Kuwait City: A city’s architectural landscape is often a reflection of the country’s history and culture. While monuments and buildings are considered pieces of a country’s heritage and cultural identity, some also serve a dual purpose and are a symbol of a nation’s independence and sovereignty.
Like many countries around the world, Kuwait has national monuments and buildings that are of historical and cultural significance. Although significance is a subjective word, there are a couple of buildings that not only stand out aesthetically but tell an important story about Kuwait’s history.
During Kuwait’s ‘Golden Era’, usually referring to the period between 1946 to up until the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, several developmental projects were established to enhance Kuwait socially and economically, as well as highlight and showcase the country’s culture and heritage.
“The built environment is a tangible mark of the extent of a country’s existence in a specific place and time, and a nation’s heritage serves as an anchor and powerful testament to its presence,” Zahra Ali Baba, a Kuwaiti architect and cultural heritage expert, told Gulf News.
There are several monuments and buildings that narrate Kuwait’s history but for the sake of this piece, we will be looking at two specific buildings (one of which is a unit) to understand how they stand as a symbol of Kuwait’s freedom and liberty.
Arguably one of the most iconic landmarks, the Kuwait Towers are not only an aesthetically significant piece of architectural work, rather they are part of a nation-wide water supply and reservoir project.
Up until Kuwait built its own water distillation system, it was dependent on importing water from neighboring countries. This in turn put Kuwait in a vulnerable position as the country lacked any sources of freshwater.
Ali Baba pointed out that the Kuwait Towers were built during a time when the country was going through a complex social transformation process and that creating a water system was important to maintain Kuwait’s sovereignty considering the geopolitics of the time.
Commissioned by the Ministry of Electricity and Water back in 1965, this project was considered one of the most important development projects in Kuwait’s modern history as it catered to the country’s growing need for water.
The project consists of two components: the Kuwait towers and the Water Towers, otherwise known as the Mushroom Towers.
The Kuwait Towers are made up of two buildings and one light rode. The tallest building, which stands at around 180 meters, has two spheres. The top sphere serves as a tourist attraction, as it is home to the viewing sphere which rotates 360 degrees every half an hour. As for the bottom sphere, the top half is a restaurant and café, while the bottom half is a water reservoir. The second tower, 147 meters in height, has only one sphere which is completely used as a water reservoir.
The iconic buildings were designed by the Danish architect Malene Bjørn and produced by the engineering firm VBB (Vattenbyggnadsbyran AB).
Other than being an important component of Kuwait’s water system, the towers are also a reflection of Islamic culture with a modern twist. The green and blue tiles that make up the exterior of the spheres are a combination of western technology and Islamic culture, alluding to the direction Kuwait was moving in back in the 20th century.
In 1979, the Kuwait Towers were inaugurated as a national landmark and were featured on the old one Kuwaiti dinar bill.
Only three years after the Kuwait Towers were built, in 1980 the project was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
To further solidify the tower’s significance, they are listed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site and are currently waiting on approval.
When the Kuwait Towers were completed back in 1977, they were part of 31 water towers, which are scattered around Kuwait and are connected to the two seawater distillation plants. After the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Kuwait Towers and the water towers were disconnected.
The disconnect meant that Kuwait Towers were no longer connected as part of the water infrastructure, but the water towers continued to operate as an important piece in Kuwait’s water supply infrastructure.
Since then there have been more water towers built around Kuwait, totaling more than 50 to date, serving not only as a vital water project but they have become a national icon as well.
“Although the water towers were a Swedish design and were already implemented in Sweden, they were the first of their kind in the region and symbolizes Kuwait’s social progress and pioneering vision at the time,” Ali Baba explained.
As its name signifies, the Liberation Tower is the second building that symbolizes Kuwait’s independence.
Although known as the Liberation Tower today, it was originally supposed to be called the Kuwait Telecommunications Tower, alluding to its purpose to strengthen Kuwait’s network capacity back in 1968 when Kuwait was enhancing its existing communication complex.
In 1987, construction on the building began but was then halted three years later due to the invasion. Once the structure was finally completed in 1993, during its inauguration it was named the Liberation Tower.
As the second tallest building in Kuwait, standing at 372 meters, it clearly stands out not only because of its height but as a symbol of rebirth and independence following the devastating nine-month war that Kuwait and its people endured.
The Liberation Tower is home to the ‘Government Mall’ and hosts a variety of governmental agencies and a revolving observatory. The tower has 18 elevators, which are considered some of the fastest in the world.