Without having an understanding of our past, we can never hope to plan for an enlightened future. In light of the challenges we face to live in a sustainable world, the SSH Design Club, part of the SSH professional, multi-disciplinary building services, engineering, planning and sustainability consultancy, has embarked on an inspiring journey born from the very essence of our roots, the manner in which we communicate. Collaborating with the Architecture of Kuwait creative platform, the SSH Design Club has sparked an engaging initiative like no other, to complete a book that is a masterful blend between history, design, and architecture in the Kuwaiti context and serves as a rewarding contribution to this nation’s memorable history.
A creative mastermind of sorts, Waleed Shalaan, Principal Architect at SSH, has taken this initiative to heart, moved by how a converted empty room, or dead space, at the SSH head quarters has spurred a creative collective materialized by the Design Club. He states, “The story of a space, the lessons learnt here are the impact of space on the quality of our lives. This dead space, or any given space for that matter, was our haven where we would bring books, play chess, communicate. This is how it ultimately led to the initiative.”
The idea of creating a book, which showcased Kuwait’s history in such a unique light, started with the dead space Waleed refers to, “With the design club, we conducted weekly meetings on a regular basis, and Mr. Sabah Abi-Hannah, who happens to be the founder of the company, was invited to give a speech. He spoke about the past, and how he decided to venture into the world of architecture, inspired by a historical municipality sign he noticed on the streets of Beirut.” Inspired by his speech, Waleed pivotally envisioned an initiative that showcased the history of Kuwait over the last fifty years in the eyes of its architectural context. He continues, “I thought to myself, Kuwait’s 50th anniversary coincided with our company’s 50th anniversary. Let’s create a book showcasing these intertwining stories for this is a golden opportunity. We were looking for an opportunity to give back to the country where we grew as an organization and individuals. This is our contribution in saying that here’s a history book that tells a story rather than print some images.”
Abi-Hannah’s story fits perfectly within Kuwait’s developmental history. Rather than listing dates in a static manner, the story of Abi-Hannah and the SSH’s journey shows a grand history of Kuwait’s development through the projects executed by the organization and its dynamic evolution. Waleed states excitedly, “We show that we have made a difference in Kuwait throughout fifty years. We are a part of a history and we steer these contributions in context. The history suddenly comes alive through architecture. For students in the field of design, architecture, and many other fields, an inspirational dimension is achieved. Students can, indeed, dream to achieve, just like Mr. Sabah Abi-Hannah.”
Waleed ensured us that the SSH is almost done with completing this story, yet a final chapter was dedicated to the future. “Rather than naively predicting the future in the next fifty years and looking like Jetsons while we try to do it, we wished for the youth to take part in this segment of the book. That’s where the competition comes in—Q82061. We’ve looked at fifty years from the past, and now we wish to include fifty years from the future.”
Launching the competition on the 10thof January, at an event that was held at the Sultan Gallery, The SSH Design Club collaborated with the Arch of Kuwait to showcase a collection of photographs from the KOC, Kuwait Oil Company, archives, which displayed Kuwait in its early beginnings. Waleed recounts that “the setting fifty years ago is truly astounding, as little did anyone know about what the future held for Kuwait’s economic, social, and architectural landscape. With these photographs, people were absolutely taken fifty years into the past, and upon leaving the gallery people are ‘brought back to the future’, and in essence we are the future of the past. The event was like time travel, even museum curator Farida Sultan spotted a picture of her grandfather during his youth.” This special event, perhaps, creatively ignited the invitees to envision Kuwait in 2061. Waleed adds,“We invite anyone to participate, and the only two constraints include time and space. In terms of space, participants have a 50 by 50 by 50 cubic area, to convey the idea. A model, plasma screen, a sketch, a fold out, anything goes! The other constraint is another fifty, the number of days participants have to create their submission. The closing date of the competition is the 29th of February.”
Also promoted by the Architecture of Kuwait creative and professional platform, participants claim their entry numbers via their website. A jury of five people will be judging the competition, which will include artists, businessmen, architects, engineers, thinkers, painters, and visionaries of the future. The First prize winner will receive a KD1000 reward. In essence, all the entrants are winners, as their work will be featured in the book to complete its final part to make it truly fit for its title, 50:50. A secondary event will take place, this time showcasing the competition entries, the judgment process,and then announcing the winners.Fifty days later, the book will be launched during a third and final event.