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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Favourite Buildings Visited – The Al-Salam Complex, Kuwait...


Adjacent to SAM Street (Salem Al-Mubarak Street) in Salmiya stands one of Kuwait's most recognizable landmarks. The Al-Salam Complex, with its undulating cylindrical shape, has become am icon in its own right, which is familiar to most who have spent a bit more time in Kuwait. Owned by Saud Sahoud Al-Mutairi, the building is, as it stands, scheduled for demolition only to be replaced by a shopping mall. This would be a true pity as the area is already severely 'out-malled' as it is. There has to be a more better way to adapt the site than using the, by now, tired old template/ business-plan of building an additional mall along this stretch of road.


The Al-Salam Complex is still standing, for now, but wouldn't it be great if it was allowed to continue fulfilling its role as a city node - a referential landmark that has already been a part of the collective unconscious and connective tissue of a number of Kuwaiti generations? Why not instead find a new use for the Al-Salam Complex? Provide it with a new occupation which would take advantage and build upon its historical and iconic status, a quality which is very difficult to recreate, and allow it to continue to radiate its understated, bur charismatic, presence in the future...


Above and below - photos of the stalactite ceiling and wall reliefs in the lobby...


The interior of the cylinder in its current dilapidated state...

Some of the original tiled walls...

Three seats ready for recycling...

Apparently there is still a sole inhabitant occupying a fifth floor flat in the Al-Salam Complex...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Project Recap No. 9 - Alice Cups...


The Alice Cups, a set of cups which were manipulated to befit a select number of beverage consumption settings. Inspired initially by both D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form (1961), and the size and proportion related conditions of Alice in Wonderland (with perhaps a subtle reference to the book Flatland)...

An illustration from the book 'On Growth and Form' by D'Arcy Thompson, mentioned above...

Above and below - A few early sketches of Alice, and how she, as a changeable entity, could be used as a reference in this project...


The design set’s intention was to use and reflect on the capacities and methods, the manual parametric abilities, of CAD in the context of CAM, and to explore how by simple acts of stretching, pulling, flattening and selectively combining a core (genotype) cup, a variety of alternate (phenotype) functions could be achieved.

An image of a cup's STL (triangulated) CAD file...

The core cup was designed in Rhino (software), made roughly the size of a 1.5 decilitre teacup, which was saved as a STL file, and consequently manipulated to befit a number of defined functions, such as an espresso cup (shrunk), café latte cup (stretched vertically) and a cream pitcher (stretched horizontally). It was also made into a saucer (horizontally flattened and stretched), as well as a pitcher (scaled up, stretched vertically and slightly flattened). These were subsequently fabricated both through SLA and SLS.

Above and below - Two renditions of the cups, showing how they are all simultaneously both similar and dissimilar to each other...

The Alice Cups provided evidence that there is a viable way to use the technologies affiliated with Additive Manufacturing to produce objects directly and according to, even whimsical, parameters. The methods used could easily be applied to a number of alternate household or other items, and provide them with a straightforward means to be customized according to need or whim.

The Alice Pitcher on the Alice Saucer...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Think Magazine Cover...


We've been featured on the cover of the Think Magazine, a US based design web-magazine with a particular focus on various sustainable issues. The article is predominantly about some of our PaperCuts pieces, which we've been working and exhibiting for the past two years or so...

A page spread from the Think Magazine piece...

Also, in today's Al Watan newspaper, a former member of smArchitecture Maysaa Al-Mumin (who's also my wife) was featured. She was interviewed regarding the role, and potential difficulties involved, in being a female architect in Kuwait. The piece can be viewed by clicking here...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fragrant Time (a Smell-Clock)...

An illustration showing the 'generic fragrance' sections of a Fragrant Time/ Smell Clock sequence...

Regardless if one considers the Fragrant Time design a 'hot off the press' or 'still in process' project, it has provided a somewhat more playful, jovial and folly-esque means for exploring a topic which has interested me for a while. Our olfactory (smell) sense remains still a mystery for most architects and designers, who usually do not include the fragrance of something amongst the pantheon of considerations that define a design. This is a somewhat unfortunate omission, as our sense of smell is probably the shortest link and most direct way to reach and manipulate our more emotive core, the subconscious level where most of our decisions are actually made. Fill a house with the aroma of newly baked bread, and a residence will instantly transform itself from a mere dwelling into an amiable home. Control the way you feel with fragrances - use the smell of coffee to wake you up, lavender to relax yourself, eucalyptus to revitalize and sharpen a fatigued mind, and perhaps various bodily odors to repel someone... My wife actually thinks, for better or worse, that the way I smell, naturally, is amongst my most attractive qualities (if ones looks, occasionally, deteriorate with age, what happens to ones fragrance?)...

The 'quarter past', 'half past' and 'quarter til' fragrances...

The Fragrant Time design uses smell as the medium through which time can be told. The core premise is straightforward - take an incense-stick that burns at a regular speed, test and measure out the correlation between the length and speed at which it burns (i.e. how long a stretch of the stick is needed for, say, a ten minute burn?) and segment a select number of such incense fragrances into consecutive sequences and lengths according to preference.

Breakdown of the design's key components...

In the included example five different fragrances were used. Firstly a generic smell - this neutral smell (perhaps a base smell such as vanilla or musk) defined the 'in-between' segments that mostly last for 10 minutes, located (timed) between the protagonist scents. Secondly, the quarter past smell (patchouli?!), which would begin 15 minutes into the fragrant sequence and last (burn) for 5 minutes. The third olfactory emanation is the half-past smell (a citrus or rose-essence...), which indicates that the incense has been burning for half an hour. The fourth distinctive fragrance is the quarter till smell (sandalwood or lavender) which, as the name might insinuate, begins at quarter hour before a full hour and switches back into the generic smell at ten minutes till the full hour... The full hour smell (a subtle bukhoor) is the final fragrance of the set. It indicated that an hour has been concluded...

A shaped rendition of a Fragrant Time incense 'clock'...

The shape of the Fragrant Time design can also be altered, perhaps to provide a visual reference to reflect and amplify the olfactory bulletins. This could be done by, say, shaping a hours worth of incense into a circular loop, which would facilitate the reading of the time passed. Such one hour portions could then, in turn, be segmented into individually shaped pieces which then could be combined to form a set of bespoke renditions of the (Fragrant Time) Smell Clock, which, at the beginning of the day, would need lighting instead of winding...

Stretches of incense can be divided into one hour lengths, which can be assembled into a variety of compositions...

It smells like a quarter past eventide - time to retire...

Friday, November 13, 2009

SAM St. (Salem Al-Mubarak Street) - Initial Analysis & Proposals...

A birdseye view of SAM St. (core image sourced from Google Earth)...


In collaboration with the members of the re:kuwait blog (architects Barrak Al-Babtain, Jasem Nadoum and Amenah Benjasem) as well as architect Aisha Al-Sager, I've been exploring the idea of pedestrianizing and revitalizing Salem Al-Mubarak Street (SAM St.) in Salmiya. The focus here is on the commercial stretch of the street, between the Fourth Ring Road and the Al-Salam Complex (the cylindrical, now former, residential building at its western end; more pictures of this in a future post). The collaboration began after much 'tooing-and frowing' between the parties various blogs, where we all were lamenting about the various urban, with a particular focus on the ambulatory, shortcomings of Kuwait in comparison to other, even regional, locations. These virtual communiques eventually turned into an actual meeting between the above mentioned individuals at a local coffee-shop, where a number of options were discussed for what and how something could be done to improve the situation. We eventually decided to focus on Salem Al-Mubarak street, which seemed to have the right 'bones' (foundations) to develop into a pedestrianized area. The ultimate aim is to do a, or a set of, short videos and perhaps a publication dealing with various aspects of urbanism in Kuwait.

Below are some of the initial musings (slides from the lecture), introduced for the first time at Wednesday's presentation at DAI (thanks everyone for coming, it was fun!). They were here used in conjunction (as a linked design to) the Kuwait School Manifesto's maxim number eight, which suggests that Kuwait could/ should be developed as the Design Capital of the Middle-East, something that's not too far fetched as, in comparison to Kuwait's neighbours which all have well developed plans to enhance their cultural standings but which none, however, have laid a particular emphasis on design, opening up a potential niche for how Kuwait could distinguish itself. As Kuwait already has a skilled craft-based workforce this should be something that is already implementable, all it will require is a set of dedicated designers (be these designers of products, furniture, buildings or cities) and a sustained doze of faith and perseverance. The SAM Street proposal could be the first physical manifestation of such aspirations.

If needed, please 'click' on the images to enlarge them...


Existing

A brief analysis of some of the existing features and conditions which apply to SAM Street.


Features/ Elements...


The landmark Al-Salam Complex at the western end of SAM St., currently being demolished...

A stretch of three storey office buildings, are also in the process of being demolished...

The street has an extended row of, seemingly self-sustaining, shade providing (at least three decades old) trees, stretching all along its commercial fronts...

SAM St. also retains a well proportioned set of mixed-use residential buildings, with retail premises on the ground level and residential units above...

There are a number of, somewhat unfortunate, developments being erected adjacent to the street...

Panorama view of the street's western stretch...

A cross-section taken of SAM Street's eastern, a bit narrower, end...


Plans...


The vehicular areas of SAM Street...

The sidewalks of SAM Street (note how much more pedestrianized areas there is in comparison to street area allocated for cars - a condition quite unique for Kuwait)...
Car parking on SAM Street (which, in turn, is surprisingly sparse compared to other comparable locales in Kuwait)...

The open areas along and adjacent to SAM Street...

The native (seemingly non-attended) trees along SAM Street...
The main access points to SAM Street...

The traffic routes and directions along SAM Street...


Proposed...


The aim is to pedestrianize the whole commercial/ retail stretch of SAM Street, something that lends itself quite naturally to this street, which, with its mirrored back-to-back u-turns, cannot be used as a vehicular thoroughfare (as can be observed in the image above this one)...

One of the proposals involves putting a university (a design school/ research institution?!) at one end of SAM St. as an anchor tenant. This is not too much of a stretch as there has already been proposals to provide a number of additional state universities to Kuwait, and it would be a dynamic way to breathe new life into this part of town.

Another appropriate (quasi) anchor tenant would be to provide dormitories and residential units at the other (eastern) end of the stretch. This would create a natural circulation for the area...

The stretch between the two nodes would be filled with more communal elements - various cultural (galleries, theatres, film screens...), dining (restaurants, coffee-shops...) and retail (with emphasis one more unique and individual 'speciality' stores)...

As a collective, the institutes of higher learning and in combination with the communal open and public areas, the neighbourhood would hopefully develop into a creative hub for the city...

Eventually it would be great to (gradually) expand the pedestrianized areas and link them to some of the other key nodes in Salmiya, such as the beach, Marina Mall (less than a 5 minute walk away) and the remains of the western end of Salem Al Mubarak Street (by Al Fanar and Sultan Center), as well as (as noted by re:kuwait) the future Salmiya Park...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Favourite Buildings Visited - Temppeliaukio Kirkko, Helsinki, Finland...


First time visitors usually stumble upon, rather than consciously locate, the discrete entrance of the Temppeliaukion Kirkko, (Temple-square Church) which inhabits the middle of a residential square in central Helsinki, Finland. Carved/ excavated out of (into) rock, the place has, when stepping through the somewhat confined entrance gate, a cave-like ambiance which, as one proceeds through its low roofed lobby, is suddenly alleviated by imbued light and shadow patterns that stream through the ribbed beams flanking the cylindrical space's shallow, copper strand covered, dome. The rough granite walls are apparently a key contributor to the church's excellent acoustics. The furnishings are ascetic, simple, and use primary materials such as wood, steel, concrete, and bronze.

It was designed by the architect brothers Suomalainen and was opened to the public in 1969.

The Church's discrete entrance...

View of the 'paino nobile' (or 'bleachers') above the entrance hall...

The spun, semi-reflective, copper ceiling...

The irregular junction between the dome's concrete ribs and the cylindrical granite cavity...

Shadow patterns on the central passage...

The ascetic altar...

Two young visitors lighting candles in memory of their great-grandmothers...

Exterior view of the dome...