Mags & Books

The Kuwait Urbanization – Preface


I just went ahead and typed out the 1,994 word preface of “The Kuwait Urbanization” book so you guys could read it. That’s four pages of size 12 font I just typed out manually so please READ IT. It’s pretty fascinating and shows the amount of passion and love the author had for the work he was doing for Kuwait. If there are any mistakes just ignore them, I haven’t typed this much or so fast since my touch typing class back in university.


The Kuwait Urbanization

This book has been in-the-making since I assumed my planning post with the erstwhile Public Works Department, now the Kuwait Ministry of Public works, on June 15, 1960. As the thorny planning path was traversed, it became clearer by the day that the planning of Kuwait, certainly not a routine or every-day occurrence on the Arab urban scene, should be documented not only for its intrinsic value and parables but, also, for the extrinsic value such as study-documentation harbored for future Arab desert planning, for the Arab World at large and for planning-architectural circles in general.

The field was virgin, never having been plowed before. I started to prepare the maps, photographs, sketches, facts and reports that, in my opinion, highlighted and characterized the phenomenal urbanization of Kuwait This work is therefore the result of documenting the buildup of Kuwait, with special reference to my four years as the planning consultant of Kuwait together with my reflections about the pre-1960 era of buildup and relating all this, weever possible, to the general climate of planning in the Arab World as well as to universal planning concepts and contemporary planning developments.

An important reason that induced me to undertake this study is the provision of a record – a documentation – of the many plans, photographs, aerials and schemes which often, no sooner are they realized (or cancelled), would cease to have a trace. Considering the liberal amounts of money Kuwait expended for the preparation of all types of studies and projects, I felt it was a loss not to have a partial record of it and, therefore, strong justification for such a compilation existed, especially as a reference to the Kuwaiti students attending universities abroad and who should, on returning to Kuwait, be able to find background material about their fast-evolved city. In mind, also, were the many new officials assuming responsible posts in Kuwait, as well as those to be appointed in the future, who will need reference material in their work. My difficult experience collecting and preparing the illustrative material in this book, even though I had knowledge of and access to nearly all official, semi-official and private sources, is proof that such a documentation, belated and rather piecemeal is, nevertheless, essential.


The first time I discussed the planning of Kuwait was in a monograph entitled “Probings, Problems, Planning” dated March, 1961. The 149-page monograph contained fifty articles I had published in English and/or Arabic in various newspapers and magazines in Lebanon treating the subject of Arab city planning and architecture in general. Of the fifty articles, fifteen dealt with Kuwait. Over one thousand copies of the monograph were distributed and those circulated in Kuwait created enough general interest to encourage me to prepare another monograph which consisted of all the Kuwait articles I had written until then. The 102-page monograph, containing thirty articles and entitled “Kuwait the Unique: Abstractions and Blueprints” was, and its explanatory sub-title stated, “A compilation of articles written at random, inspired from scenes and unseens in Kuwait, reproduced here to form a unity and perform a service to comprehensive city and regional planning in Kuwait.”

Over two hundred copies of this monograph were sent by the Government of Kuwaiti students in universities abroad. Focus on the planning and architecture of Kuwait was thus achieved in Kuwait and abroad and, especially, among the university students.

My first terse, but comprehensive, treatment of Kuwait urbanization was published in Arabic as a long article in the Kuwaiti Civil Service Quarterly “Al-Mowazaff” in December, 1962. This article was the translation of a short article I had published in the special issue on the Gulf in the internationally circulated magazine, “Middle East Forum,” summer issue, 1962 under the title “Kuwait: The Growth of a Town,” with the difference that the article in Arabic was more copiously illustrated. In April, 1963 and as part of the Kuwait Municipality’s participation in the first “Day of Learning” occasion in Kuwait, the aforementioned article in Arabic was published as an 81-page book by the Ministry of Guidance and Information and 5000 copies were distributed. These, along with other articles I had been publishing intervally during the period 1960 to 1964, in Kuwaiti and Lebanese newspapers, magazines and journals, created interest and curiosity about Kuwait as expressed by many Kuwaitis and their visitors. The need for a book about Kuwaiti development became event.

As an Arab and a planner, I was both proud of and perturbed by much that I witnessed happening with lightning speed on the arena of urbanization in Kuwait. I was proud because here, in Kuwait, the Arab was building something significant from both the social and physical points-of-view. I was particularly proud of the social contents and connotations of the Kuwaiti buildup: low income housing, hospitals, schools, social centers, to mention but a few of the many tangible manifestations of the socially oriented philosophy propelling Kuwaiti development onwards and which were rare incidents on other urban stages. On the other hand, as a planner I was perturbed by the many vicissitudes of engineering, architectural and planning deviations and aberrations, as well as by a general disregard of the economic outlook in the engineering of things. Both pride and perturbance prompted me to record my observations and opinions. I felt that the causes and results of what perturbed me should be treated as parables in future Kuwait and Arab urbanization.

During the past four years, the Kuwaitis have awakened to the fact that all was not going as well as the surface realities and images of physical development seemed to indicate. Beneath surface and behind facade lurked serious question marks. Thoughtful Kuwaitis were rightfully beginning to pose queries as to the orientation and content of development, as well as to doubt the professional competence of some echelons and segments of the vast technical corps for long in command of burgeoning Kuwait.

The serious question marks posed, the Kuwaiti authorities sought diligently and scientifically to get to the roots of the problems to provide satisfactory answers and solutions to the many-tentacled dilemmas challenging the new-born State. The ramified responsibilities of Kuwait as a member of both the Arab League and the U.N. prompted the Government to view with concern the configuration of physical development to curb unjustified designs and wasteful expenditures.

By 1960, if not before then, Kuwaitis had every legitimate reason to be the critics, as they are, of the urban architectural abnormalities and incidents of their proud new city, the piecemeal and spasmodic rebuilding of the old city and the means by which the two have been inorganically and inimicably intwined. They had every right to decry, as they do, the inordinate waste and extravagance that accompanied a vast segment of the furious and furtive buildup of Kuwait. They had every right to be filled with skepticism and consternation, as they are, about the frivolous and carefree way the battalions of imported professionals approached problems and solutions. In short, Kuwaitis had every right to rebel, as they have started to, against certain aspics of the artistic-economic content of the colossal urban-architectural plexus bequeathed to them by all and sundry at astronomic cost, and which were nearly paid for with the plentitude of the oil revenues.

The awakening in Kuwait is significant not only for Kuwait but, because of Kuwait’s great potentials, for the Arab World at large as exemplified by the constructive aid Kuwait is providing to sister Arab States through its significant “Fund for Arab Economic Development.” The realization that the instrumentality of comprehensive and scientific planning was the only course to chart for itself for future development, to be wise, balanced and of optimum effectiveness, led the Kuwaiti Council of Ministers to establish “The Planning Board” to gear the magnitude and momentum of Kuwaiti development in directions of optimum effectiveness and returns.

Thus, the story of Kuwait is a rich and long story written within a very short span of time. It is the story of a humble, organic desert Arab village that exploded into a haughty, over-extended desert Arab metropolis according to a geometric paper-plan, finding itself today a full-fledged State embroiled in scientific planning and world affairs.

It is the tale of the city of Kuwait that is treated in this book, with especial emphasis on the vicissitudes of the physical development. This tale, by any standard, is a unique one. The trails Kuwait followed have often been baffling and thorny. The trials and tribulations of its development are a parable: a parable for the future development of Kuwait as well as for all Arab cities and States in the throes, or on the thresholds, of development. In short, the urbanization of Kuwait is a classical parable in desert development.

Scientific compulsions and intellectual honesty have led me, as they ought to, to be critical in many parts of this treatment. Critique designed for constructive purposes is of the essence. Anything else can only be detrimental to the future and welfare of Kuwait. Those technical people who saw errors and kept silent during the past decade and a half or those who, for certain reasons, lauded blindly instead of warning openly, have been the witting or unwitting allies of the forces promotive of serious technical and, therefore, economic problems.

In a way, this book is a partial account of my experience with some of the planning problems of the most unique city in the world: the city who’s Municipality levies no taxes but whose “revenue” is, perhaps, the highest per capita in the world if not in history Certain parts of the book are, also, a documentation of specific problems and projects. In addition, I have elaborated on certain specific aspects of planning and architecture which, I am convinced , have been abused or overlooked completely, in the race-with0time urbanization of Kuwait. If I have been somewhat prejudiced in my options and analysis of the subject, my only apology is that I could not allow myself to be infinitely more prejudiced.

I can state unequivocally that, in a manner of speaking, the building boom in Kuwait went berserk during especially the period 1954 to 1962. So careless have been the many sectors of the bureaucratic technical corps and their extensive outside “support” – the “private,” “consultative” and “expert” echelons – that land and land-use planning has been economically wasteful, architectural and aesthetic design visually dubious and master-planning and programming an orphan in the most challenging urbanization operation in history. Only during the recent past have the concerted efforts to reorient the strange urban-architectural philosophy in vogue in Kuwait netted some proficient returns. With some of these efforts we deal in this book, hoping stop-gap efforts will become institutionalized measures.

Except for Part Four, the treatment of the subject of this book has been deliberately designed to be as non-technical as possible so that it can be easily comprehended by those who are not city planners or architects, since one has deep hopes pinned on their importance in civic affairs. If they layman is aroused and infused with a love for the orderly, the beautiful, the genuine, the economical his influence, articulated int he form of public opinion, can prejudice the course of overall affairs in city planning and architecture in Kuwait and the Arab World salubriously. It is for this reason that I have also endeavored to illustrate the book profusely because of the visual importance of transmitting a message to the non-technical reader.

Finally, as is well known, the spectrum of planning is a long one. We shall therefore, have occasion to deal in this book with various aspects of planning, with physical planning in particular touching, however, on comprehensive planning in as far as physical planning is related to it. We shall deal with architecture and touch on agriculture, with sociology and touch on philosophy and so on. For, by necessity and definition of planning, to be comprehensive, must be multi-dimensional.

Saba George Shiber, Kuwait: June, 1964.

11 replies on “The Kuwait Urbanization – Preface”

Seems like you really want this book… if I was from the royal family and had the money or extremely rich, I would have bought it for you.

>The field was virgin, never having been plowed before.

Sorry, couldn’t help laughing longer and harder than necessary at that.

One of the British Colonels back in the late 1950s recommended that the Kuwaiti government keep the pre-oil Kuwait City (Sharg, Jibla, Al-Murghab & Al-Wasat) and not demolish it, to preserve its history

Sadly, the Kuwaiti government decided to demolish almost all of pre-oil Kuwait

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