Tuesday March 18 2014

Incorporating foreign ideas in Uganda’s structural designs

One of the houses Martin Kibirige has designed.

One of the houses Martin Kibirige has designed. He choose light colours like grey and cream because they are good for a home. He also used a stone finishing as part of the Roman design, one of the new forms of structual design in Uganda. PHOTOS by EDGAR R. BATTE 

By Edgar R Batte

After travelling to different countries, Martin Kibirige, a structural designer, put together the different ideas he had seen and below, he tells us how he integrates them into the local construction designs

Martin Kibirige did Computer Science at Makerere University, but his eyes and passion were drawn towards doing interior designing.
When he graduated with an honours degree, he still wanted to explore his love for interior designing. So he went on to do a post-graduate diploma in Interior Design in the UK, at Sunderland University.

Thereafter, he did another diploma in Interior Design at Kyambogo University, to enable him understand the interior concepts of Africa. He has also done a number of online certificates in Architecture and Interior design.

However, while in the UK, he needed some extra money to survive. So he looked out for a job and incidentally his first job was as a painter.

Painter in the UK
“I used to paint houses. The company I was working with was doing that kind of work and a number of other interior design jobs, like wood work which involved use of furniture, landscaping, lighting systems and construction,” he recounts.

He adds that painting could be done in many ways. They would use brushes, rollers, spray guns, plastic floats, paper, decorative rollers or sponges and feathers among others.

“All this depended on the kind of interior it was, its purpose and the kind of finishing the client preferred. Paint could be with spirit, thinner or water, all depending on whether it was oil or water basepaint. Their favourite colours were red, purple and leafy green,” he says.

An interior designer in Nigeria
Kibirige moved to Nigeria where he got his first job as an interior designer. But what struck him in Nigeria’s structural design was that they had already adopted modern interior designs which involved use of aluminium.

“Nigerians quickly adapt to change. When I was there they were already using decorative paints like Italian stucco (marble paint), wall paper paints and texture paints. In general they were interested in Italian paints,” Kibirige explains.

“I promised myself that I would start a company in interior design business once I got in Uganda which would do some of such designs,” he recalls.

Starting out in Uganda
When Kibirige returned to Uganda in 2006, he registered Maritini Interior Construct. For the start he did not have a team. “I developed a team slowly. Getting the first job was difficult but when I did, it gave me a lot of work. I got contracted to do the C&C apartments in Bukoto,” 32-year-old Kibirige explains.

The structural designer was contracted to paint the apartment but thought he could have done a better job on putting the whole structure together.

Creating a niche area
By the time he started out in Uganda, a number of his cleints were interested in single colours. He introduced the idea of using different colours to them.

While painting C&C he did it well because he knew many people would look and appreciate the usage of natural colours.
“People think they should do what everyone else is doing. People in Uganda do not want creativity. Convincing my clients is a problem but after their acceptance, they like it and create a profile for me. I used three different colours while painting,” he recollects.
The designer says he used natural light green colour, soft white on the balconies, gold on other exterior walls, then finally gold stone finishing on the columns.

His work on the C&C Apartments made him popular that towards the end of 2008 Kibirige got contracted to paint the interior and exterior of Quality Shopping Mall in Lubowa.

He explains, “The paint had already been purchased by the client from abroad. My job was to apply it and find other matching colours on the columns. We used maroon stone finishing.”

Design mistakes in Uganda
Away from projects like that at Quality Mall, he does work for individuals. He however says some of the common mistakes that home owners in Uganda make is they love using cheap and unqualified labour.
From experience Kibirige adds that Ugandans are not original when it comes to making choices.

“They like doing what they see on a neighbour’s house. They do not want to be the first to do something, apart from those who are exposed through travelling,” he says.
The other challenge is that most home owners in Uganda ask for loud colours. “They want their homes to be recognised from a distance. They normally ask for the Serena hotel colour.”

Kibirige however advises that light beige or soft and natural colours work better for home interiors. He says each colour is meant to reflect a certain mood.

What is on
He says what is on in terms of deco is use of natural, ancient materials like rocks, stones and wood. He adds, “For ceiling surface designing, a flat white or coloured ceiling surface without any texture is good.”
Kibirige further explains that for most of the houses he is working on, the owners like Italian designs.

“Italian designs involve use of marmorino plaster and wall finishes that create decorative effects. They are either rough or smooth finishes or textures.”

He says people like Italian designs because they bring out the beauty of the house and the colours comes out very well.
The structural designer offers that other clients ask for Roman structural designs. “Roman designs are the best. This design entails using natural colours, crafts, and mouldings plus stone-work inside and outside the building.”

He says it brings out the beauty no matter where it is done. It can be on the columns, windows or walls. Italians, he adds, on the other hand use lots of stone work and have the best quality of painting.

While the 32-year-old enjoys his work, his job comes with its challenges. “A client will direct me to find a cheaper alternative yet I feel if I did so, the work will not come out as nicely it would have if we maintained the costs. Compromises spoil beauty,” he explains.

“The other challenge is starting a job and when I have done about 70 per cent of the work the client tells me to leave. The person who will come after me will try to duplicate what I have done. This damages my profile,” Kibirige adds.

What it takes
The structural designer says his work calls for a lot of creativity from paint work, word work, breaking and rebuilding to suit clients’ tastes.
For those aspiring to become structural designers like Kibirige, he says you need to have an eye for beauty art and creativity.

He adds, “If you are not an artiste it will be hard for you to be a structural designer.”

For home owners and those planning to own homes, he advises that when designing a house, “You need to take it slow and do small bits of neat work.”