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A house in Kuwait usually refers to a building within a plot of land that may accommodate one or two families. However, at the turn of the 21 st century this composition gradually shifted to see many people lease one or more apartments in their houses. As a result, many residential neighbourhoods that were originally designed as low-density areas have become overcrowded apartment buildings. This study examines this phenomenon of recent societal trends towards adding 'apartments' in the Kuwaiti house by employing in depth interviews. These discussions become a platform to understand this intriguing socioeconomic construct. The findings reveal that high real-estate prices and Kuwait's current housing crisis have significantly contributed to the reshaping of the Kuwaiti house form and altered some of its functions. People's insecurity for the future has forced them to add apartments in their houses to pay off their loans in the short term and provide accommodation for their children in the long term. In addition, houses have become an investment opportunity for businessmen to turn them into commercial enterprises. This has resulted in many houses in model residential areas being transformed to medium density apartment complexes, which causes enormous strain on public utilities and infrastructure, such as streets, parking, electricity, and water. Consequently, this situation highlights the extent of poor governmental regulations and shows how the nation's larger political climate has directly affected people in relation to their domestic built environments.
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The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
Department of Architecture, Kuwait University, Shuwaikh 70654, Kuwait City, Kuwait
yalharoun@gmail.com
ABSTRACT
A house in Kuwait usually refers to a building within a plot of land that may accommodate one or two families.
However, at the turn of the 21st century this composition gradually shifted to see many people lease one or more
apartments in their houses. As a result, many residential neighbourhoods that were originally designed as low-density
areas have become overcrowded apartment buildings. This study examines this phenomenon of recent societal trends
towards adding ‘apartments’ in the Kuwaiti house by employing in depth interviews. These discussions become a
platform to understand this intriguing socio-economic construct.
The ndings reveal that high real-estate prices and Kuwait’s current housing crisis have signicantly contributed
to the reshaping of the Kuwaiti house form and altered some of its functions. People’s insecurity for the future has
forced them to add apartments in their houses to pay off their loans in the short term and provide accommodation for
their children in the long term. In addition, houses have become an investment opportunity for businessmen to turn
them into commercial enterprises. This has resulted in many houses in model residential areas being transformed
to medium density apartment complexes, which causes enormous strain on public utilities and infrastructure, such
as streets, parking, electricity, and water. Consequently, this situation highlights the extent of poor governmental
regulations and shows how the nation’s larger political climate has directly affected people in relation to their domestic
built environments.
Keywords: Kuwait; Houses; Apartments; Globalization; Interviews.
INTRODUCTION
The 1950s oil boom has greatly transformed Kuwait’s built environment from a small organic sheikdom to a
planned regional metropolis. The Kuwaiti house, once sustainable made of mud brick with central courtyards, has
been converted into modern concrete villas overlooking the street. Consequent, modernization and development
initiatives continue to shape, reshape, and brand Kuwait’s architecture. Yet despite this complete rupture with the
past prior studies have discussed the resilience of the Kuwaiti house by adapting and conforming to various, socio-
cultural, economic, political, and technological changes over time. This has been highlighted by AlJassar’s (2009)
study that showed how the diwaniya (men’s social gathering space) survived, yet the courtyard disappeared (AlJassar,
2009). Moreover, AlHaroun’s (2015) cognitive maps study provided a different perspective on the dichotomy between
tradition and modernity. The study identied various elements that managed to continue in Kuwait City and house
built environment. Knowledge gained was understanding how people dealt with and adapted to the collision between
traditional concepts and modernity, for example, how the courtyard has been replaced by the family living room
(AlHaroun, 2014). The present study intends to follow on this line of inquiry by exploring how ‘apartments’ became
an important contemporary requirement in Kuwait’s domestic built environment.
When one thinks of an ‘apartment’ they usually visualize a compacted residential unit within a usually larger
high-rise apartment building. Its amenities are two to three bedrooms, a kitchen, a few bathrooms, and a living room.
In Kuwait an ‘apartment’ takes a different form and has additional functions. Instead of being in residential towers
they have encroached into suburban residential neighbourhoods. The law allows for one apartment to be placed in the
second oor of houses to accommodate for the homeowners’ families. This concept may be traced back to Kuwait’s
past when people’s children would live with them after getting married. Today instead of sharing a room in a traditional
courtyard house they occupy an apartment in a modern villa. However, recently this trend has morphed, and people are
Journal of Engg. Research Vol. 8 No. (2) June 2019 pp. 1-24
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
2
renting their apartments to strangers. These houses are open to the public and are no longer private. Many houses are
designed completely as apartment complexes.
This research aims at investigating this phenomenon and to understand why homeowners add apartments in their
houses. To what extent has various socio-cultural, economic, and political realities in Kuwait contributed to the birth of
the ‘apartment unit’ in the Kuwaiti household? And how has this inuenced house form and function? By identifying
these factors, the study intends to illuminate understandings of larger issues at play within the context of Kuwait and
its modernity. In-depth interviews have been used as the study method to question homeowners about the ‘apartment’
in Kuwait’s houses. This group is very much involved in the design and building of houses and their knowledge is
useful in understanding this fascinating socio-economic construct.
LITRATURE REVIEW
The theoretical underpinnings of this research emerge from the larger discussion of the tradition vs. modernity
paradigm and more specically the effects of globalization on people and their domestic built environment. Therefore,
the literature covered will discuss the impact of globalization and interdisciplinary social, cultural, and economic
understandings as it pertains to housing. Kuwait’s oil wealth enabled an unprecedented transformation of its built
environment and within a decade went from a small mud brick town to a regional modern metropolis. An increasingly
globalized economic framework accelerated Kuwait’s leap to modernity to become one of the wealthiest nations in
the world. As a result, real estate prices rapidly increased, which made Kuwait City one of the most expensive places
to buy a plot of land. In turn this dynamic along with government mismanagement of its housing welfare system
created Kuwait’s housing crisis. People’s insecurity to provide housing for their children after marriage made them
look for alternative ways of living. As a result, the apartment house is a direct by-product of this socio-economic and
political climate. Therefore, the literature presents a link between how globalization shaped Kuwait’s contemporary
built environment in all its facets including the phenomenon of the apartment in the Kuwaiti house.
IMPACT OF GLOBALIZATION
Globalization is not a new concept, in fact people have been buying from and selling to each other in lands of
great distances throughout history. The ‘silk road’ bridged Europe to the Arab world and from there to Central Asia
and China. However, with the advent of the industrial revolution and new technologies the speed of travel made it
possible to accelerate movement of people and goods. Better communication allowed for increased trade, commerce,
and travel between nations. As a result many local communities have been overwhelmed with the social, economic,
and political changes that transformed their way of life.
Globalization is a term used in many ways; however they all revolve around the idea of “progressive integration
of economies and societies” (Gunter and Hoeven, 2004:1) around the world. Globalization has hyper developed local
communities by imposing “conformity and homogeneity and that their familiar, personal neighbourhood coffeehouses
and indigenous religious communities will be replaced by impersonal global identities” (ECSSR, 2008:19). The gap
between the rich and poor has grown, “allowing two-thirds of the world’s wealth to go to only one-third of the
world’s population while one-third of the world’s wealth is going to two-thirds of the world’s population” (Mahgoub,
2004:507). For some, “the impact of globalization on the culture of the ‘developing’ ‘post-colonial’ countries is
pervasive and endemic” (Dandekar, 1998:6). In the Arab world some view globalization as “another term for capitalism
and imperialism” and that “all Arabs and Muslims need to consider it an imminent danger that is endangering the
political, social, cultural and economic stability” (Za’za’, 2002:1).
Furthermore, while it may be regarded as a force for economic prosperity, it has and continues to impact the natural
environment. A recent U.N fth assessment report about the science of climate change concluded that climate change
is real and human activities are the main cause (U.N, 2018). They continue to assert that unless action is taken by the
global community an increase in global warming will have severe consequence such as shifting weather patterns that
threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic ooding (Ibid, 2018). Therefore,
transition towards sustainable development has now more than ever become of great importance in an increasingly
globalizing world.
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Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
Many highlighted the notion of working with globalization amid its many challenges. As Salter asserts, “a
coexistence of diverse philosophies is not only possible but necessary” (Satler, 2000:22). Similarly, ElSheshtawy
contends that cities that witnessed rapid growth within the last decades are moving towards a model that attempts to
balance forces of modernization and change while trying to preserve traditional elements within society (ElSheshtawy,
2000). Furthermore, Liangyong states “that globalization and regionalization are like two sides of a coin and that
they are inseparable” (Liangyong, 2000:12). There seems to be a consensus that globalization is an inevitable reality
and one needs to recognize its far-reaching effects all over the world, “sometimes even painful, changes in their
accustomed ways of doing things. But if the challenges are great, so also are the opportunities” (Madison, 1998:20).
INTERDISCIPLINARY UNDERSTANDINGS IN HOUSING
Contemporary understandings in housing goes beyond the need for shelter; in fact it is a form of self-expression.
Rapoport understood the house form and culture as primarily “a socio-cultural determinism of architectural form”
(Rapoport, 1969: 10). In a socio-cultural perspective the house is an expression or symbol of the self (Copper, 1974)
and is an important spatial factor in dening people’s perceptions (Marcus, 1997). Fathy saw the house and the
courtyard identity as intrinsic for an Arab (Fathy, 1986). People’s experiences, culture, and personality all come
together to inuence house form and spatial arrangements. People’s experiences and social class create a ‘habitus,
which has a direct impact on each individual’s perceptions (Bourdieu, 1987). Moreover, Freeman asserts where and
how people were raised always affect future choices and their acceptance of certain residences (Freeman, 1998).
As societies develop and interact globally, understandings of the ‘house’ started to shift. A house today may not be
like a house fty years ago. Social relationships have also been affected by globalization as Beck claims, “these changes
have also generated new forms of individualisation. They affect patterns of interaction dependent upon housing and
living arrangements.... Thus traditional forms of community beyond the family are beginning to disappear.” (Beck,
1992:97). Beck argues that the solution to the “negative consequences of modernity is not the rejection of modernity
itself, but its radicalization” (Ibid, 1992). As a result, necessary are critical reections on “modem impacts and their
ecological, urban, and social conditions of existence, and hence potentially to seek approaches to change them” (Ibid,
1992).
The effects of globalization do not stop at the natural environment but provide many challenges for sustainable
development more broadly. According to Abel (2000) local sustainable design solutions become important in promoting
sustainable development around the world. There is a “loss of local control over the economic and cultural forces that
presently affect all aspects of the environment” (Abel, 2000,198). Therefore, to improve the quality of architecture in
relation to the environment, what is needed is more local ability to inuence decisions that impact their environment
(Ibid,198). Perhaps modernization’s new forms of communal housing and apartment living may provide potential
solutions. Initially apartments may have provided accommodation amid housing constraints but is now widely seen
as a move towards sustainable development and a better quality of life (McDonald et al., 2009; Mitkus and Sostak,
2009). Some encourage retrotting strategies in apartment houses to improve living standards and cut energy costs
(Raslanas, 2011). Other studies looked at consumer satisfaction of apartment living to improve companies. Lee Yim et
al. examined residential satisfaction and the effect in corporation performance based on the inuence on consumers’
behavior (Lee Yim et al., 2011). Either way research on apartment living is increasing as more and more people live
in apartments around the world.
Furthermore, in an economic viewpoint uctuations in real-estate markets due to 2008’s nancial crisis have had
a signicant impact on housing trends. It is believed that the crisis originated from the subprime mortgage market in
the United States and rapidly spread to the banking and other sectors of the international economy (Roubini, Rogoff
and Behravesh, 2009). This has led many to reexamine housing policy. Some contend that the housing crisis in the
U.S may have altered attitudes toward home buying in favour for rental housing, which in turn has social impacts
associated with homeownership (Rohe and Lindblad, 2013). Moreover, the nancial crisis also impacted Kuwait’s
banking sector. This situation directly impeded the growth of the housing market, which “is constrained by a supply-
demand imbalance. The demand for housing is high – both from Kuwaiti population and from expatriates for rented
accommodation. However, supply has not kept up…” (Freeman and Sudarsanan, 2012: 47). The study indicates that
the demand on housing loans will continue to increase to provide more apartment units. It also sheds light on the extent
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
4
of how the banking sector and the state’s nancial policy is involved in shaping existing socio-economic dynamics as
it relates to housing (Ibid, 2012).
Finally, in a social equity perspective, the right for affordable housing has been discussed by many researchers
recently especially with the increase of issues in urban development. The sense of insecurity for future housing needs
has been a reoccurring theme in many studies conducted in the Gulf’s built environment. AlShalfan’s (2013) study
examines how land-use policies and social housing laws have led to the failure of the urbanization process Kuwait
City and calls for a reevaluation of the current practice for a more just system (AlShalfan, 2013). AlHaroun’s (2015)
study identied many obstacles towards sustainable development in Kuwait’s houses highlighted from people’s desire
to use more space to accommodate for their children after marriage (AlHaroun, 2015). In addition, a recent study
on housing type preferences among Kuwaitis showed the lack of acceptance of alternative living spaces away from
the town house and stressed the need to come up with innovative solutions to Kuwait’s housing crisis (AlZamil and
AlShaheen, 2016). Moreover, Salama et al. researched new housing typologies in emerging Gulf cities of Doha,
Abu Dhabi, and Manama as they relate to various lifestyles and dynamics including infrastructural investments,
urban growth rates, and new development policies. They conclude that supply and speculation-driven factors are
more dominant than lifestyles of a settled and consolidated multicultural society. Furthermore, local populations face
challenges to maintain the high housing standard rooted from rst urbanization period and welfare state mechanisms.
Rising construction costs force young families to live with their parents (Salama et al., 2017).
The literature discussed socio-cultural, environmental, and economic dimensions related to housing within an
increasingly globalized world. And each topic provided multiple viewpoints of the larger structural issues associated
with development. It is the intention of this paper to further understandings into the extent of how globalization has
impacted people’s relationship to their domestic built environment.
THE KUWAITI HOUSE
After the oil boom and consequent modernization people’s lives changed forever. Shiber described this period like
a “dramatic urban revolution that swept over Kuwait as a hurricane, leaving one dizzied and dazzled in its wake. …
Kuwait literally exploded from a small village to a fast-urbanizing regional metropolis in just over 12 years” (Shiber,
1964:6). Shiber continued to write as he witnesses the turn of events, “perhaps nowhere in the world do so many
contrasting urban types and relationships stand in such close proximity to each other” (Ibid, 434).
In a 1952 article in The National Geographic Magazine called Boom Time in Kuwait, Paul Case recalled a fascinating
experience visiting Kuwait on the eve of its modernity. He said, “I have been watching a revolution in progress. It is a
peaceful revolution… In all my years as a resident of the Near East I have never witnessed a greater transformation”
(Case, 1952:783). Moreover, Michael Bonine described the oil boom as “One of the most spectacular transformations
in the history of urban development” (Bonine, 1981:245). Abu Hakima remarked, “The nation witnesses a spectacular
state of development and change, both human and material” (Abu Hakima, 1983:159). Old Kuwait City was gone,
leaving new generations only traces of their architectural heritage. The phenomenon had a great impact beyond Kuwait
and its people. Quickly, people started to know of Kuwait and come for work all providing the needed manpower to
build the new City. Eventually, the population of foreigners surpassed that of Kuwaitis. Their different backgrounds
and cultures also played a role in shaping the new built environment. Figure (1) below shows the rapid development
of urban growth and residential neighbourhoods from pre-oil 1951 until 2012.
The Kuwaiti house has been transformed from the traditional mud brick courtyard house, which was private
and inward to the modern villa that had an extroverted form. This changed the way people lived in Kuwait and has
created many issues for Kuwaitis who moved from the old town to the new suburbs. The rst was that of privacy;
Kuwaitis were used to a more private domain where the courtyard shielded them from the street. Suddenly, they found
themselves in houses with a different spatial structure and privacy/public hierarchy. In reaction to this, some houses
were designed with screens that covered larger glass windows to not only protect against the sun but also provide
more privacy. Another issue was the emergence of the balcony, which due to Kuwait’s hot and dry weather had no
functional role whatsoever. After years of collecting dust many have been closed and were extended as additions to
the house.
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Fig. 1. Residential urban growth in Kuwait over time from 1950-2012. Source: Kuwait Municipality and PAHW.
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
6
In contrast with the traditional courtyard house, today, houses in Kuwait are usually two or three storeys and
have come to accommodate an array of requirements deemed necessary by the Kuwaitis. These include large guest
reception halls, Diwaniya (men’s reception), which usually are spaces that face the street, family living rooms, master
bedrooms, garden spaces, swimming pools, and an extensive services zone to provide staff quarters, kitchens, garages,
and storage space. The houses are environmentally unsustainable, using exported building materials, and rely heavily
on electricity and water from the state’s grid. Culturally, they do not represent Kuwait’s traditional vernacular in any
way. With this new reality people’s perceptions of their houses changed. They looked for other cultures for inspiration
to build their houses, and as a result, today Kuwait’s domestic built environment reects styles from around the
world. This resulted in what AlBahar describes as a “plethora of eclectic” a “carnival show, an architectural history
showroom of copied styles and motifs” (AlBahar, 1990:133).
The demolition of Kuwait’s vernacular has created a vacuum, which made it possible today for Kuwaitis to import
different architectural styles from around the world. As one drives through the suburbs of new Kuwait City, the
houses showcase Islamic, Modern, Neo- Classical, Mediterranean, and even Japanese styles. Rapoport may explain
one reason for the generation of this form of built environment (Rapoport, 1982). After the oil boom people wanted
to express their socio-economic status in the modern villa; images of different facades around the world were a way
to visually (non-verbally) communicate this newfound wealth. As a result, people’s houses did not necessarily reect
how they wanted to live; instead they conveyed messages in how they would like to be perceived in the world.
THE PHENONMENON OF APARTMENTS IN THE KUWAITI HOUSE
Until recently apartments in Kuwait usually meant residential units in apartment complexes in high-density areas
and a few apartments within houses. The concept of legalizing apartments inside houses have been introduced by the
baladia (municipality) in the 1990s. The baladia regulations allow homeowners to build 210% of the plot of land.
Within that space it is permitted to have (1) or (2) apartments in the second oor of the house to accommodate for the
owner’s children (Baladia Building Regulations, 2016). However, people are building an extra oor of apartments to
increase family income, but also being mindful of the future when they may serve to accommodate their children after
marriage. This desire to secure a place for their children is in part parents’ reaction to the government’s inability to
provide housing welfare (Figure 2) required by law for every Kuwaiti citizen.
Fig. 2. Demand and Supply for Kuwait’s housing welfare. Source: Public Authority for Housing
Welfare, 2014 via AlShalfan, 2013.
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Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
There are around one hundred thousand citizens waiting for the government to provide them housing welfare
(AlWatan, 2018). This means there are at least one hundred thousand people that either live with their parents or rent
an apartment. As a result, the demand for apartments has increased and in turn more units are being built in houses. In
2013, in a study conducted by Kuwait’s National Assembly aiming to rank issues that concern the public, the housing
crisis was identied as the most important issue that people wanted resolved (KNA, 2013).
Although initially commended for its progressive modernization campaign from the 1960s to 1980s, people have
gradually recognized the side effects generated from the government’s early policies creating an environment, which
encourages unsustainable wealth-distribution methods. AlShalfan’s study highlighted one such example - housing
welfare distribution and questioned their role in promoting justice in an “environment of increasing housing application
backlog, endless sprawl and continually rising housing property values” (AlShalfan, 2013:1). She explains that the
aspirations of citizens are a product of years of “state-induced rights” creating false desires, which rely on limited
resources not sustainable for future generations. Instead she argues that government policy should focus on immediate
solutions to empower individuals to meet their needs and instill progressive desires (Ibid, 2013).
Many private organizations have advocated for solutions to the housing crisis. One notable group of young
Kuwaitis who developed Thukhur or National Project for Sustainable Development aims to encourage projects with
a proactive approach to identifying and initiating ideas that stimulate the country’s growth and development. They
have recently conducted a nationwide survey to nd priorities for the housing crisis in Kuwait. Their ndings have
revealed that, from the state’s various housing welfare options, 69% of people waiting for housing welfare desired a
plot of land to build their house, 17% desired Government housing, 9% an increase for government housing loans, and
5% only wanted apartments (NPSD, 2014:2). From people who want a plot of land to build their future house, 38%
indicated the importance of the location of the residential area while 25% identied the land spatial dimensions as vital
(Ibid, 23). Finally, the study found that 84% of the people surveyed indicated that limiting high real estate prices as a
possible solution to the current housing crisis (Ibid, 27).
Another group started a public campaign calling itself Nuter Bait or Waiting for a House has encouraged public
rallies and called on the government to resolve the crisis. Today, public pressure on the National Assembly and the
government has seen increased efforts to build new neighbourhood units and housing cities. One such proposal is to
move towards vertical housing where people could live in apartments instead of waiting for a house. In fact the Public
Authority for Housing Welfare is currently building apartment buildings in several locations around the far-reaching
suburbs of Kuwait City. Some estimates show that if not solved the current housing crisis will see 174,000 applications
within 6 years and waiting times exceeding 15 years (AlQabas, 2014). However, past government experiments such as
AlSawaber Complex (modern apartment building) proved unsuccessful, and therefore, similar proposals if not studied
and carefully planned may also end in failure.
Kuwaitis do not usually live in high-density apartment complexes; instead they prefer to live in suburban residential
neighbourhoods. So why are Kuwaitis not willing to live in high-rise apartments? The reasoning behind this is not
clear. However, it may suggest a desire to live closer to their families in suburban neighbourhoods. Alternatively,
Kuwait’s new City is very segregated where Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis do not usually live in the same area. This was
one of the consequences of the early master plan. This study intends to further understand this implication in housing
trends and how it relates to apartments in Kuwait’s houses.
Some academics argue that society does not accept communal living and justify this claim by culture of privacy
that originated from Kuwait’s traditional courtyard house (Mahgoub, 2002). AlShalfan on the other hand points out
that in fact Kuwait’s past urban fabric is “one where community was closer, the street was the public gathering space
and the walls of the houses were shared between neighbours” (AlShalfan, 2013:24). In fact many social practices in old
Kuwait respected privacy yet demonstrated many forms of community living. Therefore, despite current discussions
that give preference for privacy, the practice in reality proves otherwise (Ibid, 2013).
Kuwait’s current domestic built environments have clearly been shaped by the various economic, socio-cultural,
and political forces, resulting in a unique social dynamic that suggests people’s demand for more space goes beyond
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
8
their desires for luxury living and conforming to societal expectations, but, paradoxically, is an attempt to meet a basic
human need, which is to secure present and future housing for their family (AlHaroun, 2015). However, recent trends
go beyond what is allowed by law in having apartments in the rst oor or in some cases the entire house converted
into a commercial apartment building. Figure (3) shows the relationship between spatial requirements, house form,
and Kuwait’s changing socio-cultural, economic, and political realities. The representation illustrates people’s desire
for more spatial requirements over time regardless of their size of land.
Fig. 3. The evolution of the Kuwaiti house with regards to spatial form. Source: The Author, 2015.
The houses that do have apartments are usually block shaped in order to use all the allowable space by law. Figure
(4) below depicts typical oor plans of this type of housing. The ground oor has two main entrances one for the
homeowner and the other to the elevator that is used for the tenants. Although some houses also have apartments in the
basement this design has limited ground parking, and therefore, basement parking becomes required for the success
of the ‘apartment house complex’. The rst and second oors are identical where there are two apartments per oor.
Each apartment has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, maid room, and laundry area. The maid
room is a unique requirement for an apartment in Kuwait. After the oil boom and consequent higher standard of living
most families in Kuwait can afford to have a maid and driver as staff members for the family. Due to spatial constraints
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Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
these rooms are usually small. Larger apartments may have more amenities such as a duplex with more bedrooms,
small garden, balcony and swimming pool.
Fig. 4. Typical apartment house oor plans. Source: Design ofce in Kuwait, 2018.
The next few photographs present various houses that have apartments in Kuwait. Figure (5) shows a house that
has a homeowner renting out an apartment. Usually, the tenants use the side door (the bottom left of the photograph),
which takes them down an alley and to an elevator and then to the apartments, which are in the rst or second oor.
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
10
Figures (6), (7), and (8) display how a neighbourhood has been completely transformed by newly built commercial
apartment buildings. Some landowners have taken the idea of adding a few apartments further by using the space
for a commercial enterprise. Although, this is meeting demand, these buildings are a burden for the community and
over use existing utilities and infrastructure. In this case it is rare that the owner will live in one of the apartments.
Finally, gure (9) clearly illustrates how new residential districts zoned for low-density housing are overwhelmed with
commercial apartment buildings. AlSidiq has been envisioned for a model one family housing residential area; instead
it has become overcrowded with new apartment buildings.
Fig. 5. This image is an example of a house in Kuwait that has apartments in AlKhalidyah residential area.
Source: The Author, 2018.
Fig. 6. This image shows commercial apartment buildings dominating in a low-density residential
neighbourhood of AlQadsiya residential area. Notice the ‘for rent’ sign at the centre. Source: The Author, 2017.
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Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
Fig. 7. This image shows newly built commercial apartment buildings dominating in a low-density residential
neighbourhood of AlKhaldiya area. Source: The Author, 2015.
Fig. 8. This image shows commercial apartment buildings in Bu Futaira residential area.
Source: The Author, 2018.
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
12
Fig. 9. This image shows commercial apartment buildings being built in new residential areas of AlSidiq.
Source: The Author, 2015.
METHODOLOGY
To understand different facets of this socio-economic construct in-depth qualitative interviews have been chosen
as the method for this research. The primary aim of the interviews is to describe and understand meanings and
interpretations of a select group of people to gain an understanding of a specic issue (Liamputtong, 2009), in this
case why have apartments emerged in the Kuwaiti house. In addition, the interviews were used to understand, and
explain, the meanings, beliefs and cultures that inuence the feelings, attitudes, and behaviours of individuals (Rabiee,
2004:655; Hennink, 2007:6).
INTERVIEW DESIGN
This study uses a semi-structured approach to facilitate the discussions with specic direction, yet also be exible
to allow for follow-up questions. The order of the questions followed an understanding of the research, a logic derived
from the research questions and theoretical framework. The participants were allowed space to discuss issues of
interest. When participants talk about something not covered in the guide, it is obviously important to them (Bryman,
2004). Therefore, the motive behind using a semi-structured qualitative approach directs the overall ow of the
interview, yet allows room for exibility. The questions were open-ended and focused on the Kuwaiti house and the
phenomenon of the ‘apartment’ in the house. This was done in order not to led the participants and reduce researcher
bias. Why apartments specically emerged, their advantages and disadvantages, typical apartment requirements, and
to what extend have they inuenced house design.
After asking for age, gender, and employment, the following questions were used for the study. Question 1: What
kind of house unit do you live in? House, apt. in a house, apt. in apt. complex, other? Question 2: Historically did
Kuwait houses have apartments or another type of community living within them? Question 3: Today what may be
the reasons homeowners add apartments in their houses? Question 4: Who lives in these apartments? Question 5:
Why do Kuwaitis prefer to live in apartment houses within low-density suburban areas rather than high-density tower
buildings? Question 6: What are the advantages of the apartments in the house? Question 7: What are the disadvantages
of the apartments in the house? Question 8: What are the typical user requirements of each apartment? Is it a one/two/
three bedroom? Question 9: How many apartments are usually in a house? Is it one/two/three/ or the entire building
has been converted into an apt. complex? Question 10: To what extent does the “apartment” inuence the overall
house design? From this initial guide many follow-up questions continued with divergent paths of inquiry.
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Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
PARTICIPANTS: HOMEOWNERS
For the Kuwaiti house, it is specically the homeowners who play a key role in shaping current domestic architecture.
In Kuwait, this group is usually involved in the house design and build process, and therefore, are appropriate
participants to explore the research direction. This will provide insights into their preferences and indifferences and is
crucial in understanding why they add apartments in their houses.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS
In the literature there is no rule for the number of interviews required for a qualitative study. It depends on the
research topic and interviewees. However, there is a consensus among researchers that number of interviews conducted
stops when the ndings achieve a saturation point. The interviews continue until there are no new answers coming
from the respondents. It depends on the number and nature of questions. Guest et al (2006) paper suggests saturation
being achieved after 12 interviews in their study, but some meta-themes emerged after 6 interviews in a study that
interviewed more than 60 participants (Guest et al, 2006). Consequently, this study conducted 12 interviews in order
to gain enough data to drive the emerging themes.
The interviews were conducted in both Arabic and English to allow people to express their ideas in the language
most comfortable with them. As a result, the transcriptions underwent translation by the researcher when required. The
interview was transcribed almost word for word trying as much as possible to accurately represent what was said.
For this study the analysis of the group interviews did start during data collection by collecting rich descriptions
from the interviews, observational notes, and transcriptions. From that point the researcher listened to the recordings
and read the transcripts several times. Aware of the many analysis techniques, the overall interview analysis followed
an open coding strategy. The coding served as a bridge providing categories to then qualitatively discuss the issues
with direct participant quotes.
FINDINGS
The ndings of the study started even before the data has been collected and continued during the interviews
and even the analysis stages. Every piece of information gathered throughout every stage of the study provided rich
insights and understandings. This section describes the interviewees, who they are, how the researcher approached
them, and some observations. The researcher approached family members or friends of varying ages and genders. This
was intended to see responses from the older and younger generations and also understand if women and men have
different opinions about apartments in the house. It seems that most responses were in favour of adding apartments in
the house as means to increase their income.
Table 1. Interviewee Information Table
# Group/Name Age Gender Nationality Employment Housing Type
1Homeowner 1 (H.1) 78 Male Kuwaiti Retired House
2Homeowner 2 (H.2) 30 Female Kuwaiti Financial Analyst House
3Homeowner 3 (H.3) 38 Male Kuwaiti Businessman Apt. in House
4Homeowner 4 (H.4) 60 Female Kuwaiti Retired House
5Homeowner 5 (H.5) 46 Male Kuwaiti Architect House
6Homeowner 6 (H.6) 50 Male Kuwaiti Assistant Professor House
7Homeowner 7 (H.7) 39 Male Kuwaiti Assistant Professor Apt. in House
8Homeowner 8 (H.8) 36 Male Kuwaiti Government Employee House
9Homeowner 9 (H.9) 43 Male Kuwaiti Government Employee Apt. in House
10 Homeowner 10 (H.10) 65 Female Kuwaiti Retired House
11 Homeowner 11 (H.11) 35 Male Kuwaiti Kuwait University House
12 Homeowner 12 (H.12) 27 Male Kuwaiti Diplomat House
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
14
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
The ndings from the interviews revealed participants’ rich insights and understandings of the phenomenon of the
apartment in the house within Kuwait’s ‘post oil’ socio-cultural, economic, and political dynamic. Many themes have
emerged and are discussed below.
BAYT ALHAMOULA OR FAMILY HOUSE
The Big House, known as Bayt AlKabir, was a signicant place for the family. AlHamoula in Kuwait refers to the
main family in which many sons and daughters although branch off and have their own families usually return to the
source. It is a place where the entire family would gather in Eid, events, and other celebrations. Many families would
have a monthly or even weekly gathering. In old Kuwait, the family would usually live in one single storey courtyard
house and add a room for their newly wed son. It is customary for children to live with their parents after marriage.
Almost all the interviewees highlighted this understanding and its importance in Kuwaiti society. One explains
it as perhaps the birth of the apartment concept, “started when Kuwaitis used to build another oor with a room in
the roof when suddenly his son or daughter got married… or an additional room will be added in the ground oor if
the house had space. Sometimes if the courtyard was large enough a room would be added from that space” (H.5).
Moreover, one homeowner who lived in both old and new Kuwait City also highlighted this notion, “before the family
head would bring all his children to live under one roof. However, after changing and more complex lifestyles they
started to build apartments in their houses for their children” (H.1).
This idea has also been discussed by another homeowner where he identied the Bayt AlHamoula or Family
House; he asserts that, “Kuwaitis had houses with apartments only for their children, the Hamoula house” (H.9).
While another describes the importance of the family house, which derived, “from our traditions, culture, and norms
as Arabic families. The father or grandfather always prefers his children to live with them (when they grow up); they
do the impossible to let no one leave the house to live as one family. The family lives together with no outsiders such as
tenants or strangers. They are all one family brothers, sisters, and their children. If the entire family is living together
of course it will have stability and a great coherence/togetherness/bond” (H.8).
The idea of parents wanting their children with them may be explained from Islamic teachings, which encouraged
respect and priority given to parents. Moreover, life in old Kuwait was tough and not everyone could afford a house
and thus lived together; they needed each other to make a living and survive. However, despite the oil boom and
consequent modernization this concept is still very important for the Kuwaiti family and has been morphed from
providing a room in the traditional courtyard house to an apartment in a modern villa.
This nding is also consistent with prior research, which showed that cultural concepts and spatial arrangements
in the Kuwaiti house have survived and adapted despite overwhelming transformations. (AlJassar, 2009; AlHaroun,
2015). This notion is further reinforced by AlHaroun and AlAjmi’s recent paper about the Hadhar and Badu houses
in Kuwait, which highlighted how the modern villa’s spatial characteristics have been derived from their traditional
dwellings. They may be modern from the outside but from the inside they are very much associated with their cultural
lifestyles (AlHaroun and AlAjmi, 2018). Likewise, this study’s nding suggests that the emergence of the apartment
in the Kuwaiti house may be traced to strong family traditions and is in fact another socio-cultural space resilient in
the face of enormous transformations towards modernity.
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Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
Fig. 10. Development of the apartment space inside the Kuwaiti house from pre-oil (1951) until the
present. The space progressed from a small private domain for the family into a semi-public unit as an
investment. Source: The Author, 2019.
KUWAIT’S HOUSING CRISIS
Kuwait is among nations with the highest real-estate prices in the world, which translates to more value for spaces
and results in many people wanting to use all the allowable space dened by the law. Figure (11) clearly depicts
how high real estate prices played a role in Kuwait’s housing crisis. If one cannot afford to buy a house, they have
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
16
to wait years for government housing welfare, and therefore, the situation has made the apartment an addition to
many houses in Kuwait, however, not always for the better as one interviewee points out that, “investors started to
see houses as an opportunity for prot because the slow government response to provide housing welfare. The more
the government delays the situation the more people violate the law (H.9). On the other hand a homeowner who has
multiple apartments in their house acknowledges the violation but argues that he is providing a, “solution to a social
phenomenon. People want to live, they have to live, today 300,000 Kuwaitis are living in apartments if you will apply
the baladia law will these 300,000 be thrown in the street? This is a problem the government created from Kuwait’s
housing crisis” (H.3).
Fig. 11. House price comparison by country (base 100) from 1995-2012. The data has been collected from various
sources including: Kuwait Fund Home, Global Investment, and The Economist. Note: Due to lack of consistent data,
the average prices of land of the following neighbourhoods in Kuwait were used: Yarmouk, Salwa, Mishref, Surra
and Sabah AlSalem. Source: AlShalfan, 2013.
SEGREGATION OF HOUSING
One question this research intended to answer is why Kuwaitis are not living in apartment towers/complexes
instead of apartments in houses in suburban residential districts. Many interviewee responses indicated that this
segregation between Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis is according to income and a higher standard of living than it is to do
with nationality. One homeowner describes why he prefers to live in single housing areas because it is, “near my wife’s
family house it is good for us. It is also about the income. For example Khaitan area has a lot of foreign bachelors
living there, so for me with my family it is not comfortable to live in that area, its not the same cultural background,
its not the same standard of living” (H.7). Another designer continues in the same line of thought asserting that it is,
“class segregation. They don’t want to be in lower standards interacting with people with less income” (H.6).
17
Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
Other responses provided more insights in this issue. The density of people generates a clash of cultures and more
trafc, which is not an attractive place to live. Also single housing residential neighbourhoods have better services.
This has been identied by several interviewees. “The issue relates to the density of people. South Sura, AlAdilya,
and other inner areas (close to Kuwait City) have less people, more services such as Mosques, supermarkets and
schools. In Hawally and Jabriya (high-density areas) and other areas that have apartment complexes, its atmosphere
is different, the people are different, and the trafc is more” (H.7). While another participant admits for his family, “its
more safe” he continues to contend that, “it’s a difference between cultures, which may let their children grow up with
different values that are not Kuwaiti. That is a concern “(H.9).
Although race and cultural backgrounds have been discussed many people see it more about trafc and lower quality
of services. It seems that the density of people and generated trafc in other areas make them an unattractive place to
live. Therefore due to segregation of class, it is closer to their families and better services; Kuwaitis are more willing
to live in apartments within single house low-density areas than they are in areas designated for apartment buildings.
This in turn completely changed the dynamic of these areas and in many cases overburdened their infrastructure and
public services.
HOUSE DESIGN
HOUSE AS AN INVESTMENT
The apartment unit in the Kuwaiti house has become a means to improve the homeowner’s income rst and
foremost. The majority of interviewees regardless of group stressed the main reason today people add apartments is
for the investment and to increase their cost of building. One homeowner explains that, “the main reason is to repay
the loans/mortgage. If someone for example takes three loans to build their house and his wife takes a loan he needs
to have income from apartments to help. In the future these apartments may be used for their children” (H.3). The
idea of repaying loans and using the apartment for their children is a reoccurring theme within homeowners, “the rst
to provide a home for their children, the second is with the increase in living expenses, a homeowner’s salary is not
enough. There are a lot of expenses and therefore, they have to put an apartment in their house. For example, he may
live in the ground oor and build two oors of apartments to benet from the income” (H.1).
This has also been recognized by another interviewee, “The apartment is to accommodate people’s children, and
also now as an investment. Life now is becoming a bit difcult, a person looks to have an income through his real
estate” (H.5). Another sees the house all about economics as he proclaims that it is all about the, “Money, money,
money. It all boils down to money even if we argue that it’s preserving a space for the future generation.” (H.6). This
understanding has also been discussed by another homeowner; he explains, “private housing has transformed into a
business because the prot is more than a commercial apartment building. The private housing as an investment will
bring 15-18% return, whereas the commercial apartment building brings in 7-8% return. It’s almost double plus it’s
cheaper to build” (H.9).
Houses have become an investment, either as homeowners to improve their income and repay their loans or by
businessmen who use houses as a commercial enterprise. Either way, “the house became a means for wealth creation
and it’s not a shelter anymore to house people. They want to maximize liveable slash rentable space even the geometry
and design is different” (H.6). It is understandable that homeowners need to repay their loans after construction and
therefore rent apartments; however, why have some transformed the house into a business? One homeowner argues
that, “unfortunately there has been greed from some. They purchase land and build apartment houses with four
apartments per oor and the basement in order to get more return than a commercial apartment tower complex. This
has been a phenomenon spreading in Kuwait and in my opinion its wrong” (H.1).
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
18
HOUSE DESIGNED AS A ‘BOX’
Apartments have made many homeowners and investors want to use all the allowable area by law to maximize
return on their money. This has led to the so-called ‘box’ house, which is found everywhere in Kuwait. One homeowner
asserts that if, “you build all 210% of the plot land by default it will become blockish” (H.3). In addition, the ‘box’
design usually has, “two separate entrances (for the homeowner and tenant), two stairs, more bathrooms and kitchens”
(H.2). In fact, some stressed that there are prototype standard designs that are circulated in design rms for apartment
houses and proclaims that houses became, “boxes”. Some homeowners want specic requirements and neglect the
overall house aesthetics and façade. This means the apartment as an investment has inuenced house form to a “box”
like building.
NO PRIVACY IN APARTMENTS
The lack of privacy in today’s apartment homes has been identied by many interviewees as a disadvantage. This
has been highlighted by many homeowners as one emphasized that, “there is no privacy, the house has two stairs,
and two entrances, and sometimes parking is an issue” (H.2). Another stated that today people, “want more privacy
and independence” (H.3), while another further explained, “the disadvantage is privacy 100%. Human beings by
nature want to have privacy for themselves and their families. There might be people that the husband does not want
his wife interacting with. Also a person wants to mark his territory, in apartments one’s territory is not clear” (H.5).
It is interesting that in Kuwait’s past the entire family used to live together in one house and privacy was not really an
issue. However, after the introduction of apartments in the house and renting them out to strangers, people recognized
the need for privacy especially if they shared an apartment house with 4 or sometimes 8 other families.
GOVERNMENT ISSUES
BURDEN ON PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE
Many interviewees recognized that apartments in areas zoned for housing have caused enormous strain on public
infrastructure. “It has many disadvantages, higher density in the street and neighbourhood. If a house is for 12 people
now it may need to serve 24 or 30 people. The services will be effected such as electricity, water, and parking” (H.9).
A homeowner emphasized that apartments allow, “the streets to become tight and public services limited for single
houses, which adds extra burden on the infrastructure” (H.1). Another homeowner who lives in and owns an apartment
house described the issues he faced with over water consumption, “I was forced to get a water pump because the water
from the government was not enough. There is a lot of people and they consume a lot of water” (H.3).
BALADIA’S INABILITY TO ENFORCE THE LAW
There is an apparent disconnect between current regulations and people’s aspirations towards their house to meet
their changing needs. Moreover, high real-estate prices make it more difcult to buy land; therefore people have to
wait for public housing welfare and, in the meantime, live in apartments. This dynamic led to the phenomenon of
apartments in the Kuwaiti house. The interview responses suggest that there is a gap in the existing baladia laws as
one argues that after getting the design permit and getting electricity, “most homeowners may do what they want.
The baladia only may do something if there is a complaint. But even then they cannot remove anybody from illegal
apartments except through the courts” (H.9). It seems that the baladia only has jurisdiction over the design, permit,
and construction process and loses control after electricity is given to the house even with violations. Many stressed
that the government has no right to enter and search for violations inside people’s houses. Figure (12) shows the new
AlSidiq residential area designated for low-density single housing. The area has seen a rapid rise of apartment houses,
which highlights the inability of the Baladia to enforce the law.
19
Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
Fig. 12. Map of AlSidiq residential area in Kuwait, which shows the spread of apartment houses as an investment.
Source: The Author, 2019.
Another issue is that the baladia is assuming everyone will do illegal apartments and, as a result, scrutinizes the
design permit process. Ironically, while the baladia carefully examines designs for apartments they recently passed a
law that allows 100 more square meters of space to be added in the roof of the house. The only possible explanation
for this extra space is to allow another apartment or studio space in the house. Who is to gain from this addition? And
why would the baladia allow this law when they know the negative consequences of apartments in Kuwait’s houses.
One explanation may be public pressure from homeowners and investors to have more rentable spaces in their houses
as means to provide for high demand and in the same time increase their prots.
SOLUTIONS
THE MOVE TOWARDS SMALLER MORE SUSTAINABLE HOUSES
Despite the socio-economic and political dimensions discussed above, which allowed the apartment to emerge
in Kuwait’s houses, interviewees suggested solutions for its negative consequences. There is a consensus among a
few homeowners that the Kuwaiti house is unsustainable and wastes space. “Do we really need all this space if I’m
a person who just got married? Do I need a space as large as 1000sq. meters or 400sq. meters? Can I do the needed
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
20
maintenance? So eventually it’s more feasible to live in an apartment” (H.5). One interviewee sees that homeowners
need to design for the present and not the future. He argued that people, “do not realize that the family is getting
destroyed from this. If the building grows in time it is better than a building that is designed for the future. People
take loans just for the idea of maybe my kids will need an apartment” (H.5). Ironically, apartments may in fact be a
solution to Kuwait’s housing crisis but in the form of government welfare. People would accept, “apartments with
specic features such as a balcony that gives the feeling of a courtyard or a duplex like a town house” (H.5). And
instead of trafc congestion being a disadvantage, “if we improve our public services such as mass transit and have
more walkable cities I think it will reverse into an advantage” (H.6).
LIMITATIONS
Interviews when compared to questionnaires are more powerful in eliciting narrative data that allow
researchers to investigate people’s views in greater depth (Kvale, 1996: 2003). However, as with any method it may
have a few limitations. The rst is the potential for subconscious bias from both the interviewer and interviewee. This
may be in the form of results that might be subjective and therefore change over time according to circumstance.
Despite these concerns, all efforts have been made by the researcher to ensure objective interviews with non-leading
questions. Furthermore, observational notes and recordings about the interviewees’ behavior and movement have also
been analyzed to avoid any inconsistences. Any segment that may have inuenced participant responses has been
discarded. The second limitation is the language. Most of the interviews were conducted in Arabic and then translated
and transcribed into English. All efforts have been made to ensure that the translation is accurate and reects the
essence of the idea and meaning in any given discussion throughout the interviews. Despite this, when translating
any complex topic there may be some expressions or words that may be untranslatable, and therefore, are lost in
translation.
RECOMMENDATIONS
The ndings revealed fascinating insights on the larger socio-economic and political situation in Kuwait.
They specically highlight disconnects between government regulation and reality. People are designing their
houses differently and after they get electricity from the state they illegally change and rebuild parts of the design
to accommodate for more apartments. This condition is causing an unsustainable built environment in Kuwait by
overburdening public electricity and water supplies in low-density residential areas. Therefore, the study recommends
the following:
1. To the Public Authority for Housing Welfare (PAHW): It is now more than ever become important to resolve
Kuwait’s housing crisis. New ingenious housing strategies need to be employed and implemented. Housing welfare
does not necessarily need to be a plot of land or a government house. PAHW must design and build new low-density
apartment complexes suitable for the Kuwaiti lifestyle. These new apartment complexes need to be in attractive
locations such as next to the sea and with more features that would lure people seeking housing welfare from the
state.
2. To the Baladia (Municipality): The baladia must have a legal framework to counter the apartment complexes
being built in model residential areas. This must happen not only through scrutinizing the design during the permit
phase but more importantly after the electricity reaches the building. The role of the baladia becomes of no consequence
and void if it does not enforce the law. People see this as a weakness and are more inclined to build more apartments
and other violations. Thus, a new law is required to give the necessary backing for the authorities and regain credibility
as a rst step to stop the growth of apartment complexes in areas designated for single family housing units. Instead
allocate other low to medium density areas for apartment living or even provide specic blocks only for apartments
within residential areas.
3. To the Homeowner: Homeowners must realize that your house is more than an investment. The law allows for
one and even two apartments in the second oor of the house. This recognizes the desire for parents to accommodate
21
Yousef AbdulMohsen Al-Haroun
for their children and is a continuation of the concept of families living together for generations. So why are children
being used as a pretext to build apartments and then rent them to strangers? The house lost its privacy and reduced
its form into, as the interviewee’s said, a generic ‘box’. Therefore, this study urges homeowners to design and build
their homes for their families and children. It also recommends a different house design by minimizing built area and
building smaller houses. This is not only less expensive to construct but also signicantly reduces water and electricity
consumption. This allows the house to breathe providing outdoor spaces and gardens, which in turn elevate people’s
quality of space and life.
CONCLUSION
This study explains the emergence of the apartment in the Kuwaiti house. The apartment in the house is a socio-
cultural and economic construct rooted in Kuwait’s traditional family relationships. This is a signicant nding,
which further demonstrates the resilience of cultural practices in Kuwait’s post-oil modernization. Once a place to
accommodate the family, the apartment has now morphed into an investment project, which provides more income to
homeowners amid high ination and cost of living. Furthermore, businessmen have taken advantage of high demand
for apartments to build ‘apartment houses’ in areas zoned for houses. As a result, completely transforming house
form and function and rupturing residential landscapes with more trafc and over using water and electricity. Another
major nding, which has been apparent but reinforced by this study is that this phenomenon is directly attributed to
the slow government response to satisfy public needs for housing welfare. Thus, as one designer puts it, the longer
the government delays, the more people will violate the law. People’s reactions suggest that it is their way to adapt
within the problems generated from years of governmental neglect towards the housing issue. Many in Kuwait blame
government mismanagement and rising corruption as the root cause for the nation’s stagnation in development despite
record surpluses from oil revenues. And unless measures from the government are taken this trend will led to more
apartment complexes in residential areas, more burden in public utilities, and more unsustainable development.
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Submitted: 15/10/2018
Revised: 03/03/2019
Accepted: 07/04/2019
The Phenomenon of Apartments in the Kuwaiti House
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