Site visit: Kuwait Investment Authority

The headquarters is leading the way in sustainable MEP technology

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Kuwait Investment Authority has been designed by KEO.
Kuwait Investment Authority has been designed by KEO.

Electrical components, power feeds and cooling plants are all a fundamental part of any office design – but remain hidden in the modernistic interior lines, atriums and courtyards of a new landmark on the Kuwait City skyline.

The past prosperity of the state – symbolised by the pearl diving dhows which sailed the Arabian Gulf – and its prospects for a bright future based on finances and investment come together in a design by KEO which is set to become a “beacon for the city”.

The practice is working on a new headquarters for the Kuwait Investment Authority inspired by four elements based on traditional Islamic design – the courtyard, sustainability, the Mashrabiya geometric shapes.

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Innovative MEP is a major part of the new landmark soaring above the cityscape – including underfloor power, electrical and computer feeds and a floor-based cooling system.

Design director Raj Patel said: “The building is really in two parts. The large horizontal podium containing a VIP Reception Hall, Conference Centre, Dining Hall, and public spaces are in the shape of a dhow – the vessel which bought riches to the country through fishing and pearl diving.

“And the vertical modern tower piercing the skyline, which contains the private offices for the employees. It represents the future wealth of the country and its increasing global presence.

“Both forms are majestic and a powerful symbol of the past and future which remind the occupants and visitors that both can be celebrated in one project,” he added.

The 220m tall tower is lifted six floors off ground level so the podium building appears to slip through it. The tower consists of 40 floors which are stacked in five office courtyard atriums of eight floors each. Each of these eight storey courtyards has a two storey atrium extending to the east, a four storey atrium extending to the north, and a two story atrium extending to the west. A central 16m x 16m open void on each floor is what links the eight floors together.

The top floors are for KIA’s executives and will feature a board of director’s meeting room at the very top with a large glass wall overlooking the city.

A total of 2,500 large panels made of granite from Italy are currently being assembled at ground level to create the building’s facade and they are then individually being hoisted into position by a crane.

Patel said: “The façade of the tower is based on a square within a rotated square within a square geometry which really created the most stunning aesthetic for the project. When we manipulated the width of the diagonal lines within the rotated square, the windows within increased or decreased accordingly. We ended up creating 10 prototypes, each with varying widths of the diagonal members and sizes of windows as a result.”

KEO said its original concept took into account KIA’s design competition brief which stated that an all glass façade buildings should be avoided for this project.

Patel said: “We understood that concern and further felt that unsympathetic architectural forms and clear disruption of the social need to interact, within office spaces, reveals a notion of planning which would not produce a timeless and functional building.

“We felt we needed to understand the traditional principles which have guided Islamic design over the past generations.”

Central to the design of the tower is the courtyard which for centuries has been a feature of Islamic architecture embodying the importance of having an inward and a central focus.

Patel said: “The courtyard concept applies to multi-storey office buildings as much as it does to single-storey residences. In fact, the softer quality of light created over several floors provides an internal atrium which gives a greater sense of space to office workers and a cultural sense of being part of a community.”

“This building is challenging the typical notion of a high-rise. We have built a shell and carved out the inside with courtyards and voids.”

The project takes on traditional Middle Eastern notions of sustainability which have been a part of regional design for thousands of years.

Glazing is controlled depending on building orientation, the depth of the window from the facade plane is calculated to reduce direct heat gain, and air conditioning is located in a raised floor to ensure less load than a typical ceiling designed system.

The large four storey glass walls are only located on the north façade to allow views to the water and natural light into each of the courtyard atriums.

The Mashrabiya – originally a screened window which was used to keep out the sun’s rays – has been adapted as the design concept for the exterior façade of the tower reducing window apertures on the western and southern faces to protect the interior from solar heat, while allowing more light in from eastern and northern sides. As a result, the Mashrabiya inspired facade represents a dynamic and ever-changing façade that continues to change based on the façade’s orientation, levels of the tower, and movement of the sun throughout the day.

“At night the design allows the golden light of the interiors to seep out of its patterned openings creating a beautiful beacon for the city,” said Patel.

Geometric patterns have been applied to all types of surfaces in the building to emphasize the traditional belief that they represent the logic and order of the universe.

The cooling systems function in a similar way to a traditional wind tower – but from the floor upwards ensuring that the air is at optimum temperature for workers.

Panels in the floor provide easy access for engineers for all electrical, computer and telephone lines while also ensuring an uncluttered design aesthetic for the ceilings.

Emad Obaid, the firm’s Project Director on site, said: “The design is something that has not been attempted in this region before and we are employing new technologies and techniques in order to construct it.”

Trees, currently being matured in the Netherlands, will be planted in the courtyards along with water fountains to create a lively environment for all offices to overlook and for employees to gather.

The interior colour schemes are mainly white and grey “fresh and very contemporary” according to the designers, with minimal use of wood to add richness to the space. The designers say they have also opted for a lot of glass in the rooms “to reflect a feeling of transparency and honesty in business dealings” and maximise the use of natural light in order to cut down on energy usage.

David Ross, KEO’s head of structural engineering, said: “We are looking at topping-out the concrete work for the tower later this summer.”

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