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What U Can Do, Shadrach Woods
Architecture at Rice, 1970

What U Can Do, Shadrach Woods

Architecture at Rice, 1970

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"We got away from arbitrary form-making and went all the way to the other extreme of over-emphasis on systems and systems analysis, of not knowing enough to be able to decide, not enough about new and constantly evolving technologies, not enough about sociological implications of urbanism and architecture, not enough about a welter of perplexing new disciplines. And we then fall back upon the computer, waiting for printout."

— WOODS, Shadrach. “Waiting for printout” In: Perspecta, vol. 12, 1969

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S. Woods / J. Pfeufer: Urbanism is everybody’s business, Milan, 1968

S. Woods / J. Pfeufer: Urbanism is everybody’s business, Milan, 1968

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"Urbanism is everybody’s business and design, urban or architectural, is not a mysterious, magical activity to be entrusted blindly to the high priests of form."

— WOODS, Shadrach. Urbanism is everybody’s business, 1968

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Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson

Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson

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Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson
Model by Ove Arup & Partners

Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson

Model by Ove Arup & Partners

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Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson
Perspective of the ground floor of the Demonstration Building, looking sidewards into a “gallery”.

Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson

Perspective of the ground floor of the Demonstration Building, looking sidewards into a “gallery”.

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Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson
Site plan of the ground level with the open spaces of mat-building between the parking squares.

Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson

Site plan of the ground level with the open spaces of mat-building between the parking squares.

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Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building by Alison & Peter Smithson. Notes by Christian Norberg-Schulz

The Smithsons’ scheme for Kuwait aims at giving the place “a quality all her own” within a more general “Arab tradition,” which is recognized as something different from “what is fashionable in America, Europe, or Europeanised North Africa.” To fullfil this aim the Smithsons propose “a city with a low profile,” a city which does not consist of individually designed “blocks”, but is conceived as a continuous, low “mat” pattern. To structure the mat visually, the minarets of numerous old Mosques are integrated in the scheme.

As defined, the aim of the Smithsons is in tune with the traditional lay-out of the Arab city. The labyrinthine pattern may be understood as an answer to the problem of dwelling in a desert environment. Usually it is combined with low, horizontally extended buildings. Only the minarets indicate an evidently symbolic, vertical direction. The Smithsons have taken this traditional urban lay-out as their point of departure, and have managed to give it a new valid interpretation. The urban spaces and the scale of their solution conserve basic properties of the Arab tradition, and the general result is positive.

Some doubts however arise when the more detailed articulation of the project is considered. The proposed “demonstration building” is based on a regular grid with stairs towers placed diagonally at 40 metres intervals. “The tops of these stairs are hooded, and the particular design of hood or colour of ventilator vane would mark each particular ministry or faculty. Commercial offices can use them for advertising.” It seems rather dubious whether a “forest” of hooded rowers is in tune with the Arab tradition. The lively silhouette created has rather a European character, an impression which is emphasized by the pointed shape of the hoods. The towers moreover contradict the primary role assigned to the minarets. The formal articulation of the “mat”-building below neither convinces. It is based on well-known clichés from the repertoire of modern architecture, such as pilotis and continuous strip-windows. Elements which may give Kuwait “a quality all her own” within the Arab tradition, are entirely absent.

In general, the Smithsons’ scheme illustrates the present situation of contemporary architecture. It shows that some architects today are able to interpret creatively the spatial problems of a particular place, but that we are far from mastering the aspect of environmental character. Architecture is still conceived in relatively abstract terms, and solutions where the concrete built form creates a locally meaningful milieu are rare.

Lotus n. 19 (1978)

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Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson
Peter Smithson presenting the model of the mat-building to the Crown Prince of Kuwait.

Kuwait Urban Study and Mat-building (1968-72) Alison & Peter Smithson

Peter Smithson presenting the model of the mat-building to the Crown Prince of Kuwait.