------------- -------------- ------------------- -------------------
Thursday , August 18 2022

‘Ice’ plans to tear down our memories

This post has been read 26251 times!

This rink still has soul … good enough to be part of Shaheed Park extension

A skating rink in the desert is about to celebrate its 40th year of life. Forty years of an architectural masterpiece that has withstood the Iraqi invasion, the harsh summers, the wear and tear of time is truly an event to be celebrated. But just as Sawaber and countless other landmarks that have marked our architectural landscape have been mindlessly demolished without a purpose or a plan, the Kuwait Ice Skating Rink too is on death row. 

A tent-like structure with wooden pillars reminiscent of Bait al-Shaar, the Kuwait Ice Skating Rink is a magnificent piece of architecture that was built in close collaboration with France in the late 1970s. And just as its unique architecture stands out in the midst of the many soulless glass towers that adorn the Kuwait City skyline, its place in Kuwait’s memory landscape is even more extraordinary. Beyond any commercial value, the Ice Skating Rink is – par excellence – a pillar of our national heritage; it has shaped the childhood memories of hundreds of thousands of the country’s inhabitants. Ask anyone who grew up in Kuwait in the 1980s what the Ice Skating Rink means to them, and expect a barrage of ecstatic responses.

Against all odds, a skating rink in the desert became the perfect oasis for those seeking a cool sanctuary away from the scorching sun. Upon entering this haven of tranquility, we were welcomed by the smell of cold, a smell so rare in Kuwait that we stored it in our olfactory memory. Take a left and find yourself in the ice-skates rental room, lined with dozens of benches awaiting eager skaters. A few meters beyond that lay the space we were all here for: the big rink. Grand and majestic, the big rink is a marvel, its walls bedecked with striking geometric patterns in warm reddish and ochre hues reminiscent of Sadu weaving patterns. Here would begin our journey on the ice, energizing us with a feeling of freedom and joy that few sports can equal.

Despite a hiatus associated with the Iraqi invasion, the rink has been operational for almost 4 decades, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. In my case, what was part of my childhood became part of my adulthood: I would take my children there to learn to skate as would many of my friends. This generational link gives the ice skating rink a special status; whereas many of the landmarks of our youth – including cinemas and theaters – have been abandoned or demolished, the rink has stood firm in its resilience. One of the few non-consumeristic enterprises in the country, it continues to be a refuge for those seeking family fun in a non-commercial setting. The unique modernist design fills us with a sense of pride linked to Kuwait’s golden age of architecture, where function met aesthetics. The place leaves few of us unmoved.

Inaugurated in 1980, the rink was not only the first such structure in Kuwait, but also the first ice skating complex in the whole of the Middle East. March 2020 marks its 40th anniversary. But instead of celebrating this milestone, we are getting ready for its imminent demolition. It is being sacrificed for the Shaheed Park phase 3 extension, making way for a concert hall and – ironically enough – a new skating rink. The rink is facing demolition not because of a lack of demand from the public (it welcomes 150,000 visitors a year), nor because of any maintenance or structural issues, but because someone has decided to build something new. Why demolish a perfectly functioning architectural masterpiece? Why not renovate and revitalize the existing structure and integrate it into the park? We can only gain from bridging rather than eliminating the various layers of Kuwait’s built landscape.

Two weeks ago, the JACC opened its doors to a Kuwaiti musical called “Memoirs of a Sailor.” By word of mouth, news of the musical spread like wildfire. Almost every person I know, Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis alike, attended, some even twice. What drove thousands of people to the show was a thirst for memories, roots, a past that is now completely out of reach to us. Isn’t it paradoxical that we are looking for identity inside theaters while we destroy it outside? Many Kuwaitis are upset about the neglect and erasure of their culture in its many forms; the architecture, the crafts and even the natural environment through the pollution of the sea.

The senseless destruction of our architectural heritage for the extraction of commercial value for the few is a violation of our national heritage. The Kuwait Ice Skating Rink should not be the next victim on the list of public executions that awaits our many landmarks. In a spirit of sustainability, and historical and architectural preservation, the structure should become a listed architectural landmark integrated into the new extension. May our development be respectful of our memories and our environment. And may wisdom and the public good prevail.

Laila Al-Hamad is the founder of Zeri Crafts, a company seeking to cast light on Kuwait’s crafts heritage. Previously, she worked for the World Bank’s MNA Sustainable Development Department in Washington, DC.

By Laila Al-Hamad