Portuguese Photographer Captures Kuwait’s Golden Era Of Architecture


The period spanning the late 1940s to mid-1980s is known globally as Kuwait’s “Golden Era”, a period of prosperity, affluence and development which is most evident in the construction of some of the world’s most impressive architectural feats. The reason for this dramatic modernisation of the Arab state was due to their thriving oil export industry.

Portuguese photographer, Nelson Garrido, embarked on a journey across Kuwait in order to capture the country’s 150 buildings, compiling a “photographic essay” to document the dramatically changing face of design which took place during Kuwait’s golden years. During this period, Kuwait’s statement architecture was not only a statement of wealth and power, but of political freedom and independence due to the establishment of their own autonomy.

Kuwait’s International Identity in Architecture

The discovery of oil in Kuwait around 1940 was almost immediately accompanied by a loss of cultural identity” according to Raphaé Memon in Kuwaiti Regionalism. Memon discusses the “mad race” of international architects flocking to win their lucrative deal teamed with the Kuwaiti government’s power-hungry desire to build Western-style buildings to rival and compete with those in Dubai. Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, and English architectural partnership Alison and Peter Smithson were among those involved in the frenzy and feature in Garrido’s photography. “In this mad race, both the architects and the government overlooked the preservation of local cultural identity.”

An Architect’s Playground

Despite a loss of cultural identity, the development of Kuwait is arguably a testament to the advanced technology and expertise in modern architecture, a state to behold. International designers had a fresh new testing ground to experiment to their heart’s desire, resulting in some of the most breathtaking architecture found in the world today.

Garrido’s documentation of the redevelopment of Kuwait, featured at the London Design Biennale, is more than an appreciation of excellent architecture but the documentation of a journey