The Significance and Magnificence of Buildings often Ignored

The Kenyatta International Conference Center | MY DESTINATION

The Kenyatta International Conference Center | MY DESTINATION

Robertson Davies once said that a truly great book should be read, in youth, again in maturity, and once more in old age; as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.

I personally reckon a great building should be like love; exciting when it is new; dazzling when it is mature and satisfying and permanent when it grows old.

A great building, wrote Louis Kahn, must begin with the immeasurable, must go through the measurable means when it is being designed, and in the end must be unmeasured.

Let me first state here that I am not an addict of buildings; I am more of an unwilling enthusiast. My passion however, is history, and buildings are simply history cast in stone. You see if you look at any building; you can easily see the aspirations, the hopes and the achievements of a society; the Arc de Triomphe (in Paris) for example was commissioned in 1806 after Emperor Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz.

Buildings glorify what a society deems to be glorious. In ages past,for instance, buildings immortalized conquests; ancient buildings like the Al Hambra remain testament to the Muslim domination of Europe. Today buildings like the Burj Khalifa try to recapture the Islamic renaissance. In today’s world, where wars are not fought in battle fields but in stock markets and through trade, has it ever occurred to anyone that banks tend to have some of the most imposing and elaborate buildings? London’s tallest building, the Shard, is owned by a consortium which includes the Qatar National Bank, QInvest and the Qatari Islamic Bank.

The Shard in London

The Shard in London


If you look at the list of the World’s tallest buildings it will occur to you that a majority of them have a relationship with banking, trade and finance.

Click here to read more on some of Africa’s, and the World’s, tallest buildings

Buildings also play another role; they tell you what a society considers moral or religious. A lot of buildings of note in ages past tended to be places of worship; Islam gave us Charminar and the Shah Mosque – Egypt gave us the Pyramids which played a religious role, Greece was decked by elaborate temples. Christianity provided numerous medieval churches; Isn’t it strange that brothels, for instance, have always been located at the dingy, dark areas since antiquity?

In short, what society is ashamed of cannot be cast in stone, meanwhile every city you can imagine has a tomb to an unknown soldier to celebrate virtues such as bravery or sacrifice.

Mount Rushmore is a sculpture that was intended to represent 150 years of American history; of those years, only Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln were chosen to have their faces on the rock; could you imagine the catastrophe if someone like George Bush Jr. was cast on that mountain?

The Taj Mahal in India | SANTABATA

The Taj Mahal in India | SANTABATA


The Taj Mahal was built during Shah Jahan’s empire and it was the high point of the Mughal dynasty, and it was attribute to the love of his life; his wife Mumtaz, who died while giving birth to their 14th child. Do you think he would have built it for some mistress?

Like Aldous Huxley once said – ‘Marble, I perceive, covers a multitude of sins.’


| The article is a guest post written for A Chiselled Cornucopia by my best buddie, Joseph Kongoro @josekongoro

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

Of Princes and Palaces…

Dungeons, dragons, witches and wizards, charming princes, desperate damsels, fabulously wealthy Kings and Queens; the epic tales of royalty and fantasy abound and amaze. We’ve all been given a glimpse into the lives of what medieval monarchs went through, seen the mammoth castles and fortresses they called home (as depicted in ‘modern’ television series such as Game of Thrones, Camelot and Merlin) It is indeed a fascinating life that royalty lead, having to balance national duty with personal life and always maintaining the not less than perfect outward appearance. Royalty are revered and adored and the only way to be one was/is to be born one!

Ever since I was in Class Seven, I was an ardent fan of a guy world renowned, not in his own right or achievement, but by the simple fact that he was the Royal of one of the tiniest yet wealthiest nations on earth; Prince Albert of Monaco. As we all know, shy of two months ago, Britain’s Prince William wed relatively unknown Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, in a ceremony that was likened to that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles way back in the late eighties. Prince Albert of Monaco however, wed the former South African Olympic gold swimming champion (now Princess) Charlene (formerly Wittstock) just this past weekend, in a religious ceremony that was much less publicized by the media but was arguably more glamorous than that of the British Royals. For some snippets of just how lavish this affair was, you can have a look here:

Now you have to understand, I have been obsessed with the European royals, their lives and their castles ever since I was young; I would imagine myself as the heir to the throne of Monaco or that of the equally if not wealthier Sultandom of Brunei on the Indonesian subcontinent.

The medieval and grandiose palaces they reside in, the dazzling behemoths they are driven in and the unrivaled cuisine they enjoy. Who would want to pass up life as a Royal? In this post however, I will let you admire what some of the Princes of (mostly) European monarchies enjoy and the ‘delicacies’ that are the official Palaces of their Principalities.

Prince Harry of Wales and Buckingham Palace

Prince Harry

This Prince really needs no introduction. Harry has earned a reputation as a lovable rogue. Despite getting a D in Geography, he excelled in Sports at Eton College. At age 23, he was appointed by the Queen as Counsellor of State and has already embarked on fulfilling his royal duties. But beyond the headlines, he’s got a heart of gold and a passion for causes like Walking With the Wounded, a charity that benefits wounded veterans that is currently on a trek to the North Pole.

Originally designed as a large townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham around 1705, Architects John Nash and Edward Blore later extensively enlarged what is now Buckingham Palace to house British monarchs, the first of whom being Queen Victoria herself. This was of course way after King George III had acquired the property for his wife and during which the Palace was aptly named the ‘Queen’s House’.

Buckingham Palace (aerial view)


Andrea Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco and the Le Rocher Palace in Monaco

Andrea Pierre of Monaco

If Prince Albert of Monaco dies without having any legitimate children, then Andrea will adopt the name Grimaldi and be the next Prince. Casiraghi is one of a trio of Europe’s hottest young royals (along with brother Pierre and sister Charlotte). Second in line to the Monegasque throne, he lives mostly in New York and is fond of skateboarding.

Unlike most royals, though, he lacks official titles, since his late Italian father was a commoner, much like Kate Middleton (anyone he marries will have to be content with the family’s vast fortune). He is also actively involved in charity, such as with his mother’s AMADE Mondiale charity in and around the African continent.

Built in 1191 as a fortress and garrison, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, on the Rocher Island, has an elegant facade, thanks to King Honore the 2nd who commissioned the Architect Jacques Catone to transform the Palace from the grim fortified nature it possessed to a more renaissance-looking structure. The main façade facing the square, the “front” of the palace, was given decorative embellishments which gave it a beautiful appearance by the end of the 18th Century.

Le Rocher Palace, Monaco

Prince Felix of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Palace

Luxembourg Palace was built for the mother of King Louis Xlll of France, which would more than explain the elegant and almost femininely appealing facade of the Palace. It was thematically modelled on the Palazzo Pitti of sister city Florence in Italy. Most notably, from 29 July to 15 October 1946, the Luxembourg Palace was the site of the talks of Paris Peace Conference.

Prince Felix

One of the most intelligent royals on the planet, brainy billionaire Prince Felix is a 6-foot-tall jet-setter. He is the second son of the Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg. He is currently second in the line of succession. Said to be easygoing and flirty, he’s also surprisingly down to earth: Before recently moving to Rome for a master’s degree in Bioethics, he worked in the PR department of a sports marketing firm.

Prince Azim of Brunei and the Istana Nurul Iman

Prince Azim of Brunei

For those of you had no idea, Brunei is one of the wealthiest nations on Earth! With A-listers such as singer and songstress Mariah Carey a regular attendee of his social gatherings, it is no surprise that fun-loving Azim, fourth in line to the throne, is lavishly generous with his estimated $22 billion fortune, and regularly throws blowout bashes that grab “party of the year” headlines. He’s a lover of trinkets and baubles, too: One of his favorite childhood gifts from his father was a gold- and diamond-encrusted Game Boy.

The Istana Nurul Iman is both the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and also the seat of the government. It was completed in 1984 at a total cost of $400 million. The name is derived from arabic and means Palace of the Light of Faith. Leandro Locsin was the principal Architect, basing its design on the Islamic and Malay influences within the Principality of Brunei.

The Istana Nurul Iman entrance

Prince Carl Phillip of Sweden and the Stockholm Palace

Prince Carl Phillip of Sweden

They say he is one of the ‘better looking’ of European Royals, Prince Carl of Sweden. He is the only son of King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia of Sweden. A wild child fond of clubbing and sports (from cross-country skiing to soccer), he’s been linked with a reality-show beauty since splitting with his girlfriend of a decade a couple of years ago. He currently studies at the Swedish University of Agricultural studies and also pursues his passion of graphic design in Stockholm.

The largest of all European royal palaces and entirely built of brick and sandstone sections, Stockholm Palace was predictably a fortress at first, to protect Lake Malaren. It happens to be the official offices of King Carl XVl Gustaf, though the family lives in Drottingholm Palace.

Stockholm Palace