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Opening Ceremony for the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre
Kuwait has created a cultural centre for ceremony, celebration and artistic expression which places the country on the world map for cultural projects.
SSH are ranked Number One for Culture Architectural Design and Number Two for Heritage Architectural Design by Building Design World Architecture 100.
The SSH-designed, 236 Million KD, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre (SJAAC) opened on the 31st October with a performance by legendary tenor singer Andrea Boccelli. The opening ceremony also featured three of the most famous singers in the Middle East, Abdullah Al Rouwaished, Nabil Shoeil and Nawal, in addition to a number of Kuwaiti performances presenting Kuwait’s most famous artists.
The Centre will host various cultural events including music, theatre, film, workshops and spoken word.
The four jewel-styled buildings are set to be the centrepieces of the new cultural district at the heart of Kuwait, close to Kuwait’s historic Flag Square. The buildings will create a new architectural reference for the Middle East. Its technical and multi-functional theatres will also make it one of the state of the art performing venues in the world.
During an interview with SSH’s Executive Partner Sadoon Al Essa and Engineer, Niyaz Khajah, Assistant Undersecretary at the Amiri Diwan, Sadoon said, “It was a challenge for us to complete the design and construction of a project of this size and complexity in 22 months. This achievement was made possible by the Amiri Diwan’s intervention in expediting the project and overcoming obstacles.”
SSH’s CEO Bob Hope said, “Successfully delivering this truly world class project as a regional consultancy designing to the highest international quality standards and within a very challenging time frame, makes me immensely proud of the SSH team. I hope that this achievement makes SSH the 'Consultant of Choice' and the Region's 'Go to Guys' for future world class cultural and heritage projects.”
Ray Phillips, SSH’s Design Director said, “Culminating in a fabulous fire work display to celebrate the opening of the SJAACC only 22 months from conception was awe inspiring. To work with the Amiri Diwan on this prestigious world class cultural centre has been an honour and a privilege.”
SSH was the lead architecture and engineering designer working with the world’s renowned specialists in lighting, acoustics, theatre engineering and historical archives.
The Steel Structure
The buildings were covered with a steel skeleton which was then encased in a titanium and glass skin that captures light and sparkles. Each pair of buildings is approached from a central courtyard.
The shells have two primary functions. One is to be durable in the harsh coastal environment and the second is to provide climatic protection to the interior public spaces. Each shell not only provides a protective envelope for the buildings but also creates dramatic public spaces which are themselves part of the performance.
The steel work separating the inner and outer layers allows a column free clear span up to 120 metres and the shell thickness of 2 metres consists of a number of layers encasing the primary steel work.
The foyers feature decorative calligraphy as one of these layers. Within the four pavilions are over 8000 sqm of calligraphy, designed into the cladding of the theatres, concert halls and libraries and presenting seven stanzas taken from His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah’s own words which were selected by Amiri Diwan, promoting culture and development.
With each design as unique as the buildings themselves, the local Kuwaiti artist Jassim Al Nasrallah and El Seed, one of the pioneers of modern 'calligraffiti’, were engaged to prepare a range of calligraphy designs that we applied in different forms ranging from handmade sculptures, carved stone and graphic prints, with designs that include Arabic calligraphy, abstract art and geometric patterns.
A monolithic signature chandelier, 20 tons of 100% spectacular dropped glass, illuminates the entrance foyer to the National Theatre and spans between the outer walls of the National Theatre and Drama Theatre.
This piece articulates an analogy between glass and water and presents itself in a tiered array of cascading glass to evoke the impression of an indoor waterfall that visitors can walk around, pass under or walk behind at balcony levels.
The chandelier sparkles using miniature prisms controlled by dynamically changing star bursts.
The classical interpretation befits a cultural building yet provides an arresting spectacle for visitors that will remain a talking point long after their visit to the centre has ended.
The lit effect is such that all light sources are concealed from view which will promote a discourse on, “How is that achieved?” amongst people standing in the foyer.
The total length of drop from support cantilevers to its base is 14.5 metres.
“A jewel within a jewel is the main concept behind the interior design of the spaces, rich layers of internal cladding that develops in richness as you enter the foyers and follows into the performance spaces” explained SSH’s Head of Interior Design, Sebaa Orabi.
SSH worked closely with theatre engineers and acoustic specialists to create multiple performance spaces that are sophisticated in design and engineering. The interior design of these spaces was created to complement the function of each space and capture the soul of each performance while engaging the audience.
The National Theatre was designed with variable acoustic configurations using retractable drapes and banners to control the reverberation time. This space has the flexibility to host musicals and speech-based drama and amplified opera.
The Orchestra pit platform elevates on lift wagons. Balustrade shapes and overhead reflectors were used to assist sound reflections.
The Symphonic Concert Hall was designed with variable acoustics through the use of hidden acoustic banners and inflatable baffles.
The Recital Hall was designed to provide an ‘in-the-round’ experience where audience members are close to performers.
The Multipurpose Hall with foldable fixed seats on wagon platforms can raise to transform the flat floor space to tiered theatre seating.
The Symposium was designed for seminars and lectures with speech reinforcement.
“The Amiri Diwan’s enthusiasm and quick understanding of the ideas we proposed helped the concept come to life very quickly, creating an intuitive and rewarding design process for the whole team,” said SSH’s Architecture Director, Simon Dennison.
SSH Kuwait Managing Director George Abi-Hanna, said “SSH is proud to have contributed to the cultural development of the State of Kuwait through the creation of a landmark design which will become part of the Kuwaiti skyline for decades to come”.