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Nation Building in Kuwait 1961–1991


Kuwait started the process of its nation building just few years prior to signing the independence agreement from the British mandate in 1961. Establishing Kuwait’s as modern, democratic, and independent nation, paradoxically, depended on a network of international organizations, foreign consultants, and world-renowned architects to build a series of architectural projects with a hybrid of local and foreign forms and functions to produce a convincing image of Kuwait national autonomy. Kuwait nationalism relied on architecture’s ability, as an art medium, to produce a seamless image of Kuwait as a modern country and led to citing it as one of the most democratic states in the Middle East.

The construction of all major projects of Kuwait’s nation building followed a similar path; for example, all mashare’e kubra [major projects] of the state that started early 1960s included particular geometries, monumental forms, and symbolic elements inspired by the vernacular life of Kuwait to establish its legitimacy. The construction of specific building types with different functions such as museums, stadiums, and parliaments is significant to modern nation building and public assimilation. Those building types and/or institutions share the same origin, and all were (re)established during the early Western modern period and inspired by Ancient Greece as source of Western civilization. Such Western perspective of modernization as an evolutionary concept, dominated the view of international organization led by the new postwar powers. Kuwait was instructed by international consultants to follow a similar model of modernization to build its postcolonial nationalism.

This dissertation critically analyzes the architecture of nation building in Kuwait City, with a focus on investigating key architectural projects such as Kuwait National Museum, Kuwait National Assembly, and Kuwait Sports Center in terms of their historical development, formal language, their impact on the socio-cultural milieu, and their roles in Kuwait’s nation building.

This research utilize various methods of analysis to investigate architectural drawings, various Arabic and Western literature, local newspapers and other periodicals, over 10 archives around the world, a number of personal interviews with local and international experts in related areas to the architectural projects studied in this research.

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