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Monologues with Bureaucracy Preface Rumors of archives travel through word of mouth, much like the oral storytelling of our ancestors. Researchers track the tale of the lost photograph to the box where hundreds of other photographs are also forgotten. The research process itself becomes forensic: discovering slides, mismanaged pieces of information, hidden letters, and drawings that first need to be found to be categorized. Other times, officials hoard information and lock it away, such as the Khudhur Shrine documentary: a silent film of a woman dancing in front of the Shrine, owned by the Amiri Diwan. Speculations abound regarding the protection of the film. Did they bury it because of the dancing female or the pagan Shrine? Archived information suffers the same fate as architecture projects; the long, painstaking revision process can take years. The projects then become unused studies and halted ambitions, mainly because the client is ill-equipped to decide what to do with them. Piles of information and projects lie on the corners of desks before moving to the filing units; then they are transferred to a storage facility without an identifiable label. In trying to locate original drawings of the Water Towers for instance, a Ministry of Public Works employee said that any drawing older than five years is discarded and can only be recovered from the industrial warehouse in Subhan — ‘the graveyard of archives.’ Forensic Architecture In attaining information on Arne Jacobsen’s Central Bank of Kuwait, (which for the past few years was a traveling myth), we began to investigate the building’s transformation. The Pace Archive, one of the few collections that facilitate architectural research, helped us in reaching a few conclusions. How much of the original design did the State alter, and why did the deformation occur only after five years from its completion date? A grandiose institutional building, The Central Bank represented the condition of the State of Kuwait during what we will call The Golden Era of 1951-1981. Kuwait City was an asylum for imported architects to resurrect their architectural fantasies. Yet most ‘acquired architects’ failed to predict the expiration of Kuwait’s vision that led to the State-bastardization of their projects. The long list includes Kenzo Tange’s original Kuwait International Airport and Reima Pietila’s original Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is no coincidence that the same architects who designed significant architecture in the United States and Europe were brought to execute their designs on this bare land. As a primary example, the State chose Arne Jacobsen to design the Central Bank because of his successful design of the National Bank of Denmark. The vertical accentuations on the façade in Copenhagen were translated into horizontal aluminum louvers in Kuwait that provided shade and privacy for the windows. The building stood on a fortified podium with a periphery wall to emulate the gate that wrapped the old city. Inside, a narrow lobby and vestibule lead to the atrium of the banking hall. The atrium’s skylight provides natural light with clerestories on all four sides, partially concealed by a brass-shelled lighting feature that floated from the fifth floor. The final element of traditional architecture is the miniscule gold dome that hovers off-center from the entrance. There is nothing programmed underneath it, and it remains the only element uncompromised in the transformation. In general, the architecture of the Central Bank of Kuwait fell short of the State’s expectations, though several revisions to the design took place and the building was completed in 1979 after Jacobsen’s death. Architects celebrated Jacobson’s Central Bank for being sensitive to Kuwaiti vernacular design, but the State and the public rejected it for not having enough windows and natural sunlight. In 1985, the client decided to redress the entirety of the Bank and add a two-floor extension. On the façade, the external louvers were removed and replaced with large white GRC panels —stone-like and monumental in appearance. External apertures became articulated vertically along the length of the façade, concluding with pointed arches and a high parapet roof. Dark wooden mashrabiyyas were then used on the windows to shade from sunlight and provide privacy for the workers in the Bank. Even with these new facade treatments, the offices still feel dark and chambered. We later surmised that this alternate design was rather an attempt to reconnect with identifiable elements of Islamic architecture than Western influenced modernism– a movement that spread in Kuwait in the 1980s, coincidentally with the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Revolution in the region. Moreover, the new aesthetic requirements of the State were as drastic internally as they were externally. Due to inadequate programming (a shortcoming of the client), the new design required the filling-in of the atrium with offices at the second floor to the fifth floor, and an additional two-floor extension for the Governor. A quick browse through the office floors confirms that only six office spaces per floor were gained from sealing the atrium with the steel structural slab, and only a few more staff added to the Governor’s wing. How did the economy of Kuwait grow so tremendously between 1979 and 1985 that the client did not foresee that additional staff needed to be accommodated into further floors and an extension? By investigating demolition diagrams from Pace in 1987 and visiting the existing conditions, we discovered the following alterations to the original interior. The internal louvers around the atrium were stripped out, much like the fate of the exterior façade. Now only the first floor overlooks the banking hall, with a yellow-stained wooden mashrabbiyya railing that had replaced the privacy of the louvers. It is interesting to note that an alternate brass-shelled lighting feature suspends into the banking hall much like the actual design by Jacobsen. The original stone on the walls was replaced by Carrara marble, haphazardly bookmatched throughout the entrance lobbies and atrium. All doors were replaced and elegantly etched with Islamic star motifs. The arabesque design was carried out along the glass of the teller windows. There was no sign of the exposed staircase in the original atrium, and we discovered that it had been concealed behind concrete walls. Furthermore, the skylight on the fifth floor had mutated into a six-meter-high grid ceiling with remnants of the clerestory on all four sides. After the damage incurred during the Invasion of Kuwait, the renovations to the Central Bank of Kuwait officially ended in 1997. Six years later—the same year the United States invaded Iraq—the Central Bank called for an architectural competition for a 50-story tower. The new Central Bank of Kuwait tower was awarded to HOK, and Pace and is currently halfway through construction. The tower will accommodate the Bank’s expanding staff for the next 30 years, and is expected to be half-vacant for its first few years. Is the need for a new tower another baffling decision by the State or is it a result of Kuwait’s newfound security to invest in itself and re-identify with its surging neighbors in the Gulf? Our question to the client is this: how efficient was the change in 1985, with the Bank currently renting out the top floor of SOM’s Souk Al Kuwait and an entire building in Shuwaikh, especially if they had foreseen the need for a new tower? The Architect’s Fable What is presumed to be a cost and time-effective decision prolongs into a slow approval and construction process. Ministries and government entities divide multi-million dinar projects under their supervision. Within their internal structures, power fragments into a bureaucratic orgy of executives, vice executives, chief executives, deputy general managers, and vice general managers, so that the ultimate decision-making is paused and projects become unmanageable. Interlaced with social and political protocols, the layers of approval halt the development of infrastructure and construction. It is especially because of these protocols that appointed hierarchies fear making decisions without the approval of the highest authority, making them only equipped to decide on their own spaces – their beloved VVIP lobbies and lounges. At the end, these places lie idle and empty, used once a year and often over-decorated with fake bouquets, a rococo imitation vase, and exoticised chandeliers. The empty VIP spaces that occupy a large percentage of built area are not dissimilar to the vacant lots in Kuwait City. The sterility and emptiness of countless vestibules is unfortunately an attribute of the urban environment. Bulldozing the old city to make way for large institutions may have seemed like a good idea by Monoprio and Spencely in 1957, but would the same decision have been made, had they known that 30 years later, half of Kuwait City still remained vacant? In the 1960s, Ghazi Sultan was one of many architects who received a government-sponsored scholarship to study architecture in the United States. Upon graduation, he returned to work for the Municipality along with many prominent architects at the time. Sultan outlines the architect-client relationship in the Criteria for Design in the Arabian Gulf Region from 1982, published by the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, and still holds true in Kuwait today: The first is never expect a clear and complete brief. A two page statement of intent for a $ 50 million project is not unusual, probably because the majority of clients will be building a structure of this type (e.g. an airport) in the country for the first time. So help the client develop a detailed and realistic brief. With the help of graduates like Sultan, Kuwait sought foreign consultants to tell us how to be modern: what we had to display, how we had to behave, live, and function. Overtime this blind trust in foreign consultants changed. The architect was to design in a vacuum, and often did not fulfill the demands of the client’s paycheck. The client would then enforce changes and adaptations even after the architect’s role ended, bastardizing the architect’s initial intent. Perhaps the Kuwaiti client put too much trust in foreign consultants, and they were blamed for the loss of Kuwait’s architectural identity. Sultan’s advise further states: Try not to be overly upset by a client's constantly changing needs and time schedules. This is usually brought on by the very common trial and error management approach used here. Accept it as a basic fact one must live with in harmony. The Central Bank of Kuwait is an example for the inconsistency of the client and the negligence of acquired trends. According to Pace drawings of 1985, only the interior design of the elevator lobbies and banking hall should have been altered, but this indeed is not the case. The proposed materials on the drawings underwent a radical and informal transformation in reality. In fact, on a site trip to the Bank a Public Relations representative appeared apologetic about the state of things, including a woman’s bathroom door with a handwritten sign that protrudes awkwardly into the banking hall. The door leads into a vestibule, where a neglected corner reveals the granite once specified by Pace. The vestibule then leads to another door before one enters the water closet. In this case, the Kuwaiti client’s obsessive-compulsive notion of privacy has managed to disturb the architect’s plan post-construction. Such disruptions mainly occur after the supervision phase of construction, when the client realizes that the architect’s job is complete far sooner than it should be and the contractor is far less resistant to the desired alterations. Ghazi concludes: In the long run, however, no criteria will help, unless one acquires a thorough understanding of how things are built, and this can only be achieved by constantly visiting sites to learn as much as possible from the contractors and the craftsmen in whose hands ultimately depends the final outcome of one’s efforts. External facades were re-cladded in shiny materials to appear new, while interior spaces were neglected or covered in plastic, a reflection of the corruptive bureaucracy that stall projects from reaching completion. This leaves the architect powerless to the bureaucracies that begin to inform the design. To clarify, the architect’s role in Kuwait must undergo redefinition as the city redefines itself. Modernism has not supplied the population with an answer to its identity, not especially with the clean-slate approach managed under a trial and error bureaucracy. The architect and client must look to the successes of Kuwait’s history – from the old city and from the Golden Era – to reinvent the built environment, which we find ourselves so ready to deform.