It’s been great fun, and here’s to the next five years of exciting research, difficult questions, dusty roads and even dustier archives, and of course new discoveries that make everything worthwhile.
We’d like to thank all of the blog contributors (please do continue to send us your updates, research findings and short articles). Thanks also to our committed readers and for all of your kind comments and emails.
Alfred Roth’s criticism and answer to early schools in Kuwait
Ben A. Tosland, PhD Candidate at Kent School of Architecture, writes:
Recently, my research interests have taken me to Switzerland to the ETH Zurich archives with a focus on Alfred Roth, particularly looking at his work in the Persian Gulf throughout the 1960s and 1970s within the context of early critical regionalism. Roth had once worked in the offices of Le Corbusier, whose influence in form and colour was undeniable through several of his school designs executed in Kuwait in the 1960s and 70s. However, it is his criticism of Khaldiya Girls’ Secondary School designed by Rambald von Steinbüchel-Rheinwall (figure 1) that is particularly scathing and his architectural response is to be the topic of this post.
Figure 1Rambald von Steinbrüchel-Rheinwall’s secondary school for girls. This shows the assembly hall that Roth is so scathing about. (ETH Zurich: Alfred Roth Archive no. 131-0764-F-2)
In the excellent compilation of Modern projects in Kuwait from 1949-1989, Roberto Fabbri points out Roth’s scornful thoughts of this school, but only briefly mentions that this is for climatic reasons stating Roth’s thoughts on its environmental inefficiency. In the recently published second volume, he unpacks this further by spelling out the other criticisms Roth had of the school. Roth’s initial criticism is a four-fold affair relating to the excessive use of land, a waste of inner-space causing ‘uneconomic planning’, the neglect of climatic conditions through the widespread layout and ‘enormous glass area’ of the majority of rooms and finally calls the architectural design ‘superficial’ and one of ‘fancifulness.’ When Roth talks of ‘gaudiness’, he is referencing the swimming pool buildings and assembly hall, both included in Nelson Garrido’s images printed in Fabbri et al’s Modern Architecture Kuwait’s first volume. Roth’s criticisms are placed in a document that examines the situation of Kuwait’s schools in 1964, within which Roth suggests several alterations to their improvements.
In answer to his criticism of von Steinbüchel-Rheinwall’s school, Roth designed schools that drew from Kuwait and the Gulf’s rich Arab architectural and urban forms. Using his prototypes, he oversaw the construction of many prefabricated schools for a wide range of student ages. Roth aimed to take into account the cultural heritage of Kuwait with his designs noting his quote from Saba George Shiber’s 1964 study The Kuwait Urbanisation:
“contrasting with the simple, humble, dignified, beautiful and organic architecture that is the heritage of Old Kuwait is the complicated, gaudy, undisciplined, ill-mannered and inorganic architecture that has, in “one fell swoop”, replaced or bulldozed away the tranquil and indigenous architecture deriving from the Kuwaiti habitat.”
Figure 2 This image shows one of the successfully built schools by Roth with the glazing out of the sunlight owing to the covered walkway on the classroom’s exterior (1970-1) (ETH Zurich: Alfred Roth Archive no. 37-0762-F.Roth-11)
Roth’s architecture in Kuwait, as shown in the images (figures 2, 3 and 4), was contextual to its urban surroundings and respected the organic growth of design within Kuwait and the wider region. His prefabricated low-rise buildings, often introverted facing a courtyard and were built on a significantly smaller scale to the von Steinbüchel-Rheinwall designed school. The designs for all Roth’s schools had covered walkways blocking sunlight from internally glazed areas. The external walls exhibited as little glass as possible (figures 2, 3 and 4) featuring outlets for ventilation punctuating the exterior elevations ensuring climatic credentials (figure 4). The introverted nature was common across Kuwait and the Gulf primarily for cultural and climatic reasons and had been common in the centuries prior to the nation’s modernisation process (figure 3). While they do not look as extravagant as von Steinbüchel-Rheinwall’s school, Roth’s schools functioned successfully.
Figure 3 The internal courtyard of the school, showing the walkways on the exterior of the classrooms and how shaded they are from direct sunlight (1970-1) (ETH Zurich: Alfred Roth Archive no. 131-0762-F-Roth-22)
Through Roth’s criticisms of the fanciful designs that preceded him in Kuwait, he created a new form of Modern architecture influenced by research and the oversights of other architects. In terms of development and architecture in Kuwait, this was arguably a turning point towards a more contextual approach to architecture from Western designers. Buildings constructed in the decades after such as Jørn Utzon’s Kuwait National Assembly, Arne Jacobsen’s Central Bank and the unbuilt Mat Building proposals by the Smithsons built for the cultural and climatic conditions of an arid climate and conservative nation trying to find its true built identity. Archival material shows this dialogue between architects and different practices, manifesting itself in better more informed architecture that is not superficial nor fanciful.
Figure 4 The external wall of the school without glazing areas allowing for cross-ventilation and no direct sunlight into the rooms (1970-1) (ETH Zurich: Alfred Roth Archive no. 137-0162-F-Roth-4)
 Fabbri, R. Saragoça, S. Camacho, R. (2016) Modern Architecture Kuwait, 1949-1989(vol. 1). (Niggli: Zurich), pp. 54-56.
 Fabbri, R. Saragoça, S. Camacho, R. (2018) Modern Architecture Kuwait, 1949-1989 (vol. 2). (Niggli: Zurich), p. 213.
 Roth, A. (1966) The School Buildings of Kuwait, (Unpublished Report), pp. 10-22. (ETH Zurich: Alfred Roth Archive)
William Antony Henderson (1914-1998): Projects in the Middle East with Farmer and Dark
Bill Henderson, c.1980s.
Henderson studied at Liverpool School of Architecture commencing his studies during Prof. Charles Reilly’s final year as Head of School in 1932. He described it as, ‘exciting times for me both in student work and in vacations when, twice with my friend Roger Ward, I travelled by cargo boat on cheap mail fare in Italy, Germany and Scandinavia and worked in the USA [for William Lescaze] and Canada in 1936’. Reilly would often arrange work experience for his students in New York during the summer before their final year and Henderson recorded the sojourn in his sketchbooks.
Bill Henderson Sketch: New York Summer Placement, 1936
Bill Henderson Sketch: Abercromby Square, Liverpool
Bill Henderson Sketch:Boarding the Troop Ship in Liverpool, 1941
He returned to Liverpool and completed his thesis entitled, ‘A Residential group for the University of London’ before being awarded both the prestigious John Rankin Prize and Honan travelling scholarship that funded a research trip to Chile, the findings of which were later published in the Architectural Review. Although professing ‘little experience of nitty gritty’ he worked for Grey Wornum and was about to start work for Shepherd & Partners when war was declared on 1st September 1939. After signing-up to serve, he was posted to Turkey on a troop ship via Sierra Leone, round the Cape through the Suez Canal to Ismailia, with the final stretch by air. He served in the Royal Engineers designing roads and airfields (the illustrated diaries from this period are now housed in the Imperial War Museum).
Returning to the UK in 1945 he worked at Hertfordshire County Architects on their radical school building programmes. He joined the firm of Farmer and Dark in 1951, becoming partner in 1954 until his retirement in 1980. The practice was renowned for handling large complex projects and as their 1955 practice brochure notes, ‘there can be no casual atelier character for a team over a hundred strong’. Many large-scale projects were overseen by Henderson during this period, including the Automobile Association HQ and he was Consultant Architect to Kent University (taking over from Lord Holford), where amongst others he designed the Senate House, Keynes College, the Gulbenkian Theatre, as well as shaping the Master Plan – but what interests us here is the work at Kuwait, Aden and Lebanon.
Kuwait Power Station, 1951
Kuwait Water Tower: perspective by Cyril Farey
Palace for Sheikh Jabir Al Ali, 1960
Henderson set up the Farmer and Dark Middle Eastern Office in Beirut to handle the large number of projects being commissioned in the region, including in Turkey and Cyprus. He first visited Kuwait in 1952, following the commission to design a power station and water distillation plant at Kuwait Town. Prior to the water plant, all fresh water had to be imported from Iraq. Building materials, including bricks, were imported from the UK, but post-war building rations resulted in the steel being sourced from Belgium. The large mass of the power station is dispersed through projecting triangular cornices and sloped vertical fins, that add shadow, texture and rhythm to the substantial volumes.
The Kuwait water towers, as drawn here by Cyril Farey, show a similar concern for using climatic modification to inform the character and formal composition. There is a restrained pragmatic approach to their work, as well as a concern for bold outlines and a clarity in the formal layout and planning. Further work was won including two primary schools, and an Engish Public School in Lebanon (subsequently abandoned following the 1958 Lebanon Crisis).
The Kuwait Team at Farmer and Dark – note the power station photo on the right hand side
L: Bill Henderson, M: Frankland Dark; R: T. A. Eaton
Farmer and Dark also designed a new lavish palace for the Sheikh Jabir Al Ali. There were many references to local patterns and decoration, and bold colours deployed to resist the strong sunlight. A series of hyperbolic arches forms a parasol over the main building, offering some shade to the structure below as well as adding a sense of grandeur and civic stature to the design.
Construction at Little Aden, 1960-1965
Perspective of the proposed town of Little Aden
The Church and Clock Tower at Little Aden, 1965
Church Interior, Little Aden, looking up into the lantern, 1965
Perhaps the highlight of this work is the British Army Cantonment at Little Aden designed and built between 1960-65 to house 4500 servicemen and their families. A small town was planned including a variety of different housing types for the various army ranks, as well as a school, sports facilities, cinema, clubhouses and a church. The entire town was designed around a modular system ensuring minimum site work, quick construction and standard details, as well as a progressive approach to data management and standardised drawing processes.
In stark contrast to the earlier reserved work the square timber trusses of the church are alternately stacked at 45° to the layer below to create a dramatic interior, as well as responding to the mountainous backdrop with its external form. It was a roofing technique dating back at least to the time of Vitruvius, who mentioned its use at Colchis. The church was subsequently converted into a mosque after the British were evacuated in November 1967 following attacks from the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). The press speculated that the settlement was designed with Arab occupation in mind from the outset – a claim rejected by the architects who designed ‘for the conditions of Arabia and in character with the terrain, so the buildings are bound to be apt for other use, than by the British army’. The arrangement of the church sited on a rocky spur of the Jebel, ‘not only proves to have an affinity with the stone forts of South Arabia but also to the traditional relationship of mosque to minaret.’ Indeed, the architects considered the possibility of the church being converted into a mosque in the event of the British departing.
There’s a lot more to discuss about Farmer and Dark, and the significant contribution made by people such as Bill Henderson to this practice. We hope to post a lot more images and details on the blog in the next few months to bring more of this work to light.
I’m extremely grateful and indebted to Tessa and Kathy Henderson for generously sharing their father’s archive with me.
South African ‘know-how’ and Israeli ‘facts of life’: the planning of Afridar, Ashkelon, 1949–1956, Planning Perspectives by Ayala Levin.
In 1949, in the newly founded state of Israel, South African architects Norman Hanson and Roy Kantorowich planned the city of Ashkelon and, within it, the exclusive neighbourhood unit Afridar. Managed by the South African Jewish Appeal, which initiated and funded the project, Afridar presented a radical exception to Israel’s centralized planning approach during that period.
Figure 6. Arieh Sharon, Plan for Migdal-Gad – Ashkelon, 1951, with added key by the author. Source: Sharon, Arieh. Physical Planning in Israel. Jerusalem: Government Printer, 1951 [in Hebrew].
An early example of a semi-private settlement initiative for an ethnic and class-based enclave reserved for ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Jewish immigrants, it functioned as a ‘model town’ for the immigrant population from the Middle East and North Africa, which was housed by the government in the rest of the city of Ashkelon. Afridar’s enclave reproduced planning practices from South Africa, which had been coloured by race since the 1920s. Despite its exclusive image, it was modelled after progressive experiments in the design of Native Townships. Their main objective of such experiments was to improve the standards of housing of racially discriminated populations yet, in practice, they served as a tool to implement apartheid policies. This paper interrogates this ambivalence of social aspirations and complicity with state segregation practices through examining the translation of apartheid’s planning practices to the Israeli context, and the negotiations and conflicts this translation entailed.
As a Syrian architect, my enjoyment is complete when I wander through the districts of Old Damascus. I used to walk with my daughter and tell her stories about each significant place we passed. In Old Damascus – one of the longest inhabited cities in the world – 5,000 years of history come alive. The tight network of traditional streets are complemented by stunning architectural masterpieces, such as the ancient Umayyad Mosque (completed in 715AD), the Roman Temple of Jupiter and the Byzantine arches.
Al Asruniyeh souk was our favourite destination on special occasions. Al Asruniyeh is a commercial neighbourhood located between the Citadel of Damascus and the Great Mosque of the Umayyads, inside the walls of the ancient city. The souks of Damascus are a part of the daily life – bustling marketplaces where political, social and cultural differences are forgotten.
Yet since the start of the armed conflict in Syria six years ago, much has changed in my home town. Although the city remains relatively safe compared to other parts of Syria, many have fled, lives and livelihoods have been lost and treasured cultural heritage has been destroyed.
In April 2016, a fire raged through Al-Asruniyeh. For the local community, losing part of Old Damascus is like misplacing part of their own soul, their memory and identity.
Yet history has shown that despite attempts to destroy Damascus, it has always risen from the ashes, stronger and brighter, powered by the local community. Time and time again, the Damascenes have proven adept at rebuilding their lives and their city in the wake of disaster.
Rising from ashes
For example, in 1860 when Syria was under occupation by the Ottoman empire, the quarter of Bab Tuma in the north-east of the city was ransacked. Over 3,500 houses, churches and monasteries were comprehensively looted and set ablaze. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were displaced.
The district was rebuilt between 1863 and 1880, by local builders who returned after the clash. Elements of the old Bab Tuma were preserved by using traditional materials to create similar urban forms. Yet innovative features were also added. Builders used new decorative techniques, and added open windows to the façades as a reflection of “new” social needs, opening them up to the street outside.
Again, on October 18, 1925, the city was bombed by the French army in an attempt to quell a revolution against French rule. As a result, the western district – known at that time as Sidi Amoud – was mostly destroyed. Several traditional masterpieces were burned or damaged, and hundreds of lives were lost.
The district was remodelled in 1926 by the French, this time according to modern European characteristics. The local community, who had no voice in this reconstruction, changed the district’s name into Al-Hariqah – which means “fire” in Arabic – to commemorate the terrible event. This rebuilt area has a peculiar character. The orthogonal road network and the heights of the buildings differ from the organic urban fabric of Old Damascus, and the new structures do little to reflect what was lost.
Rebuilding Al Asruniyeh
Today, Damascenes are once again confronted with the task of rebuilding – and this time, they control the outcome. Yet the loss of Al-Asruniyeh raises critical questions about what should rise in its place.
The history of Damascus shows that when ruins are rebuilt by the local community, the new layer is imbued with the soul of the city. Rather than covering the city’s history up, the new buildings become a part of it. For that reason, community input is needed now more than ever before.
The heritage of Syria has been a source of pride and dignity for the Syrians, despite differences in religion and political opinion. Their built heritage has been always a source of shared memory and history, as we all enjoy its authentic and aesthetic character. Old Damascus, with all its souks, khans and districts, embodies Syrians’ cultural, social, educational and economic values.
Because of this, safeguarding the architectural characteristics of the old city should be a cornerstone of the reconstruction process. City authorities must develop a plan to manage Old Damascus’ urban heritage, in a way that upholds its social and cultural integrity.
What’s more, rebuilding the Al Asruniyeh souk presents an opportunity for reconciliation. Although the armed conflict continues, Syria has been enduring it with dignity and pride. Starting the reconstruction now is vital, to encourage Syrians to return and participate in rebuilding their country, spreading a feeling of safety, ownership and pride in the city once more.
The two-day Urban Heritage Activism conference will focus on heritage ‘from below’–urban history as it is lived, represented and transformed by local communities in diverse geographies and cultural contexts. Speakers from grassroots movements, academic and cultural institutions will address political ramifications and power struggles related to heritage and introduce the failures and solutions of various activism projects, especially in postcolonial contexts. Contributors will debate contemporary tensions and future strategies for interventions through a roundtable discussion at the end of each day.
In addition to the stimulating conference programme, the Simulizi Mijini / Urban Narratives exhibition Juxtaposing Narratives: Dar es Salaam and Berlin will open at 8pm on Friday 17 March with a cooking performance, live music and a DJ. Walking tours and film screenings will round off the programme of events.
Speakers and moderators: Erica Abreu, Jully Acuna, Yaşar Adanali, Awami Art Collective, Comfort Badaru, Diane Barbé, Shraddha Bhatawadekar, Vittoria Capresi, Jerome Chou , Rebecca Corey, Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper, Matthias Einhoff, Anne-Katrin Fenk, Zinovia Foka, Susanne Förster, Benjamin Häger, Maj Horn, Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Sehr Jalil, Leila Javanmardi, Claudia Jürgens, Georg Krajewsky, Rachel Lee, Farah Makki, Sarita Mamseri, Srdjan Mandić, Mansion, Avehi Menon, Philipp Misselwitz, Monika Motylinska, Rishika Mukhopadhyay, Laura Murray, Marcelo Murta, Naira Mushtaq, Cord Pagenstecher, Luise Rellensmann, Ana Luisa Ribeiro, Juliane Richter, Gözde Şarlak, Jona Schwerer, Annika Seifert, Gülsah Stapel, Samaila Suleiman and Mike Terry
Artists: Rehema Chachage, Cloud Chatanda, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, KUNSTrePUBLIK and Jan van Esch, Umesh Maddanahalli, Michelle Monareng, Patrick Mudekereza, Paul Ndunguru, Nadin Reschke, and Alex Römer
The Architecture of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew:
We’re delighted to announce that our Fry and Drew book is to be published in paperback format in a few days time. This should make it a little more affordable and hopefully accessible to a broader audience in West Africa and India…