TheKuwait water towers
Thearchitecture and the builders
Thecity of Kuwait had a water shortage problem and in 1953, it wasprovided with two large seawater distillation plants. However, thecity lacked a piped water distribution system and this constrainedthe water transportation to be done through tankers to consumers. In1965, VBB (Vattenbyggnadsbyran AB), a Swedish architectural andengineering firm, was commissioned by the Ministry of Electricity andWater of Kuwait to design a modern distribution system. (WaterTowers, 1983). “Since 1965, VBB has worked on the water supply forKuwait City. As part of the project, three water towers were plannedon the waterfront in the centre. I was commissioned to design theinteriors,” Says Malene, 2013.
KuwaitTowers were designed by the Danish architect Malene Björn as part ofa water distribution project, run by the Swedish engineering companyVBB since 1997. Chief architect of the company was Sune Lindström.However, he worked with the help of other builders namely: JoeLindström of Stockholm in Sweden, Stig Egnell of Gothenburg inSweden, Björn and Björn Design (Malene Björn) of Stockholm inSweden. (Water Towers, 1983). Sune erected five groups of his typical"mushroom" water towers, the Kuwait Water Towers, but theAmir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed, wanted a more attractivedesign for the sixth site. Further, VBB, commissioned the actualbuilding task to the Energoprojekt Companyof Belgrade, Yugoslavia.(Rinnoo.net, 2013).
Theelevated tanks have a height of 38.5m and have diameters of 32m atthe upper rim of the water tanks. This gives the tanks a capacity ofmore than 2.4 million liters or 650,000 gallons of fresh water.(DYWIDAG- Systems International 2014).Notably, the cost of a bottleof water in Kuwait is more expensive than a bottle of fuel. (Torrent2012). This shows how important their volume is.
Tofurther strengthen the structures, the mushroom-shaped towers werepost-tensioned with strand tendons made by DYWIDAG- SystemsInternational (DSI), a construction company. DSIsupplied 66 6-0.5" DYWIDAG Ring Tendons with anchorages andaccessories to post-tension each tank. (DYWIDAG- SystemsInternational 2014). At first, the ducts and tendons were installedinto the formwork at ground level where they got hydraulically liftedonto the pillars of the water towers. Thereafter, concreting,post-tensioning and grouting of the tendons were carried out usingthe equipment that had been supplied by DSI.
WaterTowers (1983) noted that the groups of mushroom towers were praisedfor the variation in their execution and color scheme, givingidentity to different districts, and the way in which the shade underthe towers had been put to use as parkland and recreational areas: “abold attempt to integrate modern technology, aesthetic values,functional needs and social facilities in a public utility”. “TheKuwait Tower is a completely unique architectural creation, more orless a sculpture, standing in stark contrast to lower, more everydaybuildings.” (Water Towers, 1983).
EconomicConsiderations at the time
Inthe 1960s, the Middle East discovered oil, and the economic andcultural impact of that discovery has caused a building boomunparalleled elsewhere in the world at any time in history. Thevitality of the region is evidenced by an architectural style that,unlimited by monetary constraints, is opulent, and yet somehowmanages to handle the extremes of climate and tradition successfully.(Kultermann, 1999). Therefore, it is apparent that the building ofKuwait towers was at a time when Kuwait was experiencing the brink ofeconomical competency. As a result, today, the structure stands as anemblem giving reference (and documentation) to the epoch of the rapidgrowth and dramatic economic and urban development of Kuwait afterthe discovery and export of oil. It stands as the embodiment ofWestern advancement in engineering technologies merged with motifs ofArab and Islamic cultures and heritage. (National Council forCulture, Arts and Letters, 2014). The towers were built in reinforcedconcrete and prestressed concrete. They cost 4,700,000 KD which isaround 16,540,000 USD. The towers represent the rise of an economicpower. (Water towers, 1983).
Socialand Cultural Considerations affecting the Design
Thearchitects deliberately merged local and global elements in buildingthe mushroom water towers. The mushroom shaped water towers thatpunctuate the suburban skyline are meant to evoke palm trees aroundan oasis. (Richard Warren et al, 2013). (National Council forCulture, Arts and Letters, 2014) say that as a symbol of Kuwait`smodernization, Water Towers of Kuwait celebrates life and change,design creativity and engineering, in its pure form.
Reactionof the General Populace towards the project
Kuwaitserves in a hot, arid desert climate. This can be compared to anotherone within the region known as Oman. Oman is seen to have become anation out of this water development projects. Oman`spopulation consisted mainly of nomads, who roamed around untillocating an available source of water, and settled accordingly. Itsexhaustion meant that they had to begin to wander again until theyfound new sources. This critical advancement in water distributionsystem allowed for an even and constant, distribution of water inorder for Oman`s nomadic population to settle permanently in oneplace, allowing for nationhood. Now similarly, in Kuwait, after thediscovery of oil, and the corresponding plan to modernize Kuwait,supplying a sufficient amount of fresh water was set as one of thehighest priorities in the rapidly progressing state. As noted by theNational Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, (2014), AbrajAl-Kuwait represents an outstanding creative contribution totwenty-century architecture, not only for Kuwait and the Middle East,but also for architecture as a whole. Its effect is seen to expandbeyond the borders of Kuwait.
Historyof the water towers
Inthe late 19th century, Kuwait City served as an important regionaltrading port. It was perched at the north end of the Arabian Gulf.Its seaside settlers also found economic prosperity in pearl divingfarther inland, Bedouin nomads inhabited the desert. Kuwait declinedin economic importance in the late 1920s, leaving most of itsinhabitants impoverished. (Gonzalez, 2014).
The1930s brought renewed hope. On the eve of World War II, drillingrevealed that the harsh desert climate of Kuwait was home to some ofthe largest oil fields in the world. There followed a sheer volume ofnew constructions and also accompanied with it destruction which weresymbols of newfound wealth. In 1952, amaster plan to revamp the old Kuwait City went into effect.Consequently, Kuwaitis were resettled in the suburbs to give room fornew city buildings and infrastructure. Old buildings were torn downand Kuwait became modern by importing Western buildings. In 1961 thenation declared independence from Great Britain, under which Kuwaithad become a protectorate in 1899.
Kuwaitwater towers were erected in 1965. In Arabic, they are known as“Abraj Al- Kuwait”. They were an army of blue-and-white stripedmushroom water towers and were a physical manifestation of Kuwait`sdominance over seawater. Built by Chief Architect Sune Lindistrom, 31towers placed in five groups were established and are connected tothe distribution grid of the two already built distillation seawaterplants. Finally, the water could be purified and supplied to itsresidents. Water Towers (1983) said that the water distribution andstorage system of Kuwait City received a significant increment in1976 when the Ministry of Electricity and Water built 33 towers.These have a combined storage capacity of 102,000 cubic metres.(Mohamed, 2014). Distribution and service zones required the storageof large quantities of water in various locations. Included was theneed for locating 9`000 cubic metres at the northern part of the citynear the shore of the Persian Gulf. These additional towers had aspecial design with globes. Though not conspicuous, during the firstGulf war of 1990 to 1991, some of the water towers of Kuwait weredestroyed.
Religious,philosophical and political considerations of the Towers
TheMalene Bjorn designed towers were inaugurated in 1977. These hadgiant spindles of mosaic- punctuated towers. Kuwaitisaffectionately compare these structures to ones in TheJetsons,a testament to the futuristic fervor of the nation`s Golden Era.These introduce an aspect of religion in design of the towers.According to water sources (1983), the towers complex exhibits aninterchange between Arab-Islamic cultural and visual representations.
Still,despite the scientific rationality in fulfilling the functional needsof a complex water supply and storage system, Abraj Al-Kuwait`s shaperepresents a full understanding of the role of history and locale asinspiration and integration. Here, East meets West, past meetspresent and brilliant minds gather up to conjure this monumentalsolidification of human genius, unifying moments of that particularstage of history in an iconic building. What could have been a meretechnical structure was created into something beyond, opening newperspectives into a humanistic approach toward technology in general.This is an aspect of philosophy where different eras and scopes ofknowledge are harnessed. Besides that, it plays such a crucial visualand iconic role in Kuwait as a landmark, the Kuwait Towers groupstays true to its function in its accessibility to the public.
Thetowers have also impacted the political realm as seen by Gonzelez(2014) when she visited the Ecochard’s Museum only to meetrepresentations of the towers in a catalogue used in the museum. Ithad five divisions symbolizing the five towers. Each paralleled aparticular theme: the bad administration affecting everything inKuwait ranging from Kuwait’s architectural projects to Governmentaction, the country’s relation to and dependency on water, itstransformation from a pre-oil to post oil society and its capitalcity`s series of failed master plans. Moregenerally, the concept of the museum itself, as an institutionalmodel, became central to the team`s message. Just as a museumacquires works to build its collection, Kuwait acquired modernity bycommissioning buildings and structures from Western architects,contributing to a new cultural legacy.
Onanother note, The Kuwait Tower stands chiefly as a symbol for thestate of Kuwait and its fabulous development within a few years froma small town to a modern capital of world-wide fame." (Aga KhanReport). AbrajAI-Kuwait as a monument and water tank retained the original functionsince the day of inauguration, the property continues to be the mainattraction on the coast with the surrounding landscape serving as apublic space connecting the seascape with the city itself. (NationalCouncil for Culture, Arts and Letters, June 2014).
Thestructure Kuwait water Towers
Asmentioned earlier, these towers take the shape of a mushroom. Laterdesign use spherical shaped water reservoirs. The volume of eachmushroom tower is 3000 cubic metres. Tower groups are distinguishedby color, height and ornamentation. Amazingly, each tower groupstands as a landmark in its own district. (Alkouh, 2014). Thesetowers were designed differently due to their existence on the KuwaitBay, and the tip of the Kuwait City waterfront.  Out of tendesigns created, and three designs submitted, the one designed byarchitect Malene Bjorn was the one chosen. (Archofkuwait, 2011).
Theprocess of assembling the water towers as explained by Water Towers(1983), is that first, shafts were erected in the desired place.Second, Storage containers were brought to the site that weretypically the tanks and finally, cranes were used to hoist them inplace (at the top). “When constructing the towers each group amodular scaffolding standard was used for mounting sliding formworkand prestressed concrete was poured in site to accelerateconstruction, mixed with sand and gravel collected in the desert.”(wikiarquitectura, 2013). The shuttering of the mushroom-shaped tankwas designed with prefabricated elements mounted at ground level andthen hoisted to its final place for dumping. After pouring andprestressed shell, pulled the formwork and prepared for reuse. Withthis standardized 31 were built towers, quickly and accurately,easily allowing the difference in height and the number of towerseach group.
Italso remains very amazing that desired changes can be made on thetowers to even incorporate a more recent preference. National Councilfor Culture, Arts and Letters, (June 2014) puts forward that theform, design and materials used in the towers, as well as theinterior space retain most of the original condition and very minimalalterations of the interior can still be reversed to achieve a highvalue of authenticity.
DesiGonzalez (2014) shows that Swedish architect`s Lindström`s watertowers are Kuwait City icons: their blue-and-white stripes have madetheir way onto plastic water bottle labels, and their mushroom shapecan even be seen in the designs of private homes. Most noticeably,they serve as models for water fountains placed around the capital,allowing passersby to drink or to wash their hands before mosque.Replicatedas a functional miniature, Lindström`s design persists as a unifyingnational symbol, and a success story of Kuwaiti midcentury modernism.In a more recent statement by Gonzalez, Kuwaiti pavilion served as aset for Farid`s film crew.
Experience,view and opinion
TheTowers of Kuwait stand remarkably as a tool for great source oflearning. While, striking the balance between ancient culture andmodernism, these towers incorporate the themes of life. It has beensaid that water is life_ which is true. In its absence, lifetransforms into death, plants wither and die, and man starves todeath. The fact that these towers are water reservoirs initiatesinsinuations that the buildings have a life concern! They should notbe depicted as mere erect tall structures but as a source of hope fortomorrow. As far as the buildings stand and as far as they distributewater, Kuwaitis are assured of continuity of life. The structureshave for a long time solved what would have otherwise been a criticalconcern for Kuwaitis_ water problem. By the virtue of mentioning amushroom in a desert, it shows that the towers are an oasis of theplace.
Additionally,these towers have remained a great valuable asset to Kuwait not onlyfor the important function they serve but also for the structuraldesign they have employed. Affiliating the buildings’ components tothe desert life tools as part of the design links the building tofeelings and perceptions of man creating a hope aspect. (See fig.a.). They not only stand as spectacular magnificent construction butalso induce the beholder to revere their presence. These structuresundoubtedly own a deeper sense beyond what they physically display.Infact, ArchofKuwauit(2011) says that KuwaitTowers are one of the attraction points in Kuwait where you can enjoythe view and a unique experience. As evident, the “uniqueexperience” is physically immeasurable.
Fig.a. The water towers are similar in design with desert palms.
Themain objective of the project that gave Kuwait an absolute solutionto water shortage problem is an immense step in her development as anation. This should be taken as a good example for a nation thatwould like to unravel such a hurdle_ of water shortage. It“represents a new approach to the design of a water tank”. Thisis achieved by ensuring that they generate enough pressure. (See Fig.c.). (National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, 2014). Thevolume of the water reservoirs is enough for the Kuwaitis, besidesthat, they have gained the country income from numerous tourists whovisit Kuwait to see these wonders (See fig. b).
Fig.b. The water towers of Kuwait are also a tourist attraction.
Fig.c.Anew approach to building a water-tank.
However,on a negative note, a website by the name “Life After People FanonWiki” argues on the life span of the structures. To start with, anassumption is made that if an outlet pump of one of the water towerwould fail, sprinklers would stop. This would mean that even homefaucets would no longer drip water. However, the towers themselvesare continually being filled and since there is no outlet at thetime, water would fill to the brim and start spilling over. In a morereal sense, water would shoot from the top and the tank becomes awater bomb where it explodes. This would affect the group of themushrooms and probably they would fall onto others and theirobjective would be a thing of the past. However, the authenticity ofthis proposal is not validated. In fact, the website suggests thatthe entire process would use fifty years before all the towers arebrought down. Further, it assumes a fading postulation as theconstruction process uses materials that aim at creating stabilityand strength of the water towers.
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