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

(Guest Post) The Cathedrals…

This article has been prompted by my sharing of architectural interest with tweeps such as @natekev this blog’s Landlord, @dnahinga and @mafex_inc. Nate challenged me to guest blog on Cathedrals and I’m surely not one to pass up a challenge!

Christianity

Being a Christian [devoted or not is neither here nor anywhere] means I have visited my fair share of ‘Houses of God’. In Kenya we have some extremely opulent churches as well as some shacks….but I think that what matters most, as many would say, is the ‘use’ and not the ‘structure’.

When we talk about Architecture and Religion, it becomes impossible to discuss one without the other. They are intertwined or better still, become two sides of the same coin. By biblical proportions, the Egyptians designed some magnificent temples dedicated to gods such as Amun-Ra, Osiris and Hathor as well as extravagant residences for the Pharaohs who were deemed to be gods too; they lived in opulence in life as well as in death [the pyramids].

Solomon’s Temple

The earliest that we can talk of architectural masterpieces in temple buildings is when King David wanted to build God a Temple and his plan was put aside because Solomon his son was the one appointed to do so. When you read through the Bible and particularly on the temple that King Solomon was to build….the opulence and artistry required plus the materials to be utilized would simply leave one baffled. Here is an excerpt of 1 Kings 6 where the description is as vivid as can be:

1 Kings 6: 14-18 :

14 So Solomon built the temple and completed it. 15 He lined its interior walls with cedar boards, paneling them from the floor of the temple to the ceiling, and covered the floor of the temple with planks of juniper. 16 He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 17 The main hall in front of this room was forty cubits[i] long. 18 The inside of the temple was cedar, carved with gourds and open flowers. Everything was cedar; no stone was to be seen.

I believe it’s from that point that religion and architecture were joined together at the hip for eons to come…

Monolithic Structures

Cathedrals are behemoths….monolithic structures that are more attached to Christianity ( especially Catholicism) than any other form of ‘organized’ religion and the grandest of them all has to be the Seat of the Holy See, the Archbishop of Rome, and the Pope! St. Peters Basilica. It is made even more famous by the weekly Papal audiences, attended by thousands of faithful.

Built on the tomb of St. Peter, The superlatives describing this church are beyond me. It has been described as the “greatest of all churches in Christendom..” and with very good reason.

St. Peter’s Basilica.

Commissioned by Ivan The Terrible

Next we have St. Basil’s Cathedral which is the very icon of Moscow. Just the other day, St. Basil’s doodle ‘graced’ the Google homepage, as it celebrated its 450th anniversary! Clearly, cathedrals boasting 100yrs are pretty young in this trade.  The Basil Cathedral is officially and mouth-fully termed as “Cathedral of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat” and is situated rather majestically, at the famous Red Square in the Russian capital, Moscow. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible after Kazan and Astrakhan were captured, the cathedral is under the Russian Orthodox.

St. Basil’s Moscow.

The Seat of the Archbishop

Then we have Our Lady of Paris, famously known as Notre Dame de Paris.  It’s the Gothic Cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris, the seat of the Paris’ Archbishop. It’s been said to hold the reliquary of the Crown of Thorns.  It also has the Organ, a common feature in all these Cathedrals. Its organ has 7,800 pipes, of which 900 are historical. The cathedral suffered extensive desecration during the French Revolution though it has since been restored to its ancient grandeur. There is also a treatise to its praise, titled Treatise on The Praise of Paris [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_de_Paris]

       

The Notre Dame Cathedral                                                                   The Iconic Notre Dame Organ

Renaissance Expression

When talking of cathedrals, we can’t avoid touching on The Sistine Chapel. It is among the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City’s Pope’s residence. The Sistine Chapel is more famous for its frescoes worked on by Rennaissance Artists like Michelangelo, Borticelli, Pietro and Sandro, commissioned by Pope Julius II. The frescoes cover the ceiling, Eastern, Southern and Northern walls.  It is also known to be the venue of the Conclave for the College of Cardinals when a new pope is to be installed.

The Sistine Chapel

The Duke and Duchess’ Wedding

We now land in England where we have the Westminster Abbey officially referred to as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster. The Abbey has become more prominently featured around since most recent ceremonies touching on the UK Royals have been held there; including the funeral service of the late Princess Diana as well as the wedding ceremony of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Under the Church of England, the Abbey holds the burial grounds of all monarchs of Britain and its realms.

The Westminster Abbey

Gothic Display

In Cologne, Germany, we have the Cologne Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cathedral is a monument of Christianity, German Catholicism and most of all Gothic architecture.

The Cologne Cathedral

Guinness World Record

Moving to Ivory Coast, known more for its cocoa production and a President who stole an election; He refused to leave the seat and had to be dragged out of his bunker in a vest. Cote de Ivoire as it now known, is home to one of the largest cathedrals in the world, in the city of Yamoussoukro: The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro.  Built at a cost of $300M it mirrors St. Peter’s Basilica especially on the Dome and the plaza. The Guinness Book of World Records even terms it as the largest church on earth with an area of 30,000sqms (322,917 sq ft) and 158m (518 ft) high, though it holds much less people than St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace  – Yamoussoukro

Cultural Melting Pot

Next is Turkey, the cultural melting pot that lies between the Arabic South and the European North and joined by the Greeks and the Cypriots. The Hagia Sophia has quite a history… Originally an Eastern Orthodox Basilica under the Patriarchal of Constantinople for more than a 1000yrs, it later became a mosque after Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks for nearly 500yrs. Thereafter, the cathedral secularized to become  a museum.  Its massive dome, a hallmark of the Byzantine architecture, is it’s trademark.

Hagia Sophia

Revered by All

And then we have The Dome of The Rock. I know we are handling Cathedrals here,but we are also on architecture. The Dome located on Temple Mount in Jerusalem is considered a holy site to Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It’s the only building of worship in the Middle East that all major religions deem to be holy! Again, like the Hagia Sophia, what is seen here are intricate external architectural designs that are more at home in the Middle East region. The same case applies to the dome and the arches.

The Dome of the Rock

We obviously can’t cover all the Cathedrals here, for they are many and their traits are as unique as they they are. But one thing is for sure, the architectural designs and works that go into creating one, are immense and lasting forever!

* I thank @mmnjug for taking the time to conjur up this post. You can follow him on twitter, quite a brilliant and well-versed guy. Tweet/comment what you think…

Architectural History of the Green City in the Sun (Part 3)

Ewart Scott Grogan, popularly dubbed ‘Kenya’s Winston Churchill’, was a British entrepreneur and explorer and one of Kenya’s eccentric pioneers. He was also the first man to walk ‘the length of Africa’ from Cape Town to Cairo. It took him two and a half years but he arrived in Egypt by 1900. He grew up in Cambridge, England, where most of his schooling was done, but dropped out of Jesus College and went to study art in Bulawayo (of all places, I know!). Subsequently, he helped the British defence during the Matebele Wars then traversed the landscape to the then German East Africa… and after the 1st World War, most of his life was spent in East Africa and particularly in Kenya but he died in South Africa at the age of 92. Stanbic Bank, the bright red brick building at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street just opposite the iconic Nation Centre, occupies the first ever brick building to be put up in Nairobi, around 1923. Grogan initially developed it as Torr’s Hotel, designed by the architect H. Henderson, after the City Hall in Stockholm Sweden

Stanbic Bank (right) with a stretch of Kenyatta Avenue to ICEA and the iconic I&M tower

Rather interesting to discover was that Kenyatta Avenue, with its ‘concrete island’ smack in the middle of the multi lane, was designed wide enough such that a full team of oxen could turn around in it. By modern standards if you were to compare it however, you will find that times (and space) have indeed changed. Here is where visionary design should come in, much like when the Kenyan PM was commenting about the recent comparisons between Dar National Stadium and our very own Kasarani: The purpose of the stadium was to help Kenya host the 1987 All Africa Games…has our vision stagnated or regressed? I won’t divulge though, (*mental note: tackle that in a later blog). Right up the street, at the very threshold of the Nairobi CBD and opposite the General Post Office, is Kipande House (Now KCB Kenyatta Avenue).

KCB Kenyatta Avenue (left), juxtaposed next to the General Post Office

It used to be a railway depot, with a somewhat ‘displaced’ tower at the facade of this historic building where Africans working in colonial Nairobi were once required to be registered and issued with identification cards, and thus the name. The architecture is unique and timeless, and thus it still looks modern to this day.

The New Stanley, 1961

Arguably so, the most iconic building on K. Avenue has to be the Victorian-themed Stanley Hotel, notwithstanding I&M towers and the General Post Office. Well, initially, the Stanley started life as a boarding house on Victoria Street (later to be renamed Tom Mboya street) in 1902, but was shifted and constructed on its present site in 1913 and effectually named after the great African explorer.

The Sarova Stanley, today

The Hotel’s reputation as an important stopover for African travellers was especially cemented in 1961, with the creation of the famous Thorn Three Café. A single acacia tree at the centre of the café became a noticeboard for numerous travellers who would leave notes, letters and messages for fellow travellers pinned to the trunk. That tradition became so popular that the thorn tree became an icon for African travel. Eventually notice boards were erected to protect the tree.

 

The Thorn tree Cafe, Sarova Stanley

The original tree died a natural death though and has been replaced by a sapling. The Hotel was recently rebranded The New Sarova Stanley, and due to constant and timely renovation and upgrading, remains on of the leading 5 star luxurious hotels in the country.

Jeevanjee Gardens was the location of the first agricultural show in Kenya, way back in 1901.

 

Jeevanjee Gardens, the venue of Kenya's first agricultural show

The National Archives on what is now  Moi Avenue was initially built as the National Bank of India, with a rather commanding positioning at the heart of the city. Cameo Cinema was built in 1912 as Theatre Royal and has served as a variety of things though now it doubles up as a congregational hall at the ground level and as a restaurant and bar, the Verandah, at the top.

Panoramic View to the National Archives, 1960

The Kenya National Archives building, today

For all you amazing fact lovers, theres a suburb in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA known as ‘Harambee’. It happens to be just north of downtown Milwaukee and is bounded by I-43 on the west, Capitol Drive to the north, Holton St. on the east, and North Avenue to the south. Harambee includes the highest residential elevation in the city, a tall ridge running along 1st Street, that in the early 20th century was built upon by the city’s wealthy families. It is not surprising though that the area’s west and central areas had become the center of the City’s African American community by the 1950s. The middle class and slightly more affluent however left the area around the 70’s when the US open housing project kicked off and it has been devastated by slum clearance as well.

In my next post in the Architectural History series, I’ll be covering more sites within the CBD. Tell/tweet me what you think…

What The Excitement’s About,Nairobi 2011

Before I go ahead and say/type anything (ironic because I just have), let me just say/type that I know it’s been awhile since I last updated. I’ve received dozens of emails and tweets to that effect but I would want to assure you that I’m here to stay. I even received an FB inbox from someone very dear to me who happens to be out of the country… My word! The latter part of last year (it still sounds weird for me to be saying ‘last year’ this early in 2011) was a tough one, with loads of commitments… and blogging, as you very well know, isn’t that easy. Then came the holidays and I went ahead and gave myself a well-deserved break, which I will also blog about soon enough too. Theres a plethora of new stuff I would like to include here, in addition to addressing a niche I have identified. These are not resolutions for the new year I’m making though, its simply planning. 🙂

As for the ‘Architectural History’ series, that will be continuing shortly. On the other hand, I would like to kick off this year with what is exciting me in the building industry around. Well, here are just a pair of projects on-going currently that I’m excited about for 2011:

Camelot House, Westlands

Camelot House, under construction

Albeit having an extensive facade over Waiyaki Way, the entrance to this beautiful structure is on Muthangari Drive. When complete, it will comprise 2 basement sub-levels capped with 8 floors of office and commercial space. The only thing that excites me though is the colossally appealing effect it has, as I believe it will become an iconic architectural piece almost opposite to Safaricom House. The predominant aerial triangular columns on the facade enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of  a somewhat ordinary office block. When complete, it will seem the building possesses a hem at the bottom, as strut-like ‘stilts’ will usher in occupants and visitors to the splendor within…6 10-passenger lifts, air conditioned spaces, exquisite marble and mahogany finishes equipped with CCTV cameras and trunking for power, telephone and computer cabling.

Camelot House, artist's impression when complete

Delta Corner Towers

There are literally very few people not talking about this massive development right opposite the Westlands roundabout and The Mall. Delta Corner will provide lettable area of 234,081 square feet and 630 parking bays, which is by any standards huge!

Delta Corner, under construction

If you had no idea who is behind this project, well, it happens to be an Indian firm known as Delta Corp, which is promoted by Mr. Jaydev Mody, an eminent and successful Indian entrepreneur. The company is a humongous conglomerate of a concoction of industries, and so happens to be the largest gaming company in India as well. There is not much the tight-lipped owners and contractors have revealed yet, but evidently, Delta Corner will change the skyline of not just Westlands, but the entire city of Nairobi.

Delta Corner, artist's impression

My 2 cents (make that lots of cents!) worth

Suffice it to say, it appears that architectural growth in the Nairobi CBD is stunting. Personally, I think that is where the bulk of potential lies as far as maximization of the economic impact the developments would bring, but then again the fact that the developments are spreading out of the city means that growth will be equitable and from every corner of the city. It is also important to note that the quality of construction should shift from a local perspective to the global front. We wouldn’t want to see structures that embody pre-colonial Kenya but buildings that boast the vibrancy that is our society, and at the same time willfully preserving our heritage, without sacrificing aesthetic appeal for functionality. Lets all welcome the idea of iconic buildings…a Global city with an Individual identity, Nairobi

Architectural History of the Green City in the Sun (Part 2)

Lord Delamere was interestingly an indirect descendant of the first ever Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Robert Walpole. His family owned the Vale Royal Abbey which is a magnificent estate with some rich history of its own in Cheshire, UK. I tried to find out whether where the young Hugh Cholmondeley grew up had any impact on him but I’m yet to find that out. It seems he was less concerned with his own personal comfort and more with the affairs of both the settlers and the natives.

Vale Royal Abbey (Delamere Home)

Getting pictures or architectural information about the Soysambu ranch is difficult but I won’t give up just yet…Being extensively wealthy and the owner of huge chunks of land, it’s not surprising that he was known as the Cecil Rhodes of Kenya. Its believed that British settlers followed him both spiritually and politically. Such was his influence that he became president of the Colonists’ Association and a member in the Legislative council. Historians believe he genuinely was fond of Africans and particularly the Maasai. The Lord even entertained the British Under-Secretary, Sir Winston Churchill, on his maiden visit to Kenya. Well, I think thats as far as I will go about Lord Delamere.

A city of its size, Nairobi has a number of suburbs and areas. The colonials seem to have influenced, to this day, both the diversity and segregation of our suburbs as they are today. The British preferred the leafier western sections of Kileleshwa, Lavington, Highridge, Parklands, Gigiri and Runda although Kangemi and Dagoretti were exceptions, possibly workers who served the colonials were allowed to settle here. Picture this, if you were to look at say, Google Earth, viewing Nairobi, the West of the city happens to be much greener than the East! Try it… The colonials loved trees and wide picturesque avenues.

Meanwhile the Africans were handed settlements and estates in places to the east such as Dandora, Huruma, Pumwani, Kariobangi, Kariokor and Embakasi. Interesting to note, The East African Women’s League took it upon themselves to construct a Maternity facility for African women. They turned to the wife of the new Governor, Lady Grigg who formed a child welfare and maternity league and helped raise around Shs.17,000 for the Lady Grigg Maternity Home at Pumwani (now Pumwani Maternity Hospital) in 1928. This happens to be the reason why you may come across predominant industrial and mass market British architecture here.

The Asians ‘coolies’ who were brought to help construct the railway, mostly settled around what is today Starehe constituency, harbouring suburbs such as Southlands, parts of Parklands and Ngara. If you take a look at the architectural influence in these areas, you will see numerous oriental and ornate gables, intricately designed mosques, fabulous temples and a few shrines…

Much of what is today Lavington area initially belonged to the French Holy Ghost Fathers and was known as St Austins mission. Now you know why there are numerous schools or missionary-themed ammenities in the leafy suburb: Strathmore, St. Mary’s School, St. Austin’s School and Loreto Convent but to mention a few. The neighbourhood was quiet with a single shopping centre, Lavington Green, serving the entire area. The British settlers would commune there regularly over chat and brunch and the properties were modestly sized and characteristically renaissance themed Anglo Saxon brick structures with brown tiled roofs.

Danish author Karen Blixen migrated to Kenya in the 1910s and took on coffee farming. This was primarily towards the section of the city that is now Karen-Langata. There wasn’t much infrastructural development in that area, mainly because of the agricultural encroachment up until just after the second world war when the land was sub divided into 5 to 40 acre parcels of land and distributed to colonial government workers and ex-British forces. The Nairobi Urban District Council (now the City Council of Nairobi) attempted to impose building by laws in the area but they were aggressively opposed by residents who did not want to be told how to utilize their large tracts of land. After independence however, the newly formed CCN extended the boundaries of the city and Karen-Langata area came under by-law control. Nairobi begun growing at a rapid rate towards the 70s and 80s though, but this particular part of the city was experiencing slow development because of the large tracts of land residents owned: it also proved difficult and expensive to supply services over such huge distances. In order to spur growth, the City Council further subdivided the land making it more affordable for middle income Kenyans and increase its service charges.

Govt Rd (Now Moi Avenue) in 1920

The Central Business District of Nairobi arguably went through some of the most dynamic of changes. There’s usually a tussle about which was the most important of streets at the onset, but it seems Station Road (later to be Government Road) takes precedence, as the name suggests. Nairobi’s 3rd Avenue was another important street as it became the main artery way into the capital but was renamed Delamere Avenue in honour of one of the greatest of the Englishmen to settle in Kenya and even chair the Legislative council. An 8-foot bronze statue in his image was even erected at the avenue’s head, as his 2nd wife, Lady Gwladys became the first woman Mayor of Nairobi.

Kenyatta Avenue (Delamere Ave) as it was in the 1930s

There is also the notion that the entire city is centered around the ‘City Square’ which is basically enclosed all round by the Holy Family Basilica, the Nairobi Law Courts, City Hall, the Parliament Buildings and KICC. Did you know that what is currently the Bank or Baroda building right next to the ICEA building on Kenyatta Avenue used to be the Library for the East African Women’s League? The EAWL was led by Lady MacMillan. In the course of the research I undertook to begin the series, I discovered there is more and more that I would like to encompass and therefore in my next post I will cover Nairobi CBD solely, almost building by building…tell me what you think…

Click here to continue to Part 3 >>