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The East African - - BUSINESS - PAUL MOORES

African builders tak­ing their place on the global stage

The launch of the first Africa Ar­chi­tec­ture Awards this year was about much more than cel­e­brat­ing the works of the sec­tor. It was a strong state­ment of in­tent.

The awards un­der­line the grow­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion across the con­ti­nent to ri­val the achieve­ments of ar­chi­tects in other parts of the globe — achieve­ments we have pre­vi­ously only ad­mired and en­vied.

Peo­ple are push­ing ar­chi­tec­tural bound­aries across Africa, with the awards spurring glob­ally com­pet­i­tive de­signs.

It is not just the pro­fes­sion driv­ing this mo­men­tum. Leg­is­la­tion is also play­ing its part. In Kenya, for ex­am­ple, there is a move to im­ple­ment the En­ergy (So­lar Wa­ter Heat­ing) Reg­u­la­tions 2012.

Un­der the reg­u­la­tions, con­trac­tors and prop­erty own­ers whose struc­tures use more than 100 litres of hot wa­ter a day are re­quired to in­stall so­lar wa­ter heat­ing sys­tems.

The gov­ern­ment hopes this will in­crease con­nec­tions to the na­tional grid, given the re­duc­tion in power us­age by the big con­sumers. How­ever, for the ar­chi­tec­tural sec­tor, this is an ini­tia­tive to­wards de­sign­ing greener, more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly struc­tures.

Ideally, such ini­tia­tives should never be a mat­ter of leg­is­la­tion but a stan­dard pro­ce­dure for ar­chi­tects. The fact that the gov­ern­ment has to en­act such a law to en­sure sus­tain­abil­ity and ad­her­ence to in­ter­na­tional build­ing stan­dards says a lot about what still needs to be done in the sec­tor if we are to truly take our part on the global stage.

In de­sign­ing build­ings we need to take into con­sid­er­a­tion fac­tors such as as­pect, ori­en­ta­tion and the sun’s move­ment across a pro­posed site, es­pe­cially in trop­i­cal re­gions like East Africa. This helps in the op­ti­mi­sa­tion of nat­u­ral light and ven­ti­la­tion in the build­ing’s de­sign.

The use of over­lap­ping roof struc­tures or other nat­u­ral shad­ing de­vices and al­low­ing air to flow nat­u­rally through a build­ing are low-cost prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions for keep­ing in­ter­nal tem­per­a­tures well reg­u­lated and min­imis­ing the need for me­chan­i­cal cool­ing and air-con­di­tion­ing. These are not just green mea­sures; they help to cut the cost of con­struc­tion.

Such mea­sures should flow nat­u­rally within our work, not be­cause of laws and reg­u­la­tion but be­cause they are the so­lu­tion for our clients and the en­vi­ron­ment.

The same goes for work needed to pro­tect our build­ings against hur­ri­canes and earth­quakes.

The ar­chi­tec­tural com­mu­nity should be seen as a part­ner to gov­ern­ments and lo­cal coun­cils — of­fer­ing guid­ance on the way for­ward in im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal and safety mat­ters.

Beyond the is­sue of ca­pac­ity-build­ing, there are other chal­lenges to go­ing com­pletely green, in­clud­ing the lack of sus­tain­able build­ing ma­te­ri­als. As an in­dus­try, we need to be flex­i­ble to find lo­callysourced al­ter­na­tives where pos­si­ble, that op­ti­mise value for money, and not nec­es­sar­ily the cheap­est ma­te­ri­als avail­able.

Euro­pean stan­dards

When we first came to Uganda about 20 years ago, peo­ple we met in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try used to say we couldn’t build to Euro­pean stan­dards be­cause “it wasn’t pos­si­ble in the coun­try.”

We per­sisted and today, the ap­pre­ci­a­tion for global stan­dards is com­mon­place. How­ever, some tech­nolo­gies and con­struc­tion tech­niques that are still seen as new to the re­gion are of­ten al­ready estab­lished and widely used in other parts of the world.

If there are chal­lenges, there is also plenty of room for op­ti­mism, specif­i­cally in the East African re­gion.

In the next 30 years, Uganda will see a boom in growth. From 38 mil­lion now, the pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to reach 130 mil­lion by 2050, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, and with that will come the need for schools, hous­ing, hos­pi­tals and a lot more. All of that will need to be planned and built. This will also mean cities like Kam­pala will con­tinue their out­ward growth.

That is al­ready be­ing wit­nessed with the cre­ation of places like Na­j­jera, Ki­ira, Lubowa and the ex­pan­sion of roads in East Africa’s ur­ban cen­tres to ac­com­mo­date the in­crease in traf­fic.

Many of the con­ti­nent’s cap­i­tal cities will also need to start con­struct­ing up­wards and adapt­ing to liv­ing in smaller spa­ces. This is al­ready hap­pen­ing in wellplanned cases like Kigali or Tan­za­nia where Dodoma is a sec­ond cap­i­tal city, to sup­ple­ment and ease pres­sure on Dar es Salaam.

Across Africa, ur­ban­i­sa­tion is ris­ing. Re­cent re­ports note that the rate has soared from 15 per cent in 1960 to 40 per cent in 2010, and is pro­jected to reach 60 per cent by 2050.

With ur­ban­i­sa­tion come more chal­lenges for com­mu­ni­ties and those who create them. But for ar­chi­tects with a vi­sion they also bring op­por­tu­ni­ties to shine and for the rest of the world to look at with envy and ad­mi­ra­tion what we can achieve. We are al­ready build­ing mo­men­tum, now it is time to build the fu­ture.

With ur­ban­i­sa­tion come more chal­lenges for com­mu­ni­ties; but for ar­chi­tects with a vi­sion these also bring op­por­tu­ni­ties to shine.”

Paul Moores is the group man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of FBW Group of Ar­chi­tects and Engineers in Uganda.

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