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Building for Oil: Corporate Colonialism, Nationalism and Urban Modernity in Ahmadi, 1946-1992

  • Author(s): Alissa, Reem IR
  • Advisor(s): AlSayyad, Nezar
  • et al.

Located at the intersection of oil and space, this dissertation highlights the role of oil as an agent of political, social and cultural change at the level of the everyday urban experience by introducing the oil company town as a modern architectural and urban planning prototype that has been largely neglected in the Middle East. Using the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) town of Ahmadi as a case in point this article offers a new history of oil, architecture and urbanism in Kuwait since 1946. Apart from oil dictating Ahmadi's location and reason for being various actors were complicit in the creation and playing out of Ahmadi's urban modernity: British KOC officials, the company's architectural firm Wilson Mason & Partners, nationalism, the process of Kuwaitization, Ahmadi's architecture and urbanism, and, especially, the town's residents. I argue that Ahmadi's colonial modernity which was initially targeted at the expatriate employees of the company during the 1950s, was later adopted by KOC's Kuwaiti employees after the country's independence in 1961, and in turn mediated a drastically new lifestyle, or urban modernity, during the 1960s and 1970s. The memory of this urban modernity coupled with its gradual erosion ever since have rendered Ahmadi a nostalgic city in the nation's collective imagination.

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