School | Program 2011

Brew me some coffee, brew me some cardomen
These black beans will heal my soul.
How can we burn this and pour it in our hearts,
So that it may release our dreams and our goals.

(Poem recited by Colonel of the Saudi Arabian Army Khalaf Al-Tebi at the GCC conference prior to calling for the invasion and liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqis.)

Kuwait is a country in which political parties are banned. Yet throughout recent history, Kuwait’s political process has found an indirect form of democratic expression in a deeply rooted cultural tradition that also corresponds to an architectural typology: the Diwaniyah. The Diwaniyah is a simple, four-sided room, with seating on each side, in which daily meetings are held; a central element of the ritual of this discursive articulation of Kuwaiti politics is the consumption of tea and coffee. By providing a platform for facilitating quick communication and consensus building, Kuwait’s diwaniyahs constitute an instrument of political expression and debate that in man ways mirrors the role of the newspaper in the West; it is no coincidence that the Diwaniyah was of central importance in the struggle against the Iraqi occupation in 1990, a fact acknowledged with poetic subtlety in Colonel Khalaf Al-Tebi’s address to the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) prior to the first Gulf war.

Concurrently, when considered in the general political frameview of Kuwaiti society it acts as a form of distributed assembly where consensus is achieved in small interconnected groups, and societal grievances are broadcasted and filtered as they climb the hierarchy of these congregations. It is significant that in the parliamentary elections in 2009, four female candidates won their seats and became Kuwait's first female lawmakers. All four had been visiting those typically male spaces of the Diwaniyah prior to the election, a fact that was not always received positively.

Our interest in the Diwaniyah rests in its concrete role as an architectural/spatial typology that is also a protagonist in the contemporary history of Kuwaiti political life. The Diwaniyah is both a real thing and a metaphor; it is an architectural typology whose precise historical role in defining a nation's political identity can be clearly and extensively documented. But it is also the elementary particle of Kuwaiti politics – an unusually crystalline manifestation, in a commonplace and humble architectural form, of architecture’s potential as a facilitator of political expression.

Joseph Grima, Markus Miessen

The exhibition Diwaniyyah: Architectural Space of Political Exchange, a research project by Joseph Grima and Markus Miessen, will be on display at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University from December 2 2010 to January 10, 2011; Filmography by Elian Stefa.

Becoming-lives of Diwaniyah

We will explore the particular situation of Diwaniyah in both theory and material experimentation through the analytical triad of the lived, perceived and conceived (Henri Lefebvre). Through this field-based research and discussion, a spatio-political understanding of Diwaniyah can be mapped, perhaps only partially so. A lived map of the plight of Diwaniyah includes not only physical and spatial frameworks, but also the choreography and modes of sociality/speech acts it engenders. Diwaniyah, as such, will be examined as an aesthetic phenomenon, a site of and for experience. We shall complicate our ‘lived map’ with the juxtaposition of another triad of hospitality, dissensus and potentiality, in order to arrive at speculative scenarios of Diwaniyah, mapping not only the lived, but also the becoming-life/lives of its future articulations.

Spatial Agency: Situating the Political

What is and can be the space of politics in our contemporary urban world? This research studio focuses on the spatial agency of the Diwaniyah in the transformation of Kuwaiti urban life. As a designated locus of political life, the Diwaniyah is often portrayed as the traditional backbone of Kuwaiti society. How then could this age-old architectural type serve as an instrument of the rapid modernization Kuwait witnessed over the past century? To understand its particular spatial agency, we will 1) begin by mapping the Diwaniyah as a concrete architectural space in relation to the changing urban fabric of Kuwait; 2) examine its role in the construction and transformation of other social and spatial institutions such as the family and the local government; 3) outline the spatial strategies that have shaped its success in the face of social change.

Studio Diwaniyah

This spatial design studio will literally take on the format and physicality of a Diwaniyah. Within this discursive, social and relational environment, the students will be asked to design, build and implement an enabler and/or disabler of communication. It is the explicit intent that these interventions should stand in an intense reciprocal relationship to each other. Studio Diwaniyah will be conceived as a 1:1 experimental laboratory.