SSH Design was founded in Kuwait in 1961. Since then, they have expanded to become one of the MENA region’s leading architecture and engineering firms. SSH employs over 800 people with offices in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Iraq, Bahrain, Algeria and South Africa. They are ranked within the top 100 global consultancies by World Architecture Magazine and in the top 5 in the MENA region for 2014. SSH places a strong emphasis on design integrity and combine this with its unparalleled working knowledge of the region.
These qualities have made SSH a trusted strategic partner of the world’s leading design firms. SSH has always recruited high calibre people who bring expertise and innovation to every project. The Company also maintained a strong ethical approach to business. With 50 years’ experience, it has a strong track record and remains firmly committed to raising the profile and quality of projects throughout the region.
SSH began as the glint of possibilities in the eye of a young architect five decades ago. After graduating from the American University in Beirut, Sabah Abi-Hanna, on the advice of a professor, turned down an offer to work with the renowned Harry Seidler and took a job with the ministry of public works in Kuwait, a place he’d barely heard of before a summer internship the previous year. Kuwait had begun commercial shipments of oil in 1946 and by the 1950s a tidal wave of development had caused the historic port town to burst out through the old city wall into the desert.
A year into the job Sabah was dismissed when he returned two weeks late from his first ever trip overseas, taking in the architecture of Sydney, Manila and Tokyo. He could have asked for his job back, but he decided to set up on his own. He was busy from the start. Early commissions included palaces for the royal family, branch offices for the National Bank of Kuwait, and the Sheikha Badriya mosque.
In 1971 Sabah met the US-educated civil engineer Salem al-Marzouk. A highway engineer in the Ministry of Public Works, Salem had just been elected as a member of Kuwait’s new National Assembly, where he was a reforming firebrand.Within 48 hours of meeting they had hammered out a deal for joining forces. The pair began targeting major public infrastructure schemes and master planning.
In 1976 the government awarded the master planning of the new Messilah District to a joint venture between SSH and the UK-based Shankland Cox Partnership (SCP). SCP’s man on the ground was the Australian architect and planner, Charles Bosel. He had directed development projects all over the world and Kuwait’s rapid urbanisation fascinated him. SSH won more major planning studies, including for the planned new city of Subiya, the new business district at Fintas plan and, in 1977, the first major review of Kuwait’s national master plan.
Kuwait forged ahead with its development in the 1980s, and SSH forged ahead with it. The firm was now designing and supervising some of the country’s largest infrastructure projects. It was selected as part of a joint venture to design and build a huge conference and residential complex, the Bayan Palace, for the Fifth Islamic Summit Conference, which Kuwait was to host in 1987. The team had just over two years to deliver this high-spec facility for 108 visiting heads of state, and it was a success.
The invasion in August 1990 took everyone by surprise. “Our project has been taken over by the Iraqi army,” a bewildered project manager told Sabah on the telephone on the morning of 2 August. Sabah and Charles made harrowing overland escapes. When they returned they had to rebuild the company from scratch. Its offices were ransacked but they slowly regrouped. A few key staff were tracked down and persuaded to return to a place the TV news showed was on fire.
The early 1990s were wilderness years. With staff numbers down to as low as 20, the company subsisted on remediation work for war-damaged buildings. The 1980s mood of progress and confidence was gone: in its place an atmosphere of suspicion and short-termism. When the appetite to invest returned, SSH was ready. It had never stopped attracting world-class talent. It had restructured, moving from the classic studio model, with the various service offerings led by a charismatic partner, to a balanced matrix that allowed the freer deployment of expertise in the firm. In 1997 SSH won the contract to master plan, design and supervise the ambitious Marina World waterfront development in Salmiya. Today it is a hugely popular destination for Kuwaitis and visitors.
In 2001 the founding partners announced they were retiring. “We have grown old,” Sabah told dismayed staff, including some who had worked with him since the 1960s. “It is time for new blood.” In 2012 a new world-class board of directors was appointed to take SSH to the next level while retaining the company’s values. With offices now in Oman, UAE, South Africa, Qatar and Kurdistan, SSH faces the next five decades with the same sense of exciting possibilities that brought it into being.
Vision and values
SSH Design operates within strict legal and ethical guidelines in all of activities. They provide a challenging and rewarding environment for all employees and maintain a sharp focus on professional excellence, Health and Safety and environmental awareness.
SSH’s team strives to maintain and extend their creative, design, technical, process and commercial advantage over competitors. A collaborative approach is reflected throughout the organisation and ensures that the customers and partners regard them as the ‘Go to Guys’ for design and project delivery throughout the region. Collaboration is at the heart of every SSH project. They nurture and maintain strong partnerships with clients, government ministries and their established network of subcontractors.
SSH also has unrivalled experience of forging strategic international partnerships with elite design and architectural practices. Their role is to apply SSH’s design expertise to protect the project’s design integrity and to seamlessly apply their extensive local knowledge into the project delivery. SSH collaborates with such well-known and experienced company’s and specialists like: Perkins and Will, John Kelsey, Freeman Fox, Atkins or Haley Design Services.
Al Salam Palace
The restoration of Al Salam Palace is a cause for great joy and celebration in Kuwait. The original landmark palace was built in the 1960s to accommodate visiting heads of state. In the 1990s the palace was severely damaged during the Iraqi invasion and thought by many to be beyond repair.
In 2016 the palace will re-open as a museum dedicated to the history of Kuwait told through its 15 rulers. The design will retain the palace’s original character while incorporating contemporary additions and meeting the highest international construction standards.
Public Prosecution Headquarters
SSH performed the design for the 10,000 square meters Public Prosecution Headquarters. The building consists of a variety of functional areas such as offices for public attorneys and prosecutors, interrogation rooms, public facilities, conference halls and jail which are housed in a ten story block, while parking and the building technical services are located in three levels of the basement.
Purity of form was a natural design guideline where sound and sophisticated Arabic/Islamic geometrical patterns were adapted throughout starting from the building plans, functional components allocation, interior design up to elevation treatment and selection of materials and features.
Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre
The Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre will create a new world class museum district within Kuwait. Together with the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre, it will form Kuwait’s new national cultural district.
The cultural district is a celebration of the scientific and cultural achievements of mankind and the scale, shapes and shades of the buildings are designed to convey a sense of wonder and awe. Each building will contain an array of permanent and temporary world class exhibits and artworks. Walking through the cultural district beneath the canopy of the street will be a journey full of surprises, with stunning views deep into the heart of the museums where visitors will see framed vistas of priceless exhibits.
SSH specialises in the delivery of world class construction projects, mainly in the MENA region. It is a multidisciplinary firm with over 50 years’ expertise in architecture, engineering, infrastructure and project management. SSH’s team is proud of regional roots and ownership that both are embedded within the DNA of SSH. They believe these are key strengths that will enable them to achieve their vision as they offer a unique blend as a regional company with full international technical capability.
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