the most unique, timeless, and internationally recognized Egyptian architects of all time?
Born in 1900 in Alexandria to an upper-middle class family, one notable peculiarity in Fathy’s six-decade career is that much of his work – including New Gourna, the village that became his best-known project – was neither urban nor for the well-to-do.
Located in Luxor, New Gourna was a prime example of the philosophy ingrained in Fathy’s designs. Architecture, he believed, was for human beings. At the core of his concepts were the needs of those who would use his buildings. In the case of New Gourna and many of his other projects, those who used his buildings were Egypt’s rural poor, whom he centred in most of his work.
“We need a system that allows the traditional way of cooperation to work in our society. We must subject technology and science to the economy of the poor and penniless,” said Fathy, who became known as ‘the architect of the poor’.
His work also rejected many elements of internationalist modernism and embraced traditional styles, approaches, and materials, believing that they were best suited for the environment. He valued indigenous insights on architecture and believed that they were there for a reason; a direct result of indigenous needs.
While building New Gourna, for example, he championed cultural authenticity by using mud bricks as his main building material and designing domed ceilings as is common in Upper Egypt.
Fathy, whose work focused on developing countries, the Arab and Muslim world, and particularly Egypt, believed that straying too far from traditional concepts and instead opting for culturally alien designs and materials, would with time encroach on the indigenous cultural identity.
These beliefs marginalised Fathy for some time within the Egyptian community of architects, which initially did not fully accept his rejection of modernism, but Fathy was immovable. Eventually, still within his lifetime, he was vindicated.
Gradually, more and more people in Egypt and the rest of the world began to see that what he was proposing was a different, more locally-centred form of modernism, which is far more sustainable and likely to preserve unique cultural identities.
Fathy was honoured many times for his work and architectural philosophy, receiving awards such as the first Aga Khan Chairman’s Award ever given, as well as the Right Livelihood Award in the first year of its inception, both in 1980. His book, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt, in which he evaluates and discusses his project at New Gourna years after it was built, has become a staple for architecture students around the world.
Today, over three decades after Fathy’s death, his ideas are still proving to be relevant and insightful, perhaps even more than in his own day: for all the excitement about Egypt’s current construction boom, with developments in new urban centers such as the New Administrative Capital or New Alamein City, some are voicing concerns very similar to the core of Fathy’s message of humanism, cultural authenticity, and sustainability.
With expensive, modernist designs that do not tie in local designs or materials, Fathy’s words from 1969 are recalled:
“In modern Egypt, there is no indigenous style. The signature is missing; the houses of rich and poor alike are without character, without an Egyptian accent,” he writes in his book Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt. “The tradition is lost, and we have been cut off from our past ever since Mohammed Ali cut the throat of the last Mamluk.
This article republished from The Conversation is about Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids that risk being buried by shifting sand dunes and take with them all related history.
Rampant desertification expansion towards the north does not meet any counter-movement. But, conversely, in the south, one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way. To combat sand movement and desertification by increasing the vegetation cover along the southern edge of the Saharan desert, a Green Wall is proposed. It is being implemented throughout the continent from ocean to ocean. In the southern edge of the MENA region, we sadly do not share the same concern and do not consecrate to date more than little attention paid to it. Is it the force of habit or what else?
Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried by shifting sand dunes
The word “pyramid” is synonymous with Egypt, but it is actually neighbouring Sudan that is home to the world’s largest collection of these spectacular ancient structures.
Beginning around 2500BC, Sudan’s ancient Nubian civilisation left behind more than 200 pyramids that rise out of the desert across three archaeological sites: El Kurru, Jebel Barkal and Meroe, in addition to temples, tombs and royal burial chambers.
Despite being smaller than the famous Egyptian pyramids of Giza, Nubian pyramids are just as magnificent and culturally valuable. They even offer a crowd-free experience for intrepid tourists.
Built of sandstone and granite, the steeply-sloping pyramids contain chapels and burial chambers decorated with illustrations and inscriptions carved in hieroglyphs and Meroitic script celebrating the rulers’ lives in Meroe – a wealthy Nile city and the seat of power of Kush, an ancient kingdom and rival to Egypt.
Located about 220km north of the capital Khartoum, the cultural gem of Meroe is now one of Sudan’s most significant Unesco world heritage sites. However a lack of preservation, severe weather conditions and negligent visitors have all taken their toll on its monuments. Back in the 1880s, for instance, the Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several pyramids in his search for Kushite treasure, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops. Many more of Sudan’s other pyramids were subsequently plundered and destroyed by looters.
These days sandstorms and shifting sand dunes pose the biggest threat to Sudan’s ancient heritage sites. This phenomenon is nothing new, and was even chronicled thousands of years ago. An inscription found in a temple from the 5th century BC describes a Kushite king giving an order to clear out sand from the pathway:
His Majesty brought a multitude of hands, to wit, men and women as well as royal children and chiefs to carry away the sand; and his Majesty was carrying away sand with his hand(s) himself, at the forefront of the multitude for many days.
But today the threat has been exacerbated by climate change, which has made the land more arid and sandstorms more frequent. Moving sands can engulf entire houses in rural Sudan, and cover fields, irrigation canals and riverbanks.
The best way to combat sand movement and desertification is to increase the vegetation cover, and one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.
Bringing together more than 20 nations, the Great Green Wall is a multi-billion dollar movement to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert by restoring 100 million hectares of land across the continent from Senegal in west Africa to Djibouti in the east. The intention is to cultivate the largest living barrier of trees and plants on the planet, with Sudan having the longest stretch of the “wall”.
Only 4% of the target area has been covered so far, with big variations from country to country. When it is more complete, this experimental project will hopefully limit the frequency of dust storms and slow the movement of sand onto fertile lands and Unesco sites in northern Sudan. It will also contribute to tackling the extreme heatwaves in semi-arid areas such as the capital Khartoum, where the temperature goes well above 40°C during summer.
However, monitoring the impact of the project, which spans 5,000 miles across Africa, requires “big picture” data. This comes from the latest satellites and remote sensing technologies.
Satellite imagery can provide valuable information about sand movement. For instance satellites are used to monitor the dust storms that transport sand from the Sahara across the Atlantic Ocean to supply the Amazon rainforest with essential fertilising nutrients.
But what about on a smaller scale? How do you predict if and when sand will submerge a field, a watering hole – or a pyramid?
In my own research I have previously used multiple overlapping images taken from aeroplanes to generate digital elevation models for sand dunes in northern Sudan. That led to my current PhD research which focuses on monitoring the movement of sand dunes using satellite optical and radar images, airborne laser imagery and other techniques. My research also investigates the influence of factors such as wind speed and direction, presence of vegetation and topography.
Colleagues and I ultimately want to develop our understanding of how sand dunes grow in size and how they migrate across the desert. This will enable us to monitor the effectiveness of interventions such as vegetation barriers, helping to combat desertification and climate change and to ensure people in Sudan are able to grow enough food. And we may even be able to predict when and where those pyramids will be buried – and what we can do to prevent it.
Originally posted on HUMAN WRONGS WATCH: Human Wrongs Watch (UN News)* — Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday [2 May 2023], calling for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news. UN Photo/Mark Garten | File photo…
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