27 September 2014

Kuwait - Kuwait Tower

Although referred to in the singular, Kuwait Tower is a group of three towers, built as part of a city-wide water management system. Designed by the Swedish engineers Sune Lindström and Malene Björn, the towers were built, in concrete, by Energoprojekt of Belgrade. The other five groups of water towers are mushroom-shaped, but the Emir of Kuwait wanted something more spectacular to overlook the Persian Gulf.

Construction commenced in 1971, and the towers were formally opened in March 1979. The main tower is 613 feet high, and features two spheres. The lower stores a million gallons of water, and also houses a restaurant at its top, 270 feet up. The upper sphere is home to a rotating observation deck and café, 404 feet above the ground.

The second tower is 482 feet high, and stores another million gallons of water. The third, 371 feet high, carries a number of lights to illuminate the two larger towers and their spheres, covered with 55,000 steel discs in eight different colours. The towers were damaged during Gulf War I, 1990-91, and have been closed since 2012 for restoration.

Kuwait - The Souqs

There are numerous souqs in the capital of Kuwait. All are proper markets, geared to the demands of the locals. Istanbul Grand Bazaar-like tourist tat and pushy sales pitches are entirely absent.

Most items have marked prices, although haggling is still de rigueur. Amongst the best souqs are those in Kuwait City, the downtown part of the capital.

The souqs sell the fruit, vegetables and spices, in great profusion, that one might expect. Fish and meat have their own areas within the larger markets. Clothing comes in the form of inexpensive hijabs and niqabs for the ladies, dishdashas for the gents, right through to cheap imitations of Western dress.

There are alleys of the souqs devoted to particular products, such as perfumes, both raw and blended. And always an alley of tea-pots and other kitchenwares. Addictive.

24 September 2014

Grim's Dyke

Standing high on the Harrow Weald is a hotel that was once home to Sir W.S. Gilbert. Its name, Grim's Dyke, comes from the remains of the nearby ancient defensive earthwork, Grime's Dyke, which defined part of the boundary of the lands of the Catuvellauni, and which as it passes the house now forms a partial moat.

The house was built, between 1870 and 1872, for the painter Frederick Goodall RA. The architect was Norman Shaw, who had been a pupil of George Edmund Street (architect of the Royal Courts of Justice). Shaw designed Old Scotland Yard and Vauxhall Bridge, and his domestic work was a precursor to that of Sir Edwin Lutyens. His tile-hung gables, tall chimneys, mullioned windows with leaded lights, and timber framing served to give the impression of great age.

Goodall sold in 1880 to the banker Robert Heriot, who added in 1883 a billiard room (now the restaurant) designed by Arthur Cawston. W.S. Gilbert bought the house in 1890, for £4,000, and added further bedrooms, using the architects Ernest George and Harold Peto. He converted the drawing room into a library, now the hotel bar; and Goodall's studio, complete with minstrel's gallery, into a drawing room, now a conference and reception room.

Grim's Dyke was jointly acquired by the Middlesex and London county councils in 1937, and leased for use as a tuberculosis recuperation centre. During WWII the house was home to an engineering unit that investigated captured German equipment, including the Nazis' first jet engine. The hospital closed in 1963, and the steadily dilapidating house was used as a film set. It was Grade II*-listed in 1970, and opened as a hotel in 1971.