The modern history of Kuwait nestling as it does in the top of the Gulf is a whirlwind of social, political and economic reforms. A very proud and patriotic nation, Kuwait’s rich history has seen it go through being a world leading pearl diving industry, to its growth in oil drilling that drove the Golden Era of the 60s and 70s, to the implications of Gulf War. Through this Kuwaitis have earned more resilience and aspiration to build a stronger and better country and, as I started my journey to this amazing country, I was keen to find out more where on the journey they were with regards to sustainability and how BRE could help and support.
My journey had begun in the old and tired Kuwait International Airport where you cannot decide whether you are departing or arriving, since entries and exits are located too close to each other. This is also where the first signs of regeneration and forward construction appears. The airport expansion project is advertised on every blank wall. Whilst I am driven through the town from the airport, I see a mixture of modern buildings and the remnants of shop and houses post war, but the red lights on top of the cranes reflecting the promising future of a new developing skyline on the horizon.
As the sun rises, so do the Kuwaitis. Business day starts from 7:30am and is a very efficient and effective 8 working hours. I am taken on a tour of the old and new Kuwait, where modern, innovative architecture meets tradition and heritage, to feel and gauge the construction industry in Kuwait first hand. What I see and feel through these edifices is a great deal of respect for the Constitution, the culture and love of country expressed through lavish, pricey and exquisite features. It is hauntingly beautiful yet extremely unsustainable.
Kuwait is the most democratic country in the region. The Emir is the head of state. The hybrid political system is divided between an elected parliament and appointed government. This, however, does not make policy-making any easier. The huge recent injection of government funds into the construction industry alongside the incredibly low costs of labour, utilities and lack of state regulations around resource efficiency, but also waste management has led to a thriving yet irresponsible construction sector in Kuwait.
On the second day and during the workshop I notice this passion in the audience to address and correct this detrimental growth. There, already exist an awareness for sustainable construction. They seem to be mindful that the society is consuming irresponsibly, the developers are building with no regards for the land or the future generation and that the Government needs to take control of the landfills, and equally the increase in energy prices for all levels of society.
This is combined with younger Kuwaitis, who consider the traditional architecture of Kuwait to be the sustainable kind. Where passive cooling was included in the design and there was a greater sense of community and family, as homes were spread horizontally rather than stacked on top of each other to optimise the renting opportunity.
It becomes clear to me that en route to economic, social and political prosperity, Kuwait needs not only new technology, but also new expertise in culture making and behavioural change sciences. Creating a culture of ‘saving’ rather than ‘spending’ when it comes to resources is a vital first step towards sustainability. This may not be so difficult to achieve considering that Kuwaitis are an educated and country-devoted nation. While Kuwaitis unanimously believe that Kuwait will only become ‘Green’ if there exist stringent and abiding laws and regulations (i.e the stick), the benefits of Good Incentives (i.e. the carrot) cannot be ignored when it comes to introducing new behavioural patterns into a society.
Perhaps a truly sustainable built environment on a social, economic and environmental level, is the niche that can help Kuwait standout in this race on cumulating the cities’ skylines that is currently encompassing the Gulf countries.