The jewel of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad’s crown

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Prof Andrea Lauria

Prof. Andrea Lauria is an Italian museologist graduated from Rome’s Academy of fine arts. He also holds a History of Art degree from University di Roma Tre in Rome. Andrea Lauria lectures a Masters course in museology at Rome’s Universities Tor Vergata and American Temple University (Rome Campus). In 2020 he has become a published author of the book: “From the Renaissance studiolo to the contemporary museum” which is also his course manual. Lauria’s field of research is the phenomenon of hyper-museums with special attention to the Arabian countries in comparison with the western world.

Informally known as the Kuwait Opera House, The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre (JACC) is located on the Gulf Road in the capital Kuwait City. JACC is the centerpiece of Kuwait’s new national cultural district comprising a Theatre Centre, Music Centre, Conference Centre and National Library for Historical Documents. All center’s buildings are linked and accessed via a landscaped podium which houses the parking and a public park that includes a Musical & Dancing Fountain which shoots water up to 80m height, providing a mesmerizing experience to the public. JACC was named the Best Cultural Design Project at the prestigious Index Architecture & Design Awards 2018 (IADAs), on 27 March at Dubai World Trade Centre, as part of the annual Index Exhibition.

JACC is the largest cultural center and opera house in the Middle East and together with the Al Shaheed Park Museums and Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre, which I have already described in a previous article here on this paper, are part of the Kuwait National Cultural District (also known as the KNCD). The KNCD is a multibillion-dollar development project in Kuwait that focuses on the arts and culture and is one of the largest cultural investments in the world today. The Kuwait National Cultural District is a member of the Global Cultural Districts Network. The JACC, named after Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, was inaugurated on October 31, 2016 under the auspices of HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and with the Emir in attendance. The Project was procured on a Design & Build basis and completed in 22 months.

Dar SSH was appointed by Al Hani Company as the Design Consultant. The Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre (JACC), that is located on the western shores of the KNCD, showcases the performing arts and creates a world-class theatre quarter in a spacious parkland setting. Together with the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre, it forms Kuwait’s new national cultural district. Owned by the Amiri Diwan the JACC is a multidisciplinary public space striving to entertain, educate and inspire the people of Kuwait. The center program is open for every generation and sector of society with huge range of events, in music, theatre, film, workshops and spoken word.

The JACC was designed by the Kuwaiti architectural studio SSH that has projected many interesting public buildings but all located in Middle East not in EU or other continents. All those buildings are only in the Middle East and the SSH studio is not an international Archi-star, like Jean Nouveau that we have mentioned many times and that has designed Louvre A.D. and National Museum of Qatar, but the SSH studio project for the JACC is very interesting and I like it. JACC Centre consists of four constructions, with revolutionary design, composed of geometric forms inspired by Islamic architecture. This decoration creates richly textured, sparkling outer skin of steel encased in titanium and glass, with some varying-density mashrabiya panels. This both offers climatic protection and generates dramatic public spaces with interplay of light and shadow. Inner structures are concrete, regulating temperature through thermal mass. Over 8,000 square meters of decorative calligraphy integrated into interior cladding features the eponymous Sheikh’s sayings promoting culture and development. The aesthetic outside light effect, mostly made by titanium panels, is amazing. The buildings never look the same, they change due to the light, weather conditions and the daytime.

The JACC complex was designed to resemble jewels, refl ecting rays of sun lights and I must say it works perfectly. The center’s decoration is complex and as I already said the buildings have composite geometric forms, inspired by Islamic traditional decoration that creates a richly textured outer skin of each building, resulting very sophisticated and modern. The buildings look like big monoliths, not squat but imposing, a space object from outer that has just landed there. The effect is very interesting and intriguing at the same time. The buildings sit like jewels within a larger public park, the buildings all together are a spectacular Landmarks with a strong impact on the territory, changing the coast site of the Kuwait city.

The JACC is not only a strong land-mark complex but at the same time is creating also important public spaces below that benefit from the interplay of light and shadow. Visitors can circulate via air-conditioned lifts and escalators. The JACC interior is sophisticate as well, the foyers feature decorative calligraphy across the four pavilions, where more than 8,000 sq meters of calligraphy is designed into the cladding of the theatres, concert halls and libraries. Each Internal building is clad in a palette of stone, patterned glass, golden calligraphic forms and other luxurious interior finishes and textures. A major interior feature at the complex is a monolithic signature chandelier weighing 22 Tons with 220,000 LEDs which illuminates the entrance foyer of the Theatre building and presents itself in a tiered array of falling glass providing an arresting spectacle for visitors. All the venues inside these buildings employ state-of-theart technologies and software systems for their operation. These venues hold capacities of around 5700 seats all together. The JACC mission is very ambitious it wants to be a platform for educational and cultural exchange; moreover, it functions as an influential entertainment and culture powerhouse and productive space for the region.

The center offers a space for dialogue to share and showcase skills and knowledge, giving younger voices a forum in which to speak. The final JACC’s goal is to assist in exploring Kuwait’s past, cultivating its present and imagining potential futures. To become a leading social and creative hub for Kuwait and the region but opened to the international events as well. The opening combined international and local music, ensuring a dynamic diversity that preserves Kuwaiti heritage while maintaining a global perspective. The inauguration ceremony was graced with a performance by renowned opera singer Andrea Bocelli, cementing the center’s international standards of excellence and vision for outstanding cultural activity for years to come.

By Andrea Lauria

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