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Kuwait’s cultural district

One of world’s largest museum complexes completed in Kuwait


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A mammoth cultural district has been completed in Kuwait, becoming one of the largest museum projects in the world.

The Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre (SAASCC), designed by local architects SSH and British creative agency Cultural Innovations, was designed and built in just five years. It is situated on a 13-hectare site in the Al-Sha’ab district of Kuwait City.

The project – commissioned as part of the country’s strategy to create a new cultural quarter – was conceived as an entertaining and educational resource for schools and colleges and a major attraction for families from Kuwait, the Middle East and beyond.

It incorporates a quartet of museums – the Arabic Islamic Science Museum, the Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Science and Technology Museum – and a Theatre and Fine Arts Centre. Opening officially in phases over the course of the year, they will together house 23 galleries with 22,000sq m (237,000sq ft) of exhibition space containing more than 800 exhibits.

Attractions include a 4D ride through the body to fight germs, a replica walk-through experience of the International Space Station, a race against Usain Bolt to see how much energy you can burn and a virtual tour through Earth’s orbit on the Virgin Galactic.

There will also be a 120-seat Planetarium; a huge indoor living greenhouse themed as a Southeast Asian rainforest complete with a one-million-litre aquarium; an immersive camera obscura room; and intricate models of mosques from around the world.

The design brief requested “not a carbon copy of a museum or gallery from elsewhere, but specifically tailored to Kuwait”.

The four museums have been designed to work together and are connected by a shaded ‘street’. The development of external interpretation and exhibits brings a focus to each landscaped area, creating thematic links between the museums and the external spaces.

“We assembled a team of more than 140 people, with 30 content specialists focused on interpretation and content development, and 25 exhibition designers with additional expertise in graphics, lighting and audio-visual,” said Cultural Innovations CEO Martyn Best.

“Experts have been assembled from universities, zoos, botanic gardens, museums and organisations such as the European Space Agency to ensure scientific facts and interpretation are correct.

“Having worked closely with architects SSH, we’ve delivered content that complements the quality of the phenomenal architectural spaces that have been created, delivering a project firmly rooted in Kuwait’s cultural vision and content that tells a compelling story.”

The SAASCC is itself part of an even wider development, the Kuwait National Cultural District, which also includes a vast opera house.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

The museums of the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre

Martyn Best, Cultural Innovations
Martyn Best, Cultural Innovations

Arabic Islamic Science Museum
Conceived as a celebration of “the science, learning and craftsmanship that flourished as the Islamic empire expanded between 9th and 14th centuries”, the museum will showcase some of the distinctive architectural and design styles that developed during this ‘golden age’– including models of the holy sites of Mecca, Medina and Al-Aqsa.

It will provide an Islamic context to all the other museums, setting astronomy, transport, calligraphy, science, medicine and natural history in a cultural context for Kuwaiti visitors.

Visitors will have the chance to enter the House of Wisdom – “a contemporary interpretation of one of the greatest libraries in history”.

" We have delivered content that complements the quality of the phenomenal architectural spaces that have been created, delivering a project firmly rooted in Kuwait’s cultural vision and content that tells a compelling story" - Martyn Best, Cultural Innovations

Space Museum

This museum “tells the story of human endeavour in pushing the boundaries of technology and human endurance to explore space and discover more about the universe.” Interactive galleries will give visitors the chance to get involved with a range of activities that bring them closer to life among the stars and planets.

A Space Academy will provide a hands-on training programme for budding astronauts and visitors can experience what it might be like to be one of the first space tourists by boarding a dramatic replica of the Virgin Galactic Space Ship in flight. The planetarium will feature an exclusive show that takes visitors on the journey that early Islamic stargazers took to observe and record the night sky; the world’s largest giant, moving, mechanical orrery will show the position and movements of planets in the solar system; and a 11m-wide sculpture will replicate the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Natural History Museum

This museum houses a range of living ecosystems which link together to showcase the wonders of the natural world. Visitors will be able to lose themselves in a land of lush rainforests, mangroves and coral reefs, see different species of live insects and visit an underwater world in a million-litre tank aquarium. They will trace the story of Earth, from the Big Bang, through the age of the dinosaurs, to the present day.

Science and Technology Museum

Visitors will experiment with natural phenomena, operate and programme robots, build and test vehicles, and engineer their own inventions in a young people’s Maker Space. In the ‘Human Body’ galleries, guests will take a 4D ride through the body to fight germs, burn off energy with a race against Usain Bolt and contemplate the science issues of the moment with friends and family in ‘Science News and Views.’

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