Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (3)

I am quoting so much from Saleh Abdulghani Al-Mutawa. Architect, that you may think you don’t need to run out and buy the book but I assure you, I am only sharing with you a few of the gems I found within. The author has done so much research with such loving attention that the book is full of treasure, every page offers something worthy.

The Year of Demolish
It is a sad memorial in Kuwait’s history. In Rajab 1289 A.H. (i.e. in the middle of the nineteenth century), heavy rains accompanied by severe winds hit the old Kuwait city, and demolished most of the mud houses. Sea waves went high and hit and wrecked ships. It was a disaster for Kuwaitis.

A second natural disaster took place in Kuwait on 30 November 1954 when heavy rains fell and demolished houses and forced 18,000 Kuwaitis to seek refuge in newly built schools. Houses built of mud and a little cement were severely affected, while houses built of rock were not affected.

My Kuwait friends – tonight, instead of going out in your cars, stay home! Sit with your grandparents and ask them about the house they grew up in. Ask them about the meals they cooked. Ask them about the heavy rains, so heavy that they could destroy houses and force 18,000 Kuwaitis to abandon their homes and go stay in schools. These are amazing stories – learn your stories from your grandparents . . . and then come tell us all the stories in your own blogs. If you don’t have a blog, or if you want to share here, you are welcome.

Some of my Kuwait friends ask why I care more about these things than the Kuwaitis. First – my Kuwaiti friends care. In my country, we call these people “the silent majority.” Every now and then the majority energizes and asserts itself. Kuwaitis care. Change is happening, it happens slowly. Keep the faith.

Second – I live here. I may not be Kuwaiti, but I care about the places where I live. If God has placed me here, I trust that he has his reasons, and it is my obligation to him to learn as much as I can and to serve – wherever he may place me. He placed me in Kuwait.

Tomorrow I will print my very favorite part of this book – where it describes family living. Meanwhile, run out and buy your own copy. There is so much I am not covering. This book is a part of your heritage.

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February 26, 2008 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Books, Building, Community, Cultural, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Weather | , , | 7 Comments

History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (2)

I love this book. It is such a treasure. For those of you who have ever wondered about the construction of old Gulf dwellings, this book is a MUST have – so much detail, so much to help us understand what we are seeing.

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More from author Saleh Abdulghani Al-Mutawa, Architect:

House design and location specified unity existing in the Kuwaiti society. In old times, the poor livednear the rich, where no differences between them. The only difference was that the houses of the rich were vast. Ordinary Kuwaiti house, occupied by the majority of Kuwaitis, consisted of a vast courtyard, surrounded by many rooms, and a hallway secured privacy to the family by separating the house from the street. In that architectural design, the courtyard ventilated the house to find it cool at night and after sunset. This was due to the exchange of radiation between the floor of the courtyard and the outer space. At night the house became cool and sleep was comfortable. During summer, the majority of Kuwaitis prefer to sleep in the courtyard or on the roof. Usually, there is a room on the roof used to store mattresses in or sometimes for napping. A small bath is usually located beside that room. . .

Walls were built of rock and mud, and decorated internally with white gypsum. Ceilings consisted of rows of jandal (trunks), basajeel (bamboo) and manqour (straw mats), covered with a 30cm or a 40cm layer of mud. In winter, when rain was heavy, that layer should be attended to and maintained by adding more mud. Houses of the rich used gypsum for protection. When wood was used in fixing the ceilings, thejandal was only 4 m long, and for the wide rooms they used square pieces of wood of 6m. The floor was covered with mud, then with tiles which was imported from neighboring countries. To let the water flow from the roofs, they used the wooded marazims (gutters) which extended from the roofs to the outside. In the houses there were wells for supplying the underground water, and there were pools to store water in.

As regards the houses of the rich, they were divided into a number of courtyards, each serving a certain purpose. There was a courtyard used to include a Diwaniya for male guests, consisting of a large room annexed with other buildings needed to accomodate the servants or for other purposes.

The other courtyard was located for family female members, including a number of rooms and bathrooms. A third courtyard was used as a kitchen, including the kitchen, storage room for fuel and a store room for the different kinds of food. There were more courtyards for the animals: goats, cows, horses. Kuwaiti houses also had a “baqadeer” (wind tower) which was a natural air-conditioner, not one Kuwaiti house was without it.

February 26, 2008 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Books, Building, Community, Cooking, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Weather, Women's Issues | 1 Comment

History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City

When I came to live in Kuwait, my resourceful niece, Little Diamond went online and found all kinds of fabulous books about Kuwait, books you can’t find in Kuwait. Five interesting books, mostly about an earlier era in Kuwait, when my Kuwaiti friends tell me it was still one community.

“It was like paradise” they say, and they sigh.

I found another book recently, a book I have never seen before, although it was published in 1994, so it is not old. It is The History of Architecture in Old Kuwait City (and the influence of it’s elements on the Architect) by Saleh Abdulghani Al-Mutawa.
Although I intend to give this book as a gift to a friend, I couldn’t resist taking a peek inside, first. Should have resisted – I ended up reading the whole book.

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This man loves architectural details the way I do, but he has studied them, and he is on a mission to bring back elements of uniquely Gulf architecture to the Gulf. One reason I love this book is that I know the buildings he has designed; I had a friend who lives in one, and we all marveled at it’s architectural elements.

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I particularly love the wind towers.

I lived in Jordan for two years with no air conditioning. I don’t know why, but we didn’t miss it. We had our windows open all night and early mornings, we had rolled down shutters to keep the harsh sunlight out and we had ceiling fans – we managed.

Life would be different without A/C; life styles would change, but it would be manageable.

I want to quote from this book for you. Kuwaiti readers, you probably know all these things, but my readers in other parts of the world – like me – may find this fascinating.

Architecture and Building Materials in Old Kuwait City
Building materials were taken from materials available in nature: sea rock, mud, limestone and gypsum. As old Kuwait’s economy depended on the two journeys for diving and travel to Africa and India, Kuwaitis imported teakwood from India, and jandal (trunk) and basajeel (bamboo) from Africa (Mombassa – Kenya). These completed the elements of the construction. The shape of the old Kuwaiti architecture came to suit the environment and circumstances. Houses were adjacent in a manner that indicated the unity and cooperation of the people. Streets were narrow in such a way that the sun did not fall on the full street, and that made the streets cool and shaded. Mosques were the places for prayers, where they pray five times a day, were near the houses. There was a mosque in each district to enable the elders from walking to it without trouble. Kuwaitis care much for their religion.

Construction depended on Kuwaitis themselves. The engineer, called “ustad’ at that time, supervised the building and the laborers of Kuwaitis prepared for it. They carried rocks, prepared mud bricks, and started building.

Kuwait city was spontaneously and simply divided. In this it is similar to many old world cities, like London. There were three districts: Sharq (east), where the sun rises, Qibla, where the sun sets, and Wosta, which lies between them. The three districts were surrounded by their fence which the Kuwaitis built to defend their city.

By jandal, the author means trunks of trees, which you will see incorporated in the illustration above, painted black. When he talks about the fence around old Kuwait, he is talking about the wall which once existed. You can still find the (re-creations) of the gates to the city, except we can’t fine the one that is supposed to be around B’naid al Gar.

More to follow!

February 26, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Books, Community, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Photos | 11 Comments

National Day Crazies

How was I to know?

Where was I last year on Liberation Day?

Yesterday, I was finishing up a project around 6 and heading to my next appointment when I turned onto Gulf road. Big mistake. I should have taken my clue from the barriers guarding entry to the left on Gulf road, but as I was turning right, I didn’t give it more than a second thought.

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Big mistake. Suddenly I am caught in semi-gridlock, and the worst kind, gridlock with gangs of adolescents wandering the sidewalks on both sides of the car, gridlock with main routes being barred, gridlock with people in adjacent cars spraying each other with high arching streams of foam – it’s like suddenly being in the middle of a nightmare.

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Except this is a very contained nightmare. These people are having a lot of fun. Although we are inching along, children are hanging out of windows, I suddenly realize – yes, their parents know where they are – their parents are driving.

No one sprays foam at me. There seem to be rules; the only spray I see exchanged is between people foaming at each other; they leave me alone. As we inch along, horns start the beep-beep beep-beep-beep of weddings and soccer cup wins,
and people seem to be relaxed, not anxious, not speeding and aggressive. Although it takes me about half an hour to make my turn on to the expressway (the turn lane is blocked by celebrants) I eventually get through.

Later, I get a desperate call from AdventureMan.

“The roads are blocked! I can’t get through! I have to get over to the right turn lane and I don’t think I can get through all these cars! It’s gridlock!”

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He is in a different part of the city, but same problem.

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Where were we last year on National Day/Liberation Day? We don’t remember the traffic being so heavy, so gridlocked! And at the same time, it is fun seeing everyone having such a great time.

February 26, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, Holiday, Living Conditions | 9 Comments

Liberation Day Sunrise

It is already 61°F / 16°C at 0800 in the morning – looks like another fabulous February spring day ahead . . . but maybe a little grey. It was grey at sunrise, grey an hour later, and grey even now. Do you think it might burn off?

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February 26, 2008 Posted by | ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Lumix, sunrise series, Weather | 2 Comments