Foster + Partners completes fin-wrapped skyscraper for the National Bank of Kuwait

Driven by an intent to promote synergy and enhance wellbeing, the sculptural 300 m skyscraper marks a distinctive presence along the skyline of Kuwait City.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 11, 2022

In the course of becoming one of the world's most important sources of energy and a prominent key to the stability of the global economy, the Gulf countries have developed into a prime example of the tension between globalisation and localisation. So has their architectural identity. Even by conservative estimates, there seems to be a new state-of-the-art glass box sprouting in the urban fabric of these nations every month. Though arguable, skyscrapers have now become a staple feature in the urbanised development of most countries across the world. At the apex of this transformation is a country which once used to be a small village that, in a short span of time, rapidly grew into an urbanised regional metropolis. Since the discovery of oil reserves in the 1940s, Kuwait has been on a path of fast-paced development, and the latest addition to the country’s noteworthy assemblage of skyscrapers comes in the form of the new headquarters for the National Bank of Kuwait in Kuwait City, designed by Foster + Partners.

Located on a prominent site in Kuwait City, the 300 m skyscraper has a distinctive presence among the buildings of Sharq, the city’s growing financial district | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
Located on a prominent site in Kuwait City, the 300 m skyscraper has a distinctive presence among the buildings of Sharq, the city’s growing financial district Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

Marking a distinctive presence in Sharq - the city’s growing financial district - the 300 m sculptural volume contrasts the many modern iterations of skyscraper architecture in its context. With an intent to promote synergy and enhance wellbeing, the new building unifies all of the bank’s corporate employees under one roof. "The new headquarters for the National Bank of Kuwait represents the coming together of an innovative environmental strategy and a diverse programme as a distinctive landmark that stands out on the Kuwaiti skyline. The building incorporates a sustainable, functional, and iconic design that signifies NBK's unique presence and identity in the city,” states Stefan Behling, Head of Studio at Foster + Partners.

  • The design combines sustainable features and structural innovation, providing an energy efficient passive form, shielding the offices from the extremes of Kuwait's climate | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The design combines sustainable features and structural innovation, providing an energy efficient passive form, shielding the offices from the extremes of Kuwait's climate Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • Floor Plans | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Floor Plans Image: © Foster + Partners

Designed to address the extremities of Kuwait's climate, the structure incorporates multiple measures for efficient shading. While providing structural support, the concrete fins that extend throughout the height of the tower also act as a protective outer skin that minimises solar gain. With tapered floors at lower levels and outwardly extended floors at higher levels, the form of the structure enables overhanging floor plates to shade the floors below and maximises floor space at the upper levels. In the process of bridging sustainable features, structural innovation, and an energy-efficient passive form in a single building, the British architects seemed to have narrated an effective environmental strategy.

  • The chairman’s club is located in a dramatic, soaring volume at the tower’s apex, lit by a distinctive skylight that traces an arc through the space, offering panoramic views of the city and coastline | Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The chairman’s club is located in a dramatic, soaring volume at the tower’s apex, lit by a distinctive skylight that traces an arc through the space, offering panoramic views of the city and coastline Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • Chairman's club at the top of the building | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Chairman's club at the top of the building Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • The mood board of the design follows a contemporary modern palette of colours and materials | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The mood board of the design follows a contemporary modern palette of colours and materials Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

With its curved northern façade and extended floor plates, the tower's unique form offers panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf to a greater number of its occupants. The 63-storey building accommodates sky lobbies, a double-height restaurant, a gym, ballroom, auditorium, triple-height boardroom, and an 18 m high entrance lobby. Along with providing a better working environment, the building's communal spaces aim to enrich its employees' social focus. At the peak of the tower is the chairman's club with a distinctive skylight that traces an arc through the space, offering panoramic views of the city and coastline. In order to increase the net usable floor plate area, an innovative twin-lift strategy minimises the sizes of the cores used for vertical circulation. “The form we have developed for the tower is driven by the needs of the bank and the internal spatial arrangement is tailored to its organisational requirements, whilst providing flexibility for future change and growth. We have created a customised working environment where everybody has their own unique space," states Nikolai Malsch, Senior Partner at Foster + Partners.

  • The concrete fins that extend across the height of the tower follow the sun path and provide shade | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The concrete fins that extend across the height of the tower follow the sun path and provide shade Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • The fins extend across the height of the tower to offer structural support as well | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The fins extend across the height of the tower to offer structural support as well Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

To complement the pioneering architecture of the skyscraper, Foster + Partners further raised the standard of the interior design by incorporating bespoke furniture and lighting in prominent spaces. Designed by the practice's industrial design team, the boardroom features distinctive lighting comprising several elegant blown-glass pendant lights which form a cloud-like cluster above the grand board table.

  • The boardroom features distinctive lighting installations comprising several blown-glass pendant lights | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The boardroom features distinctive lighting installations comprising several blown-glass pendant lights Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • The pendant lights forms a cloud-like cluster above the grand board table | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The pendant lights forms a cloud-like cluster above the grand board table Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • The interior design displays bespoke furniture and lighting from Foster + Partners | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The interior design displays bespoke furniture and lighting from Foster + Partners Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

With new technologies, construction techniques, and the adept use of materiality and scale, the National Bank of Kuwait’s new headquarters seem to create a unique identity for the organisation in a very conventional urban setting. While the completed structure reflects concepts of sustainability and innovation, the influence and impact it could hold against the ever-changing fabric of Kuwait City is still yet to be ascertained. In a desert replete with tall structures that dialogue between globalist outlooks and contextual relevance, will skyscraper architecture continue to stack layers of imported culture or are we finally past this archaic trajectory?

  • The night time view of the context with the building lit against the backdrop of archetypical skyscrapers | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The night time view of the context with the building lit against the backdrop of archetypical skyscrapers Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • Amid the curtain walls and concrete fins, the building simultaneously shades the interior spaces and opens it outdoor to panoramic views | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    Amid the curtain walls and concrete fins, the building simultaneously shades the interior spaces and opens it outdoor to panoramic views Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners
  • The curved facade of the building breaks the monotonous layers of the sixty-three floored skyscraper | National Bank of Kuwait headquarters| Foster + Partners | STIRworld
    The curved facade of the building breaks the monotonous layers of the sixty-three floored skyscraper Image: © Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)

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