Critical nostalgia: Kuwait urban modernity and Alison and Peter Smithson’s Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-Building, by Asseel Al-Ragam, 2015

Al-Ragam, Asseel. “Critical nostalgia: Kuwait urban modernity and Alison and Peter Smithson’s Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-Building” The Journal of Architecture 20, no. 1 (2015): 1-20.

DOI: 10.1080/13602365.2014.1000679

Abstract:

In September, 1970, Peter Smithson presented the ‘Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-Building’ proposal to the Crown Prince of Kuwait. The meeting took place two decades after Kuwait’s 1952 Master Plan that had transformed the historical mixed-use centre into a central business district. The new urban landscape, as some suggested, lacked the character and coherence that the old city had once possessed. At the same time, the Smithsons’ dissatisfaction with post-war British reality inspired a shift in their understanding of the city and the development of ideas of ‘re-identification’ and ‘association’. This paper explores the cultural traces of this encounter and ties these narratives together through the more recent concept of ‘critical nostalgia’. It draws conclusions from the parallel narratives of loss that were expressed about the ‘modern’ environment in mid-1960s Kuwait and those that were recorded in the ‘Englishness’ of the Smithsons’ writings. These debates about the role that ‘tradition’ would play in the contemporary city set the context of this cultural intersection that, in turn, informed the making of the Kuwait Urban Study.

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