The Child in the City: Play, Architecture, and Urbanism in Modern Kuwait, 1957-1983

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Architectural history
child-centered planning
cross-cultural exchanges
Kindergarten Community Unit
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Almutawa, Wadha

From a humble port medina to the remarkable evolution of a modern metropolis, Kuwait underwent a captivating transformation (1950s-1980s) that encapsulated the spirit of progress and urbanization common to many other countries in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula. While historical narratives have predominantly focused on the impact of globalization and socio-political factors, this dissertation recognizes the role of the youngest citizens, the children, as key contributors to the country’s development. This facet has often escaped the spotlight of modern histories of city planning, prompting my efforts to revisit and redefine our understanding of how architectural and urban narratives were in fact shaped by a focus on the ‘child.’ This dissertation, focused on Kuwait, challenges conventional historical narratives by presenting a new interpretation of modernism— one that includes family, cultures of living, and environment.In the aftermath of the Second World War and Kuwait's attainment of independence from Britain’s protection, Western urban concepts pertaining to the family and the child became influential and were integrated into Kuwaiti urban planning practices. Despite their colonial origins, these concepts were embraced and integrated, the manifestation of which materialized in the form of neighborhood units, particularly the Kindergarten Community Unit, which placed the child at the center of urban living. The National Housing Authority of Kuwait adopted child-centered planning concepts and incorporated them into their “Community Development Manual,” which has served as the basis for designing all neighborhood units since 1951. This dissertation evaluates the manifestations of this approach through two case studies designed in the 1970s that were different from the traditional single-family housing units in having explored family life in experimental high-density neighborhood units. The first case study investigates the unrealized competition for the East Sulaibikhat neighborhood unit, which faced challenges as Kuwaitis rejected the concept of apartment units. The second case study focuses on the recently demolished derivative design of Al Sawaber residential complex by Arthur Erickson Associates, which aimed to reintegrate Kuwaiti citizens into the heart of the city. By focusing on this minor history of the urbanization of Kuwait in relation to the child, this research serves as a reference to future architecture and urban studies in Kuwait and the region by emphasizing the significance of reinstating a planning approach that prioritizes the role of the child within community development practices.

Trubiano, Franca
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