Arab Organizations Headquarters Building in Kuwait: An Architectural Splendor

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“A very ordinary building, in look, style and typical office like”, is what one would think each time they pass this structure. In fact, one cannot miss laughing about this structure when they read in Touristic book section of “Places to visit in Kuwait”. I had a similar feeling when I read it; nevertheless, I put my inhibitions aside and thought of visiting an ordinary building not expecting to see anything grand or fancy.

Arab Fund Organizations Headquarters Building, situated outside Kuwait City in Shuwaikh, blends modern architectural techniques with traditional artisan crafts. The interior design incorporates cultures from Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, and of course Kuwait. The atrium is most spectacular with its garden, light and glass wall. Completed in 1994, it is home to four major Arab organizations: the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries), the Inter-Arab Investment Guarantee Corporation and the Arab Maritime Petroleum Transport Company.

To visit this building, a written letter must be sent by fax in advance to request an appointment and explain that you wish to see the building's interior and you'll be given a guided tour by one of the employees. It is advisable to go in groups of four or more and less than twenty five in order to experience the exclusiveness of the place.

To begin with, the entrance doors (two) are a massive hand carved doors each weighing one ton each, well balanced that they open at the touch of a finger. I was curious to learn this and tried my finger touch to open the door, and it did. That left me amazed. I knew from here on, that my visit was worth the time and effort. I was curious to know more. The staff informed us that, no nails or glue hold the individual pieces in place. This allows the wood to expand with the extreme heats of the region without harming the door.

As you enter, your attention is immediately drawn to the colossal Moroccan water wall with its colorful hand-crafted tiles and a complimentary Moroccan tile-work.

We were taken to the library section first, and inside this room is a graceful spiral staircase that intrigued our minds. To enter the library, you have to pass an intricate wood screen and a Moroccan mosaic border around the carpet. The wood screen is carved in traditional Arabesque design. It lets in light while providing privacy. The screen is comprised of 13,000 pieces of wood inset with glass. The chamfered edges of the glass create a prism effect, so that the light shimmers and creates rainbows with the slightest movement.

Next we were taken to the ground-floor pre-function hall. A Moroccan carpet covers the center of the floor. Even the small brass table surrounded by four chairs boasts an intricately designed base. Every ornament, every stitch here has been executed by hand.
To the left of this hall is a room called “The Tunisian Room”. The highly polished surfaces of the Tunisian Meeting Room reflect the exquisite craftsmanship of the Tunisian ceramic tile panels and exquisitely carved stone work. Framed by graceful Jordanian stone columns, lighting fixtures, planters and wooden cornices, the ceramic panels of the Tunisian Room display traditional Tunisian designs. The huge marble conference table is surrounded by arches gracefully supported by double columns. The walls are carved Tunisian stone and the floors, columns and arches are cut from Jordanian stone. These movable screens cut the glare from the windows in place of curtains. I was surprised to see that no electric wires or cable points were in this room, and when I asked the staff, he smiled to show us how intelligently they were well placed to maintain the aesthetics of the room. I was also inquisitive to know how dignitaries would speak clearly without the usage of microphones that generally emerge from under the table or sideways. To this the staff, instructed me to go over to the other end of the room while he was at one end, he spoke in normal tone and at the other end I could hear him very clearly. We were 10 meters apart from each other.

We were brought back into the pre-function hall and to the right of this hall is a meeting room, called “The Damascus Room or Syrian Room”. It is a VIP lounge area. Its focal point is an elaborate marble fountain overflowing into a series of pools that gives a soothing effect of gently rippling water. Seats line the walls offering guests the full effect of the room. Thick stripes of indigenous stone in yellow, black and white form the walls. The colored stone sets off the painted wooden relief ceiling. The intricately inlaid floor is as smooth as glass. No detail has been overlooked here. The brass planters carry out the arabesque design. Even the sprinklers and smoke detectors have been incorporated into the arabesques to retain the aesthetic harmony of the room.

Back into the pre-function hall, I could not believe the fact that such a beautiful building existed in Kuwait that intrigues us throughout the visit. From here, a marble slope leads up to the next section of our visit.

We reach the central atrium, which is so delightful, warm, welcoming and sociable like. Traditional geometric patterns are repeated in the inlaid marble floor. From here in front of us, we can see the Egyptian Mashrabiya (a wooden screen which is nine floors tall), hand crafted without a single nail or glue used to fix the pieces together. On another end, a suspended glass wall that is five floors tall captures your eye. The suspended glass paneled wall allows mostly indirect light into the Central Atrium. Sunrise, about 5:30 a.m. and the coolest time of day, is the only time when direct sunlight shines through the glass panels. As dusk falls, the brass chandeliers automatically flood the central atrium with shimmering light. Careful planning went into making sure that all areas of the building would be easily accessible to maintenance. Steel cables can be lowered from any two holes in the atrium's ceiling not more than 12 meters apart and connected to a maintenance cradle. This provides access to all levels of the atrium from the Mashrabiya to the Chandeliers for cleaning and any necessary repairs. When not in use, lights plug the ceiling holes.

Around the central atrium area are 40 year old trees which give additional shade to this hall, keeping the temperature cool even during noon time which is extremely hot in this region. In the middle, a Syrian star shape fountain is visible, inlaid with the marble flooring.

We were offered snacks and drinks in the courtyard to relish the refreshing feeling when one is seated in the central atrium. After this, the staff took us to the third floor and into the Prayer room which is entirely Moroccan in design. Illuminated by subtle ceiling light and stained glass windows, the prayer room features a richly woven carpet, skilled stone work and a hand carved gypsum ceiling.

Further on, we enter a wooden conference room that is 12th century Egyptian style, called the Mamluk meeting room. The heavy carved oak ceiling hangs low over the inlaid table of the Mamluk Room. The massive ceiling piece had to be brought in in sections and assembled on site. Carved beadwork Mashrabiya covers the windows and built-in bookcases showcase traditional arts. Yet, beneath all its medieval grandeur, this room also has all the modern technology and conveniences of a modern board room.

Not forgetting the modern architectural works, another meeting room adjacent to the Mamluk room is designed, which is entirely glass work and a contrast to the Mamluk room. The conference table is made of glass and sits atop sculpted marble pedestals.

To move over from one side of the building to the other, one has to cross the bridge on the third floor that connects to the diwaniya (reception area) and dining area. At this point, you can see the wonder of the five storey glas


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