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This large administrative complex at the Persian Gulf was part of the Kuwait City reconstruction project, which involved many well-known western architects, such as the Danes Arne Jacobsen and Jørn Utzon.
In 1969, the Kuwait Planning Board invited Raili and Reima Pietilä and three other architectural firms to draw up an idea plan to modernise the Old Town. The Pietiläs outlined an extensive covered pedestrian area, a modern interpretation of Middle Eastern bazaars. As a result of the idea plan, they were commissioned to design the administrative complex that included an extension of the Sief Palace and buildings for the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Kuwait authorities demanded that the buildings should represent ‘new Arabic architecture’. While the Sief Palace extension imitated the Arabic style of the old building, completed in 1963, in the other two buildings the Pietilä couple freely interpreted local themes, ranging from the walls of ancient Uruk to coral reefs and rhythms of Arabic music. The fortress-like brick walls were enlivened by asymmetrical recesses, colourful ceramic tiles, teakwood grilles and concrete sun shades. To protect the staff from the sun, the Pietiläs created shaded courtyards and arcades within the complex.
The architect couple’s original version of regionalism, however, did not please the Kuwait leaders, and the buildings have since undergone a radical transformation. The facades have been decorated with columns, arches and cornices, and the ceramic tiles have been replaced with more luxurious materials.
Text: Kristo Vesikansa