(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!


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