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| Nairobi Business Monthly November

S v c c i n t F o c u s
The city we live in
What sorts of projects have you handled
in East Africa?
I have designed several projects from nursing
colleges to estates to houses and commercial
properties around Kenya and in Tanzania
including a hotel in Kiambu, a music studio and
resort in Diani, commercial property in Nairobi
and Kisumu, a commercial shopping plaza of
160 shops and a resort in Mwanza.
I am very excited about a residential property
in Runda which is being developed on the idea
of a folding plane. One material, bre glass, is
used as the oor, then the wall and then the
roof again.
Does each type of project demand a dier-
ent creative style?
Yes it does. Certain factors determine every
design: client, site, context and the function of
the building. These play into what the building
is ultimately going to look like.
What are the transitions that modern
architecture has gone through?
Before the mid 1990s people used to stick to
particular styles but that is an architectural
thought and theory that is now outdated. Today,
architects design very specically. You have
some repeating themes but form and shape
will change from project to project.
Before 1993, in what was called the post
modern era, people were putting different
styles together, and this resulted in catastrophic
34-year-old Kiuri Mburathi of Insight
Architecture is young, ambitious and highly
skilled. He started his own rm in 2009, and
has impressed the Kenyan property market
with his avant garde designs and styles
| Nairobi Business Monthly October
buildings since people were harking to pasts
that they werent connected with. They were
creating buildings that werent connecting with
the place and culture of the time, like Roman
buildings or classical Italian buildings.
As soon as we became more conscious of our
actions, who we really are and what we want
to represent, a new thinking developed. And
we began to tap into the tools we were work-
ing with whether it was the place, time, client,
environment or material.
Did this change happen in Kenya as well?
No, Kenya has been design aesthetically isolated
from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, archi-
tectural schools in Kenya are not on par with
world design theories and principles, which
means we are detached from the way the world
is designing.
So as a country and a region, we do not have
a contemporary architectural style. But we will
begin to in about ten years because we are now
becoming more aware of our culture, spiritual-
ity, context and applying these to our designs.
Which buildings in Nairobi have done it
Good examples of buildings in Nairobi are
the old buildings on Kenyatta Avenue (laugh).
Those that date from the 70s backwards. Like
Parliament. Like KICC. A lot of the university
buildings. They use sun screens, sun shading,
natural cross ventilation, natural materials,
local workmanship - all these are design prin-
ciples that allow it to be an e cient building.
One of the most e cient modern buildings
in Nairobi is the British Council. It is a fantastic
example: energetically, stylistically, function-
ally and highly rated.
View Park Towers, on the other hand, is a big
glass monument. It is the wrong way to design
in the Tropics. If you create a glass building,
you create a greenhouse and you spend a vast
amount of money cooling it. Its the way to
design in the North and the East because there
you want to trap as much heat as possible. But
when those ideas are brought here, they dont
And yet buildings like View Park continue
to be developed. Why?
The investors are from the old school. They
travel outside and they come back and say we
want our building looking like what we saw in
America or London or Dubai. And at the end of
the day you have to please your client unless you
can provide a better alternative. That actually
is the role of the architect: to provide a better
alternative for the client and allow them to buy
into the idea without compromising what they
November Nairobi Business Monthly |
wants. So its a two way. Architects need to take
a stand and clients need to be more aware.
Which country has successfully made this
design transition ?
Malaysia. You will nd a lot of buildings there
that are contemporary and yet which use correct
design principles. They are aware of their past
and their culture, and they have brought it into
the present. That is a process we as Kenyans
have to go through.
Unpack the concept of a green or eco
friendly building.
Theres dierent ways of thinking about a green
building. First, by creating an energy e cient
building so that you spend as little as possible to
control the temperature of the building. This is
done through passive heat control, sun shading,
natural ventilation, natural cooling methods.
In Kenya because of our natural temperature,
it is always about keeping the building cool
because by ten or eleven o clock, it gets so hot
that its hard to keep the building cool without
expending a lot of energy.
Then there is the embodied energy of a build-
ing which is the sum total of energy necessary
for an entire product life-cycle, so we are talking
about the amount of steel that is smelted, how
much stone is quarried, the energy impact of
importing aluminum from China rather than
using a material which is 2 km away.
And last is the carbon footprint, which
combines everything - and includes how user
friendly the building is and the quality of condi-
October Nairobi Business Monthly |
tions it creates. Does it uplift someones mood
using air quality and natural light? Does it create
social spaces where people can interact?
And all this has to be coupled with beautiful
buildings. A lot of time people divorce the two
and create eco buildings that arent appealing.
A building shouldnt look like a machine that
does a job; it should be a place that youd want
to walk into.
Is eco friendly more expensive?
Not necessarily. If you do a simple thing like
cross ventilation, sun shade orientation and
water harvesting then it wont be any more
expensive than another building.
But if you use photovoltaic cells (energy
producing panels that convert the energy of
light into electricity), and water whale sumps
(collects grey water which can be used to harvest
the landscape) then that is more expensive.
Why is green important?
Because the construction industry is the most
damaging to our environment as far as materials
go. People are becoming aware of this, and that
is triggering investors to say that they want their
building as green as possible.
Not necessarily with the truest intentions
but nonetheless it is enough for someone to
begin taking the appropriate steps. For many
companies, green is more a tagline so if you
give them an extremely green solution it may
cost more than they had anticipated and even
though theyll save money in the long run,
because of the way budgets work theyll only
go for quarter green.
What are good building materials to use?
Natural stones, and harvested and treated wood.
Concrete is also good because it acts as a cooling
mechanism and holds heat.
And interlocking blocks which are a mixture
of red soil and concrete, and are created with a
manual or machine press. They are structurally
sound and very reasonable in terms of cost. The
Ministry of Housing actually allows you to hire
Hydraform Blockmaking machines.
(Note: The Ministry of Housing oers these
machines at no cost for 2 months. The only cost
is the transportation of the machine from the
Ministry of Housing yard to the construction
project. Applications can be sent to the attention
of Architect Stephen Maina.)
What is shaping the future of the property
market in Kenya?
First, there is the construction of an extraordi-
narily large number of medium and highrise
o ce buildings in Westlands that commenced
simultaneously around the year 2009. We are
talking about 7 oors minimum with some as
high as 15, so there will be a massive glut of
commercial space.
In 2005, around 5 million square metres of
commercial development were applied for - and
now were seeing the result with these buildings
coming up. In the next year and a half, they will
all be nished. These buildings have parking
facilities but there is no new water infrastruc-
ture or sewage or roads so can you imagine the
resulting congestion on Mpaka road!
Second, is the devolution of government. At
the moment Nairobi is the main institutional,
commercial and service related location, but the
introduction of the county system will allow
counties to become independent commercial
and institutional centres.
This will allow growth, and people will want
to live in places outside Nairobi, which will
create new economies. Local businesses will
take o; local contractors, land owners, service
providers will come into the fore. And once this
devolution takes full eect, small towns will
become big towns; big towns will become cities.
I have just started my rst project in Muranga
which is a housing estate, and that is somebody
pre-empting these changes. So that is the next
major thing that is about to happen.