Since the commercial discovery of oil in 1938 to the 1946-82 modernisation push, and the now-defunct Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash’s in the 1980s to Kuwait’s annexation by Saddam Hussain-led Iraq in 1990, the people of this GCC state have shared a rich history since Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah became Emir of Kuwait on 25 February, 1961 – and the architecture and construction of Kuwait City and its neighbours are the shared languages through which this rich heritage is conveyed.
With a land area of 17.818km2 according to CIA Factbook, Kuwait, which is roughly the size of New Jersey, US, has overcome challenges to become the economic success it is today. Its strategic location at the northern tip of the Arabian Gulf has certainly helped to spur growth in Kuwait, one of the founding members of Opec. However, as the following article will show, its steadfast commitment in areas such as tourism, urbanisation, and a diversified economy has ensured that Kuwait is a safe haven for investors in the years to come.
Kuwait's National and Liberation Days are being observed on 25 February
Construction contractors – both local, such as Kuwait Bruckner Construction & Contracting Co and Ahmadiah Contracting & Trading Co, and international, like India’s Larsen & Toubro, South Korea’s Hyundai E&C, and China State Construction Engineering Corporation – have played a significant role in the Arab country’s development over the years. On Kuwait’s 58th National Day and 28th Liberation Day, Construction Weekrounds up the top projects that have shaped the history of Kuwait in the last 60 years. Many of the projects listed here are modern and urban infrastructure schemes, covering sectors such as energy, healthcare, and transport. However, Kuwait’s socio-cultural history is also mapped by the projects on this list.
Kuwait’s most popular architecture, construction, real estate, and infrastructure projects and buildings as of February 2019 are:
- Kuwait Towers
- House of Mirrors
- Kuwait National Museum
- Al Seif Palace
- Liberation Tower
- Jahra Medical City
- Al Zour Refinery
- Kuwait Metro
- Sheikh Jaber Causeway
- Silk City
Please note that this list is not a ranking and is presented in order of building status.
The three slender and domed Kuwait Towers are to Kuwait what Burj Khalifa is to the UAE and Kingdom Tower is to Saudi Arabia. As Visit Kuwait explains, the project was conceptualised in 1962, less than a year after Kuwait gained independence and ceased being a British protectorate. According to Unesco, Kuwait Towers– also referred to as Abraj Al-Kuwait – are part of a 34-water tower scheme, which was commissioned by Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW) to Swedish architectural and engineering firm VBB (Vattenbyggnadsbyran AB). Sune Lindstrom worked as chief architect for the overall development, and due to their strategic location overlooking Kuwait Bay and the Arabian Gulf, were specially commissioned by Swedish architect Malene Bjorn. The latter architect was tasked with “the challenge of reconciling the water reservoir function with a pleasant design”.
The result of Bjorn’s work was the now-familiar cluster of three spiked towers, the tallest of which is 185m-high, and the shortest 100m tall. Describing the structures, Unesco adds: “The largest sphere [of the tallest tower is] divided into two halves – the lower half is a water reservoir of 4,500m3, while the upper half consists of an open-plan restaurant connected to other level by a smooth curved stairway that leads to a banquet hall with an interior garden. The second sphere, known as the viewing sphere with two interior levels, is mostly covered by aluminium trusses fitted with triangular glass pieces which allow a full view of the city, sea, and desert at 120m, with a 360° rotating platform.”
The second, 147m-tall tower features a single sphere that is designed to reserve water, whilst the smallest structure, “in the form of an elegant white needle”, is described by Unesco as being “purely sculptural” and comprising a “floodlight system that illuminates the other two towers”. The tip of each of the three towers is covered with stainless steel and lightning arresting-systems, and is evocative of minarets typically associated with mosques. Kuwait Towers’ three structures are constructed of pure white concrete, and their spheres are covered by 41,000-odd enamelled steel discs that are blue, green, and grey in colour. These discs clad the spheres like “mosaic Islamic patterns”, Unesco adds.
Bird's-eye view of Kuwait Towers [CW Archives].
Visit Kuwait reports that Belgrade contractor Union-Inzenjering built Kuwait Towers between 1975 and 1976, but much of the development was damaged during the Iraqi invasion, with extensive losses made to the towers’ electrical utilities and interior, with gunfire and shrapnel also impacting their exterior.
“The damage sustained to the Kuwait Towers, estimated to be 75%, was repaired throughout the balance of 1991 and well into 1992, and necessary technical as well as [leisure] facilities were restored to their original condition,” the website continues. “The refurbishment cost was an estimated $6.6m (KWD2m). On December 26th of 1992, it was an inspirational occasion for proud Kuwaiti citizens as the Kuwait Towers were officially reopened to the public by Nasser Al-Roudhan, Finance and Planning Minister at that time.”
Kuwait Towers were closed for maintenance in 2013, with deputy chairman of Touristic Enterprises Co, Khaled Al-Ghanim, denying rumours that the structures were “doomed to collapse”. Minor cracks were repaired during Kuwait Towers’ 2013 closure, and their interiors, glass, and air-conditioning systems were also fixed.
House of Mirrors
Kuwait’s House of Mirrors is a study in décor, with its extensive glass art making it an intriguing destination for residents and tourists alike. As Visit Kuwait explains, the private property features approximately 100 tonnes of white cement and 75 tonnes of mirror, the latter of which spangles the exterior and interior of the house.
From walls to furniture and floorboards, every aspect of House of Mirrors is covered with glass of varying colours and shapes. The home is also decked with art created and curated by Lidia Al-Qattan, the home’s owner.
“The mirrors are fixed onto the wall using white cement, white adhesive, and water,” Visit Kuwait explains. “The design and theme takes shape only after working on it. To avoid being hurt, each cut piece of mirror is filed.”
Kuwait National Museum
Designed by French architect Michel Ecochard, Kuwait National Museum’s design is representational of the modern-meets-heritage architectural style that Kuwait has come to embody. The museum comprises five buildings surrounding a central garden, evoking the traditional Arab mudhouse built around a central courtyard.
Among the artefacts on display in the museum are items from the Neolithic, bronze, and Hellenistic ages. While some of these were lost during the gulf War, the museum has since been restored and is open for public viewing. According to Visit Kuwait, the architectural plans of the museum were ready in the 1960s, and construction started in 1981. Two of its four buildings opened in February 1983, and in February 1986, Kuwait National Museum’s planetarium was opened for the nation. One of the four blocks comprises offices, admin wings, and a lecture hall.
The first building of Kuwait National Museum is dedicated to artefacts found on Falaika Island, located 20km from Kuwait city. Meanwhile, the museum’s Carl Zeiss-designed planetarium features a 15m horizontal dome that showcases a map of the sky and 28 phases of the moon, according to Visit Kuwait. In 2007, the dome was upgraded with Uniview to offer interactive voiceovers and 3D displays.
Al Seif Palace
An integral part of Kuwait’s social fabric, Al Seif Palace was built in 1896 by Sheikh Mubarak, and serves as a key venue for official gatherings and special events alike. According to Visit Kuwait, the 45ha building comprises an artificial lake, a landing field for helicopters, and a dock for yachts. In 1913, Seif Palace became Kuwait’s first building to have electricity, and was used in 1915 by Sheikh Mubarak to host guests such as the British Viceroy to India.
Al Seif Palace is covered with blue tiles and “a dome that is plated with pure gold”, according to Visit Kuwait. Among its construction materials were clay, metal, wood, limestone, and rocks collected from the nearby areas.
Commenting on Al Seif Palace, Visit Kuwait adds: “Dating back to 1880, the Seif Palace which was the original seat of the Government of Kuwait was severely damaged during Iraqi invasion. Iraqi troops plundered and damaged the palace buildings, then wrecked them with artillery shelling, gunfire, and firebombing.
“The government decided to refurbish the palace complex due to the historic importance of the buildings. The scope of the refurbishment work included introducing modern amenities in all the wings and renovating several buildings to create an art gallery, a museum, and office spaces. These renovations also required the construction of a new central plant for providing electrical and mechanical services to the entire complex.”
Al Seif Palace’s 16,000m2 expansion saw the addition of 10 buildings, and a refurbishment programme that included “extensive research” to ensure updates matched Al Seif Palace’s original building features.
A symbol of Kuwait’s freedom, the 372m-tall concrete-made Liberation Tower is a self-supported telecommunications tower in Kuwait City. Construction of Liberation Tower, according to Structurae, started in 1987, with the tower unveiled on 10 March, 1996 by the late Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
Liberation Tower is a symbol of Kuwait's freedom .
Structurae lists Ahmadiah Contracting & Trading Company as one of Liberation Tower’s construction contractors, adding that its building materials include prestressed concrete.
Liberation Tower marks Kuwait’s freedom from the seven months of Iraqi occupation during the Gulf War. The structure includes a restaurant at 150m, with its telecommunications complex divided into a public communications centre and a revolving observatory level as well. At least 18 elevators make up Liberation Tower, which features six office floors at the mezzanine level across a space of 12,000m2.
Jahra Medical City
Jahra Medical City was inaugurated in 2018 [CW Archives].
Kuwait’s brand-new Jahra Medical City was unveiled by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah after being completed “in record time” in July 2018. Worth $1.2bn (KWD364m), the development has a total construction area of 72.4ha, of which 23.5ha is covered by a plot of land donated by HH the Amir.
Overall, the complex includes four, 14-floor towers for patient rooms, and Kuwait’s largest maternity and gynaecology centre at 45,000m2, alongside an 18,000m2 emergency department. Also developed within Jahra Medical City are a 6,000m2 central laboratory, four robotic pharmacies, 115 dentistry clinics spanning 29,000m2, and 135 outpatient clinics, totalling 31,000m2, Kuna reported.
Following its inauguration, Jahra Medical City’s consultant, Pace, revealed that construction on the project began in March 2015, and was “fast-tracked to completion in a staggering three years”, according to HE the President of Financial and Administrative affairs in Amiri Diwan, Abdul Aziz Saud Ishaq.
Tarek Hamed Shuaib, chief executive officer of Pace, said at the time that the complex’s 44ha main hospital building rises 15 floors, and is among the most prominent features of Jahra Medical City. The complex’s façade has been designed using “sunlight breakers as shading to control Kuwait’s direct, harsh sunlight” from impacting the buildings. This approach, Shuaib explains, “will manage and balance the exact amount of natural light required inside the building”.
Al Zour Refinery
The new oil and gas refinery in Kuwait’s Al Zour is among the country’s most high-profile active engineering developments at the moment. In January 2019, Kuwait’s Ministry of Oil announced that Al-Zour Refinery is 76% complete, and on track to commence operations in 2020.
Government-held Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Co, also known as Kipic, is managing Al-Zour’s development, which includes the new oil refinery, a liquefied natural gas import terminal, and a petrochemical plant.
The petrochemical complex is at the front-end engineering design (Feed) stage, work on which will complete in 2019. Engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) work for the project is due to complete in Q3 2023, with an operational start-deadline of Q1 2024.
Kuwait Metro is a long-awaited rail scheme that, when it is complete, will span 111km across the GCC country. In November 2018, international advisors were being sought to work on Kuwait Metro’s design, according to the head of Public Authority for Roads and Transportation (Part), Ahmad Al-Hassan.
Al-Hassan, director-general of Part at the time, said work on Kuwait Metro would start after the government had approved a “special budget” that was required to hire the international company, adding that the finance ministry in Kuwait was collaborating with Part to remove “all obstacles surrounding the project”.
Phase 1 of Kuwait Metro’s design plan includes the construction of a link to Nuwaiseb on the Saudi Arabian border, and a 153km-long line linking Kuwait City with Boubyan Port, all at a cost of $3bn (KWD908.4m).
Sheikh Jaber Causeway
Kuwait's Sheikh Jaber Causeway will break world records [CW Archives].
Sheikh Jaber Causeway opening is one of Kuwait’s most-awaited events at the moment, and the project has seen the involvement of some of the world’s top construction companies over the years.
In January 2019, Korean contracting company Hyundai Engineering & Construction was reportedly due to complete Sheikh Jaber Causeway – of the world’s longest bridges – this year. The 48.53km Sheikh Jaber Causeway is designed to link Kuwait City with Subiyah New Town, cutting across Kuwait Bay, and includes a 36.1km main bridge, and a 12.43km land link. The causeway is 7km longer than Qingdao, China’s 41.58km Haiwan Bridge, according to Business Korea.
News of the causeway’s completion was reiterated in February 2019 by chairman of Kuwait’s Municipal Council, who said Sheikh Jaber Causeway – one of the world’s “most gigantic high-speed bridges” – was “almost complete” and would open soon. Eng Soha Ashkenani, acting director general of Part, said Sheikh Jaber Causeway in Kuwait is “the world’s fourth-longest bridge” and has been built using modern construction standards.
According to construction listings website ProTenders, as of 7 February, 2019, Sheikh Jaber Causeway is 97% complete. The construction companies involved with Kuwait’s Sheikh Jaber Causeway include Systra and Aecom as infrastructure consultants; Trevi as foundation and piling contractor; CGCC as infrastructure contractor; GS Engineering & Construction as MEP contractor; Kuwait Steel as steel contractor; Demag Cranes as cranes and hoists supplier; Gulf Dredging & General Contracting Co as specialised and civil contractor; Aconex as specialised consultant; and Ross & Baruzzini as information and communication technology and traffic consultant.
Silk City is an under-construction megaproject in Kuwait [CW Archives].
Spanning 250km2 in Subiya, Kuwait’s under-development Silk City is a multi-phased megaproject that is due to complete over a 25-year period. It will be linked to Kuwait City through the under-construction Sheikh Jaber Causeway, and feature four quarters, or ‘villages’, that will offer hotels, sports, medical, and environmental facilities.
Phase 1 of Silk City was recently revealed as including an international airport, a rail network, and a trade zone for Kuwait’s Mubarak Al-Kabeer Port. Phase 1 works have yet to commence, but plans also include the development of a logistics and industrial hub each, according to Kuna in February 2019.
Plans for Silk City were revealed after a 35-member team of Chinese officials visited the project to map their investments in the scheme, for which Kuwait is also seeking the procurement of a public-private partnership model.
In July 2018, Kuna reported that Silk City Project Co would be formed to spur the megaproject’s construction and development. When it is complete, Silk City will include the Mubarak Al-Kabir tower, a 1km development that will rise 234 floors and house 7,000 people. As a whole, Silk City will house 700,000 people, through facilities such as residences, offices, hotels, and entertainment facilities.
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