Nairobi’s History is Vital to its Retail Future

The hub karen

The Hub karen

The nineties in Nairobi were characterised by quiet and uninterrupted leafy suburbs and bungalows that stretched on as far as the horizon, and whatever the eye could see. This aspiring global metropolis may have lacked any great river to straddle, but it’s lifeline stemmed rather convincingly and recurrently from the double prong of administration and tourism, two key elements that have enabled it to retain its regional reign for over a century.

READ: The Architectural History of the Green City in the Sun

There was no vertical competition worth taking notice of in this era and social spaces were rather conventional and ‘natural’; families and their patriarchs were only interested in long and blissful weekend drives or walks to either the National Park, to catch up with close friends at Country Clubs, or randomly but occasionally venture to either the Yaya Centre in Kilimani or to the Mall and Sarit Centre in Westlands.

Even then, shopping malls were never places to go and hangout and eat – they were more so vestiges of serious businesses; traders in either clothes, dry-cleaning, banking or perishable goods at the supermarket. The only cinemas available in the nineties, often decked with queues that would stretch over half a kilometre long, were Kenya Cinema, the 20th Century and FOX Sarit (which happened to the newest and most state-of-the-art kid on the block.

Enter the 21st century and Nielsen data most recently ranked Kenya as the second biggest retail economy on the continent, after behemoth South Africa. Kenyans, previously contentedly oblivious to the silent retail race that had gripped much of the West, and big brother South Africa, swiftly took to the amalgamation of amenities at shopping centers. The society was rapidly being introduced to a juxtaposition of all manners and sorts, largely thanks to homegrown supermarket conglomerates that were diversifying their offering, by registering as anchor tenants at complexes that were cropping up across the city.

Nakumatt in the mid 2000s opened its most significant outlet at the corner of Ngong Road and Kingara Road, the Junction, a development that risked rivaling its own store at Prestige Plaza, but an opportunity its management would not let pass by, especially to Uchumi that was offered first dibs. This was part of a larger intrinsic framework that involved a shift in retail towards suburbia, rather than what was previously a critical angular core of Kenyatta Avenue, Kimathi Street and Mama Ngina.

Within no time, other stores were springing up as far and wide as in Doonholm Estate and Ongata Rongai, with the likes of mass market-centric Tuskys, Ukwala and Naivas Supermarkets seeking a cut in the pie. With the wholesalers, came the Banks, and the Salons, and the Restaurants & Cafes and the Cinemas. While nineties Nairobi residents would have enjoyed a cup of coffee in an alfresco Hotel balcony, the 21st century would be more characteristic of rooftop sundowners, coffee at a shopping mall cafe, or catching a movie within the confines of a shopping complex.

According to a Knight Frank 2015 report, 1.8million square feet of shopping mall space opened in Nairobi alone in 2015 and by 2017, it is expected that a further total of about 1.3million square feet will be added to this. Unreservedly, retail spaces are what drive the economic momentum of not just an urban area, but of the country. Shopping centers seek to, and more often than not successfully so, improve the quality of life of a town or a city.

In my next post, I’ll be looking at a crop of leading Shopping Centers in Kenya’s capital.

 

 

A Height Above The Rest in Africa…

Federico Garcia Lorca once said ‘There is nothing more poetic and terrible than the skyscraper’s battle with the heavens that cover them’. It thus appears that man’s constant and consistent thirst to aid the ‘metal monster’ is certain to blot out the sky from the ground.

A show of might, in days long past, would have been wars fought on battlegrounds; with mighty displays of ammunition and combat tactics. But, in the world of today, supremacy is firmly stamped with rather convincing showcases of economic might and ideology.

The artificial rooftop of the globe, at first, may have been the famed pyramids on the Egyptian deserts, but this scope was swiftly replaced with both religiously and politically significant structures, such as churches and monuments.

The Washington monument for instance, cemented America’s significance to the world, towering over all other nations since its completion, for well close to a century before the European cathedrals, with their gothic and romanesque architecture, took the mantle of height.

Through the decades, the world’s superpowers, or those countries that sought their podium in the global arena, designed towers which subsequently matched their international position. North America, for instance, had a firm grip on Planet Earth, with her skyscrapers which majestically rose out of her prominent cities: Washington, Chicago and New York. To this day, and well into the future if predictions are anything to go by, the citizens of these bastions of glory, will delight in being residents of the world’s greatest cities.

The ‘Heavens’ on Earth

The roll of honour for the tallest structure on Earth, goes to the hungriest city of them all, Dubai, with its over 2700 foot Burj Khalifa, which convincingly towers over the rest of the globe from deep within the United Arab Emirates deserts. Here’s the video to prove it:

It’s dizzying to even mention this, but the Royal family of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, have approved construction of an EVEN TALLER building than the Burj Khalifa, in Jeddah called the Kingdom Tower. Initially designed to stand at a height of about 1.6 kilometers into the sky, it was scaled down to 1000 meters, majorly because the geography of the area would not allow the unrealistic height.

The Kindom Tower (left) in Comparison to other projects and the Burj Khalifa (right)

The ‘King’ of the African Skies

It is then apparent, by silent consensus, that the greatest countries on continents across the globe, are also home to the very tallest.

In Europe for example, the British capital, London, now boasts the Shard building, elevated to a grand height of over 1,000 feet: it is the tallest of them all on the continent. Designed by Architect Renzo Piano, the marvel was opened well before this leading global city hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, the greatest spectator sport on earth.

Towering above them all in Asia is the 1,667 ft Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, though South Korean is fervently working on completing what is set to become the continent’s tallest  building, the Lotte Super Tower 123 (I have no idea what the obsession with numbers is) which should be opened in 2014.

Designed by Kohn Pedderson Fox, the tower will comprise a hotel, shops, apartments and offices, not only being owned by those who commissioned it be built, the Lotte Group, but also signifying South Korea’s aggressive economy and its desire to be marked as one of the leading nations on Earth.

The Carlton Centre, Johannesburg. Currently the Tallest building on the African continent

The King of Africa’s skies is, rather predictably, located in the capital city of the continent’s leading economy, South Africa, but it doesn’t even make it to the list of top 100 tallest buildings on the globe (shy of about 50 metres even).

The Carlton Center in downtown Johannesburg stands at 732 feet but is poised to surrender its title to an ambitious project dubbed Centurion Symbio-City which is underway in the country’s administrative capital Tshwane (formerly Pretoria).

Centurion Symbio – City

If and when complete, Centurion will enter the league of the top 20 tallest on Earth, standing at a whopping 110 stories which is just ahead of the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois US but shy of the Petronas Towers in the Malaysian Capital, Kuala Lumpur.

East Africa’s Tallest Mammoth

The New Central Bank Tower (also known as Times Tower) happens to be the tallest structure in Eastern and Central Africa and is served by 10 elevators, comprising a 38-storey office tower, a 7-storey banking complex and an 11-split storey car park. The estimated total area covered is 60,000m2, all in reinforced concrete construction. This iconic building at the heart of the region’s financial and communication hub was designed by Architect James Njuguna Gitoho of Triad Architects for the Central Bank of Kenya and was completed in May 2000.

The building was designed to resist earthquakes and to repel all forms of forced entry into it’s main vaults, which of course was important to the Central Bank of Kenya, which commissioned its construction. Foundations for this mammon comprise 2 deep basements sitting on a reinforced concrete raft varying in thickness from 0.9m to 3.0m.

A key feature of the design, according to Times Tower’s structural engineers Howard Humphreys (K) Ltd, was to assess the seismicity of the area and to generate loading data to enable a computerized time-history analysis. This resulted in a safe yet economical seismic design that bore the Kenyan landmark.

Times Tower

Interesting to note is that Times Tower would not hold this prestigious title had plans by the Moi regime bore fruit in 1989 to construct the continent’s then tallest structure, a 60-storey headquarters at the heart of Uhuru Park to house the Kenya Times newspaper. This was in addition to KANU’s KICC, which at 28 storeys high, was the tallest structure in the region at the time.

This was an ill-timed and ill-placed project by all means, as Kenya was ‘enjoying’ and annual economic decline of -0.9% between the years 1980 – 1989. British architects had already designed the blueprints for the tower which would be built of concrete and sheathed in imported glass, aluminum and steel. It would have definitely put the ‘Green City in the Sun’ on the world map for at least a decade to come. All this would have cost the tax payer in excess of $200 million (adjustments over time on the currency changes apply on top of this).

The One Nairobi

There had been speculation from 2010 to 2011 about the British-owned international development company, Dubai-based the First Group, working on Africa’s tallest building, the One Nairobi, which would have stood at over 70 stories high (though the Centurion has far overshadowed this), but plans are believed to have been shelved, at least for time being, as investors are approached.

The One Nairobi would have been located in the Upper Hill area of Kenya’s capital and and undoubtedly boosted the country’s profile. The First Group are working on the One Kempinski Abuja which is meant to be ‘the epitome of high end living’ in Nigeria’s brand new capital city.

The Skies Ahead

It is therefore pertinent for Africa’s lions to literally RISE up to the occasion of vertical splendour in the race for the tip of the horizon. While struggling for economical advancement is critical to any country’s future, displaying this new-found status could also be instrumental to self-assertion and progress.

Though with the relatively tiny nation of Qatar planning to complete at least 300 new skyscrapers by the time it hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where does that leave the African continent in the race?

Interesting to Note

Yemen had its very own ‘skyscraper city’ in the 2nd Century. Known as Shibam, each of the buildings were built from mud and rose on average to a height of about 8 stories each, mainly to protect the citizens from the desert raiders.

The Yemen ‘Skyscraper City’ of Shibam

Africa and its Parliaments

These are the seats of national assemblies across the world; the buildings that host individual legislatures and which countries pride themselves in both architectural and symbolical grandeur. Usually located at the heart of capital cities, these (usually) forbidding and intimidatingly large structures can be spotted from a wide area within the central business district and while reservedly open to the public, they are mostly heavily secured and restricted. Let’s have a look at the parliaments of some of Africa’s leading economies.

The Republic of Botswana

Mostly a flat country and grossly covered by the Kalahari desert, Botswana overcame being one of Africa’s poorest countries at independence in 1966 to boasting one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with a GDP per capita of over $14,000.  The economy is mostly supported by a well advanced banking system and the mineral industry that contributes at least 40% of government revenue. Transparency International also crowned Botswana recently as the least corrupt country on the continent.

Parliament at Gaborone

The seat of the government used to be in Mafeking, South Africa, but after 1965, was moved by the British to present day Gaborone, which happens to be located near the border with their southern neighbour. The city is also the seat of the government and where its parliament is located. The country also boasts a highly representative government, with the President as Head of State and Government and a vibrant multi party system. Interestingly, the Parliament elects the President directly and has a total of 61 seats!

Inside the Gaborone Parliament

The Arab Republic of Egypt

The famed link between Africa and Asia, through its Sinai peninsula extension, Egypt is a major power not just in Africa, but in the Arab world. Most of the population is concentrated around the capital, Cairo, Alexandria and other cities across the very fertile Nile Valley. Egypt’s GDP per capita is over $218,000 and the backbones of the economy are tourism, agriculture, service and industry. The country has very rich history, dating back to 3000 BC, though more recently it became a Kingdom, in the early 1900s before becoming a republic in 1954.

The Parliament at Cairo

Egypt has been under Emergency rule since 1967, but the basic structure of the government is the President as head of state and a Prime Minister (though most of the power rested with the Head of State), and the military remains powerful. It is however still viewed as a multi-party democracy, with the country sub-divided into 21 governorates. Egypt’s parliament is in it’s capital city, Cairo; The building consists of a round hall with a dome covered in glass and botannical units within the space that are representative of what was in vogue at the time of its construction in the 1920s.

Inside the Egyptian Parliament

The Republic of Ghana

The word ‘Ghana’ means ‘Warrior King’. The republic was predominantly an Akan Kingdom before the British colonized most parts of it around 1874 and later gave her independence in 1957, the first Sub-Saharan African country to manage that. The GDP per capita of Ghana is over $18,000 and the economy is generally supported by gold and agriculture. Interestingly she was listed as the World’s Fastest growing Economy of 2011, with a predicted growth of 20% and the currency is strong, at an exchange rate of around 1.4 Ghanaian Cedi to the US Dollar.

Click here to read ‘Another African Tsunami’

The Parliament at Accra

After independence, Ghana was a parliamentary democracy but this changed to alternating military and civilian rule that bore the Fourth Republic after the new 1992 constitution that effectively divided power among the President, Parliament, State council and the independent judiciary. There are 10 administrative regions and the seat of Parliament is in the capital city of Accra. The Parliamentary Building is known as Job 600 and was built in the 1960s to host the first pan-African OAU conference. The main building is quite run down, and has been undergoing renovation for quite sometime now, but the main hall and the banquet room serve as the seat of the Legislature.

Inside the Ghana Parliament

The Republic of Kenya

World famous for its diverse wildlife and globally successful athletes, Kenya attained her independence in 1963 from the British after being occupied for half a century by her colonialists. Kenya’s climate is as diverse as her cultures; deserts, snow capped mountains, tropical forests, swamps, savannah grasslands and lakes. Her GDP per capita is the largest in East and Central Africa, over $32,000 and the economy, the largest non-mineral based on the continent, is generally supported by agriculture, service and tourism.

The Parliament at Nairobi

Following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010, the country is sub divided into 47 administrative regions known as counties. These will be governed by Governors, independent of the central government based in Nairobi, the capital city, and the seat of Parliament. Currently there are 222 Members of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament were constructed in the 1950s, with interesting ethnic and cultural designs embellished onto the main external walls; the main body of which seems to jut out and arch, as the entrance is a stylized arch with a star structure hanging over the modern themed gate. The gardens surrounding the building are wide and well manicured, but the interior should be undergoing some renovation, expansion and redesign.

Inside Kenya’s Parliament

The Kingdom of Morocco

This constitutional monarchy also primarily administers over Western Sahara. Morocco is relatively stable politically, the economy mainly relying on tourism and phosphates and she boasts a growth rate averaging 4% annually. The GDP per capita of Morocco is over $103,500 making her one of Africa’s more affluent societies, with beautiful cities that attract tourists, such as Rabat, Marrakech and Casablanca dotting the arid and semi-arid landscape. Morocco gained independence from France and Spain in

The Parliament at Rabat

The King of Morocco is the Head of State, controlling the military, but the Prime Minister is the head of government and the multi-party setup. There are also two parliamentary chambers and an independent judiciary. The country recently (July 2011) passed new constitutional reforms that are believed to be a step forward in the government of Morocco. The legislative bodies sit in the Parliament based in the capital, Rabat.

Inside the Moroccan Parliament

The Federal Republic of Nigeria

Named after the Niger river that meanders through her, Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent and the seventh largest in the world. In 1914 the Niger are was formally united and known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, but the country gained her independence in 1960 from Britain. Her economy is one of the fastest growing on the planet, with a projected growth of 8% for 2011 and mainly based on the oil she possesses in abundance. The GDP per capita for the country is over $216,000.

The Parliament at Abuja

The government operates on a federal system much like that of the United States, with a Senate and House of Representatives, though the President retains all Executive power. The Parliament of Nigeria is in its capital city, Abuja, resplendent in the national colours of the country. Abuja was a custom-designed city, well planned away from the previous congested capital, Lagos, with large areas of Parks and recreational areas, some designed by architect Manfredi Nicoletti. There are 36 states and one Federal Capital territory.

The United Republic of Tanzania

Home to the roof of the continent, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania boasts stunning wildlife and beaches (especially those of the island of Zanzibar). With a GDP per capita of over $22,700, she is only second to Kenya in East and Central Africa in terms of economic muscle. Agriculture is the focal point of her economy, contributing to over half of the government’s revenue, but Tanzania is also rich in natural gas and some minerals.

The Parliament at Dodoma

Tanzania is a one-party state, the CCM, and the country’s government consists of the President and an elected Prime Minister who is the head of the National Assembly. The country is divided into 26 regions; 21 on the mainland and 5 on Zanzibar, and enjoys relative political stability to most of her neighbours. Between independence and 1996, Dar es Salaam was the seat of the government, but the capital is now Dodoma, where the houses of Parliament are located, though most government offices are still located at the Coast.

Inside the Tanzanian Parliament

The Republic of South Africa

By far the wealthiest and most advanced economy on the continent, South Africa’s GDP per capita is estimated at over $357,000, bolstered by mineral wealth (particularly gold), tourism, industry and services. The British successfully overcame the Boers in the Second Boer Wars of 1902 and she remained a colony until 1961 when in a white only referendum, the country became a republic and left the Commonwealth; the Queen ceased to be head of state. South Africa then struggled with apartheid up until the early 1990s, though the white minority enjoyed the highest standards of living in Africa.

The Parliament at Cape Town

The President of South Africa is the Head of State and of Government, and appoints a Deputy President and Ministers who form the Cabinet, then there is the National Assembly, made up of 400 members. There are 3 capitals; Pretoria (Tshwane) the seat of the Executive, Johannesburg the seat of the Judiciary and Cape Town the seat of the Legislature (Parliament). The original designer of the building was Charles Freeman, but he miscalculated the foundations and was replaced by Henry Greaves who oversaw it to its completion. The new House of Assembly was designed by Herbert Baker, the same man who designed modern day Nairobi School and Nairobi Primary School. The Houses of Parliament, Cape Town, boast Corinthian porticos and beauitful pavilions.

Inside the South African Parliament