The AGixMADEENAH Tour took place on April 25, 2015, under the title “BYOP: Build Your Own Place”. The purpose of the urban tour was to allow the participants to view Kuwait City in a new light, encouraging them to take ownership of its public spaces and imagine all the activities that can potentially vitalize them. Also, the tour showcased some the historically important, yet often neglected buildings of the city.
The starting point of the tour was at the base of the Liberation Tower. Participants were taken up the speedy glass elevators all the way to the observation deck. From this elevated vantage point, all of Kuwait City could be viewed. This observation deck used to be easy to access by the public, but access to it has been restricted recently due to a legal dispute.
The participants were then guided to the open area to the North of Souk Al Wataniya. The importance of Souk Al Wataniya as a mixed use parking structure, representing a type of building that dots Kuwait City, was explained. Also discussed, was the open area itself, where the participants were shown a computer generated renderings, showing how this currently decrepit space can easily become a beautiful and successful plaza.
The next destination of the urban tour was the plaza in front Souk Al Safat. Here, sticks of chalk were handed out to the participants, and they were asked to draw directly unto the surfaces of the plaza what they hoped to be there. In 10 minutes the plaza got filled with hopes of more vegetation, fixed light poles, better maintenance, and more!
The tour then continued to inside Souk Al Safat, more specifically the MR level (Mezzanine Terrace). This semi-shaded terrace is technically a public space, since it can be accessed without any obstacle, and yet it remains mostly empty. To encourage the participants to see the potential of this terrace and many like it around the city, a mini art exhibition by the artist Ricardas Blazukas was organized there.
Next stop was the plaza in front of the Banks Complex. Here, both the positive and negative elements of the plaza were discussed, reaching the conclusion that although this plaza was well maintained, it is still lacking as a public space.
The participants were guided to descend into Dirwazat Abdulrazaq, a unique undercrossing built to ease the flow of pedestrians under a busy car intersection. Once inside, the participants of the urban tour were surprised with a seemingly impromptu musical performance by the guitar player and singer Hashim Nasser.
Exiting the Dirwaza from the other end, the tour passed Souk Al Kuwait on its way to the next destination. After a considerable walk reaching the heart of the Mubarakiya Souk area, the participants were stopped in front of Sheikh Mubarak’s Kiosk. Here, the history and renovation process that has turned this once falling-apart building into an important historic monument was explained. Also discussed was the positive practice of only turning part of the renovated building into a museum, while allowing two of the stores at its ground level to continue their normal operation.
The participants were then lead to the large plaza outside Safat Square. A comparison between this public plaza and Safat Square was made, showing how the unplanned plaza was full of life and activities, while the recently renovated Safat Square was closed off and completely empty. The question of what makes a public space was discussed. The urban tour then went inside the barricaded Square for a short look around, courtesy of a special permit AGi architects had gotten.
From Safat Square, the participants were guided back to Souk Al Wataniya, except that this time everyone took the elevator to the fourth floor of the building. The original intention for this part of the building was for it to be completely residential, allowing for the creation of a small community around several public terraces and street-like walkways. This intention is defeated today due to the conversion of the apartments into offices, but the original idea was explained to the tour participants.
From the fourth floor, an outdoor staircase was taken to the rooftop level, where the participants were surprised with a small party! Under the zigzagging lights, many activities were taking place: an assortment of foods and beverages were being served, including coffee by the Coffee Villains and KDD soft serve ice cream, Ricardas Blazukas was resembling his exhibition, Zahra Al Mahdi had some of her works displayed, Sulaiman Al Bader was performing live art, and one of the barren planters was being freshly planted with flowers by all the participants and organizers.
At the end, AGi architects would like to thank Madeenah for giving us the opportunity to organize this tour, all the participants who attended, all those who contributed to tour with their time and talent, and the companies that allowed us to use their buildings throughout the tour; this tour could not have succeeded without you.