First phase of museum district opens in Kuwait
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First phase of museum district opens in Kuwait

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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 CEO

A formal opening has been held for the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre (SAASCC) in Kuwait – a mammoth cultural district for the country described as the largest museum project in the world.

A dramatic light show on Monday (5 February) marked the launch of the attraction, which has been designed by local architects SSH and British creative agency Cultural Innovations.

Situated on a 13-hectare site in the Al-Sha’ab district of Kuwait City, the complex has been developed in just five years and is part of the country’s strategy to create a new cultural quarter – a 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 next few months, they will together house 23 galleries over 22,000sq m (215,278sq ft), containing more than 800 exhibits.

Specific exhibitions and attractions will 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.

“An extensive range of 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.

"We've advised on making the visitor experience the best it can be, building in spaces for reflection and rest, as well as inspiring contemporary art and sculptures.

“We were well placed to respond to the client’s brief for this project due to our previous experience of delivering projects in the Middle East, including Egypt, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan. This was invaluable in giving us a cultural understanding of the region and the ability to deliver something relevant to audiences there.”

The SAASCC is itself part of an even wider development, the Kuwait National Cultural District – a cluster which also includes the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre, containing the largest opera house in the Middle East, and the Al Shaheed Park Museums close to the city centre.

In the spotlight
The museums of the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre

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 – as well as the contribution made to science by scholars, united by the Arabic language and supported by Islamic patronage.

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 enter the House of Wisdom – “a contemporary interpretation of one of the greatest libraries in history” – which was created to bring together scientists, scholars and translators.

SPACE MUSEUM

The Space 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.” Its interactive galleries will give visitors the chance to get involved with a range of activities and exhibits that bring them closer to life among the stars and planets, from the Big Bang to our place in the solar system.

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.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM

The Science and Technology Museum, Kuwait, will excite visitors with scientific phenomena and the possibilities of science and innovation. Visitors will experiment with natural phenomena in the Experiments gallery; operate and programme robots in Discover Robots; build and test vehicles in Transport or Design; and engineer their own inventions in the young people’s Maker Space. In the human body galleries, visitors 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.

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

The Natural History Museum stands out from others of its type as it 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 huge living ecosystem of lush rainforests, mangroves and coral reefs, see different species of live insects and an underwater world in a million-litre tank aquarium. They will also be able to trace the story of Earth, from the Big Bang, through the age of the dinosaurs, to the present day.

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A soft opening has been held for the Arabic Islamic Science Museum in Kuwait – the first component of a mammoth cultural district being developed for the country.
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