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A Lesson In History

A Lesson In History

One thing I always notice after a prolonged period of absence from Kuwait is its ever changing skyline. Whether it’s an architectural masterpiece, a sky high apartment block, or simply just another shopping mall, Kuwait’s footprint is constantly evolving. But what about the old buildings that are being destroyed in order to make way for these new, modern structures?

Compared to other countries, Kuwait doesn’t have much when it comes to historical places of interest. Many were tragically destroyed during the Iraqi invasion/occupation; as we all know, it’s not just people that are casualties of war. Thankfully, those that do remain are rich in cultural and historical significance – Sadhu House and Dickson House to name just two. So with so little history to boast, is it right to tear down old buildings without a second thought?

The so-called ‘bachelor pads’ in Kuwait, currently home to thousands of male immigrants, may not look particularly attractive but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be destroyed. These buildings represent an important part of the country’s history, as well as a period of influential architecture in the Middle East. Imagine the fascination each domicile will hold for future generations. Think of the stories their very existence will tell our children and grandchildren, not to mention the historians looking into Kuwait’s past a hundred years from now. The jumble of dwellings would make an ideal museum and with photographs displayed to show the lives of previous habitants, it would also make an excellent history lesson.

Of course, some may have to be demolished for health and safety reasons – it’s a miracle their balconies haven’t collapsed under the weight of goods piled onto them – but others can surely be saved, repaired, cleaned and maintained in order to keep alive a vital part of Kuwait’s history. Photographs can only tell part of the story. To actually see these dwellings and imagine what life was like for those who lived there is something that can only be experienced firsthand. To walk between the labyrinth of rooms, visualise the previous occupants and touch the very fabric of the past, is a lesson so valuable it should be learned by all.

I’m all for progress and evolution but let’s not forget our history and those who have contributed towards making Kuwait the wonderful place it is today. Many of those who live in the run-down, overcrowded housing that blots our landscape, are the ones who helped to build the shiny, new structures that replace them. By all means make arrangements to re-house them but don’t pretend their hardship and impoverishment didn’t exist. Do we not owe it to them to remember the part they played, not just in Kuwait’s future, but in its past?

The Sawaber Complex in Kuwait City is a perfect example of the State’s architectural history. Much controversy surrounds this distinctive landmark with many in favour of seeing the so-called eye-sore demolished. But as one of the first high-density residential complexes to be built in Kuwait, surely it’s in everyone’s interest to retain it. Not only is it unique, it’s also iconic and buildings such as this should be restored rather than removed.

These days, architects are skilled in renovation as well as construction so why not convert the complex into modern, contemporary living accommodation? I’ve seen a prison converted into a boutique hotel, a fire station transformed into a nightclub, and a church remodelled to become a luxury spa. The Sawaber Complex is located on prime land close to Kuwait’s Financial District and could potentially demand significant rental income. Imagine the attraction of a redesigned, exclusive apartment in the heart of Kuwait City. Anything is possible so why not use today’s knowledge to protect yesterday’s ideas? After all, a country rich in history is a rich country indeed.

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