My first visit to KAUST was during it's early construction phase, making a site visit to the disaster we like to call the main KAUST mosque (our company is responsible for that horrid Aladdin jewel box).. Architecturally, the whole place showed promise to truly be a kingdom landmark (and maybe a tourist attraction if the security loosens up just a bit)..
My second visit was 2 days before the inauguration of KAUST, and i had to see HOK's work almost complete, and they sure managed to create a magnificent piece of work.. Either in aesthetic articulation, or the manifestation of spatial function through an elaborate form.. With some traditional design features (in form, not in decoration), the main university campus stood out as good step ahead for Saudi contemporary architecture..
My third visit was 2 days ago.. And the following is a summary of my visit.. I can't make any "keep this blog short" promises, so send me to InstaPaper (or print this blog and massacre a tree, if you're into that kind of stuff)The first thing that you'll need to know, if you never had the chance to visit the campus, it's a trillion kilometers away from any surrounding civilization.. Well, not a trillion trillion, but it's a long way.. The actual Km's aren't that big of a distance, but the road leading to it is plain, repetitive, and has no signs of life (except for the few trucker camps and abandoned warehouses)
If you're planning to drive there, make sure you go and come back when the sun is still out, because the road is not even lit at night..
And as am driving, and driving, and doing more driving (finished half a dozen of songs) you're only left to think.. Either be left in anticipation of what's heading your way, or thinking about what you just saw on the way back (explains why am taking my space writing this blog, because i had too much time to think)..
The security gates are managed by ARAMCO security.. They already have great experience doing this sort of thing in controlling their big compounds all over the country, so they fit the job description.. Securing a different reality, away from Saudi Arabia's reach..
Ironic, It took me 80+ km's to escape from one reality to something that is completely different..
The first thing that comes to mind, when driving another lengthy road from the main gate to the second gate with the guest center, the government really wants to make sure this area is completely secure.. They're not using Pentagon-grade security, but they're hoping terrorists would run out of gas before they reach Checkpoint 2 (or bored, whatever comes first)..
Am at the guest center now.. And i just went through the exact procedure used in the ARAMCO compound near KFUPM in Dhahran: Calling a house, verifying visitor, issuing visitor badge and holding on to his/her I.D's..
For the record, I didn't have an agenda in visiting KAUST, am just here to pick up my wife, she had a job interview.. Maybe catch a movie before the long road home..
So, around the main campus, you start having this foreign-expat compound feeling in the way the houses are organized and the streets are intersecting and signed with painful speed limits.. The only difference, the houses are not designed in a American Prairie style, or some European standard.. It's actually designed to walk along the same architecture seen around the kingdom, if not much better articulated, and better solved..
There's that stupid mosque dome.. WHY BLUE!! AND THOSE OVERSCALED ORNAMNENTS!! I prayed Maghrib there once, and it's equally cheap from the inside.. It's spacious, kudos for the structure team, but it's plain.. Really not worth being a landmark, when i saw neighborhood mosques that cost less, look better, and were designed without a "going to steal the funding" agenda all over the design process.. And it's not even a minimalistic mosque with strict function, just prayer, no it's meant to be a landmark since it's RIGHT NEXT TO THE UNIVERSITY.. So, whatever mickey mouse concept was used on this one, it worked, and the architect is showering himself with praise (if not egocentric self-praise, since Architects here have a DaVinci-complex)
When i picked up my wife, i saw the ease and relief she was in.. For once, she wasn't culturally forced to wear the Abaya anymore.. She had her Hijab on, and she wore decent clothes.. It's not everyday in Saudi that you see your wife (or any female you know) in color, and in public..
No social stigma here.. No restrains.. Only respect to what the Islamic Culture asks to respect (which is different than the way we practice it, or think we're practicing properly.. Ever questioned our superior-understanding of things?)
I noticed that there were no one out to kidnap her, and Satan didn't walk around as people committed adultery in public.. None of those paranoid theories our culture-mentality conjures up if anyone didn't wear their Abaya, or speculating about what happens behind those closed gates.. Everything seemed to be fine, and nothing fell from the sky to smite her.. She greeted her maybe-boss and got in the car.. Everyone was minding their own business..
Oh, and those email forwards about dance clubs and alcohol, if the original email senders know where those are, i want to check them out.. Because i couldn't find any, sorry..
And before you start saying, those are none-Saudis who are used to women like this, most of those i saw, met, and hanged out with, were Saudis.. Students, employees and visitors alike.. The percentage is really balanced, and there's no nationality more in number than the other.. Everyone had their way, everyone had their errands, and everyone had the respect their religious belief entitles them to.. Funny how the "conservative" culture back at my neighborhood has more hate towards each other, when they should direct it towards themselves for being like this..
I don't want to seem like this is the first time i see a mixed culture, i've travelled around the GCC (and the UK recently), and it's no big deal.. It's not as big as our culture likes to make it.. Am only stuck thinking, half angry and half meditative, about this place.. Because this is not and exclusive to a certain religion or nationality like most escape-from-reality compounds, and it's not that faraway from where this is not allowed.. Because unlike those compounds you see around the kingdom, KAUST is not one, it's a university campus open to all (given you either study or work here, or even registered a visit, for the reasons mentioned above)
So, it made me think, where the hell are those stuck in denial of this new culture, claiming it's impossible to live normally?
Oh right, 80 km's away from here.. It only took 80 ams to create this Social Experiment.. So, until your sick minded prophecies that show your mental and spiritual instability comes true, shut the hell up and try to open your eyes.. Just a bit wider than the keyhole you're looking through..
I drifted in thoughts.. Sorry..
Architecturally, it's really refreshing to experience a project from it's conceptual 3D computer shots and design sketches, to almost-exact manifestation.. it's like am walking around a presentation sheet.. Good architecture can be done, so why the hell are we in a mess?
We can afford HOK, but we can't afford being like HOK? Does that sound messed up enough for you?
I made arrangements to watch IronMan 2 in a nearby cinema.. It's funny how much we've been begging for a cinema back in Jeddah, and how most of us got used to driving a causeway distance (20 minutes drive) to watch a good flick in Bahrain.. Now, i might have to get used to drive an even longer distance..
Security around the cinema is strict, though.. Only a certain type of users, residents and employees are allowed to purchase tickets, and since we knew a guy who knew a guy we got in.. So, don't get those engines running just yet..
I ran into a friend that i haven't seen since Junior High.. Wow, time passed.. Married with a kid, masha'allah..
The cinema is pretty decent.. Not as high grade as you might expect, but it's a pretty good start.. Audio and Video quality was great (not excellent) and it was annoying hearing the projector noise in the background.. Arabic subtitles and everything, yup, it's a legit cinema.. Better than the ones i saw in ARAMCO..
And no, no crack in the fabric of space and time here, fellow citizens.. No brimstones and hellfire for the sinners who watch a Haram movie.. The movie wasn't that good, maybe that was the only form of hell i've experienced.. Other than that, everyone got their movie fix, and walked around and left home and had a good night sleep.. Life went on normally..
Now, why exactly aren't we having any sort of cinema projection back home? You know, that city away from where am standing now?
Dear Government of Saudi Arabia..
How much money did you pay to make this work? How much thought have you invested in studying the validity of such a Social experiment? Are you happy with your own version of Area 51? Because people are making all sorts of theories around what's happening in this place..
Are you not satisfied enough with the out come so far? Did you ask permission of the people to do this? Or did you just do it and put people infront of reality for them to live with it? it's Saudis who're running this place, and Saudis who're working here, and Saudis who're studying.. You didn't have to get foreign open-minded help to run things that you think that we're not capable of.. Or at least, how you make us think of you..
You managed to force a new open campus, with a different take on what a Saudi culture should be.. Please, tell me that you're doing this just to test how it works, and then later implement it all around the kingdom as a Social Module.. (i know you might be, but we're not getting any younger, you DO realize that.. We're not immortalized like you guys :P)
If not, i suggest you save that oil money in doing something about our cities and universities and the social-crisis we like to call "culture"..