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.
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.
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!