Architects practicing in Africa face the challenge of persuading their clients and the wider society that professional work improves the cities we live in.
Typically, during the design phase of a project, I have found that my role as an architect goes beyond designing. I must explain the importance of having an entire technical team on board, including engineers, quantity surveyors and land surveyors who are required to produce high-quality set of technical drawings, commonly referred to as just ‘the plan’.
In Uganda, there is an expectation that the architect wears all these hats simultaneously.
Another common misperception is that the architect is no longer needed during the construction phase. The builder/construction manager is often thought to be the only person required at this stage in the process. In fact, however, changes are made during construction, including shortcuts that may lower the quality of the outcomes; the result of which can be seen in the recent building collapses in Kampala.
More commonly, however, changes are made that deviate from the original design intent, and the result disappoints the client. Ironically, in Uganda, architects are expected to play too broad a role in the initial design process, but too small a role during construction.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the country has a population of approximately 38 million, and an annual population growth rate of 3.3 per cent. A major concern, however, is that the population is increasingly becoming young and urbanised. Kampala has a population of 2.2 million during the day and 1.3 million at night. The city is fast developing with an annual urban growth rate 5 per cent.
According to Mr Parity Twinomujuni, the chief executive officer of the National Housing and Construction Corporation (NHCC), Kampala has a housing shortage of 200,000 units. The shortage is growing at a rate of 5 per cent per year. A low-cost house of $15,000 (Shs54m) is only affordable to 20 per cent of the population that needs housing; the rest of the housing would need to be social housing, those provided by the government. This means 160,000 units would need to be social housing.
If each affordable unit costs $15,000 (number of units affordable by the 20 per cent is 40,000 units). Therefore, the amount of money needed to close the housing gap is $15,000 X 40,000 units, which makes it $600m (about Shs2.2 trillion).
Mr Twinomujuni’s conclusion is that NHCC is interested in partnering with architects who are passionate about solving the challenge of affordable housing.
Africa is one of the fastest urbanising regions in the world, and as a result we are seeing profound environmental and social changes. The architect’s role is evolving along with this change. It must include not only the technical skills but also the newfound relevance as advocates for design solutions that take specific context into account. In other words, architects are increasingly helping to shape whole cities’ function, not simply designing buildings.
An example of this, specific to the city of Kampala, is that of wetlands encroachment, tied to the housing shortage that the city is currently facing. A growing population is starting to build structures in the wetlands, disrupting the natural filtration process. The city’s more than three million people account for more than 60 per cent of Uganda’s GDP.
Kampala’s City Council Authority points out that Uganda’s high rate of urbanisation averages 5.6 per cent per year. This has led to erosion of the roads and flooding because of poor drainage. Because slums are typically located at the bottom of the hills, with the upper and middle classes at higher elevations, the growing numbers of poorer inhabitants who encroach upon the wetlands experience harsh living conditions during the rainy season, and are vulnerable to health risks. Spreading awareness of the urban ecosystem, and understanding and managing it are therefore important and challenging tasks.
The Natural Environmental Management Authority that is charged with protecting the wetlands and evicting encroachers has no alternative housing solutions, so the cycle of encroachment and eviction continues. A vital task for the city is to provide much-needed affordable housing that is sustainable and in equilibrium with the surrounding wetlands ecosystem. Thoughtful architecture and city planning can address these challenges.
It is easy to think that architecture is a first world problem and that in the developing world there are bigger problems to solve, but architecture and urban planning affect the way people live everywhere. Increasing public awareness of the importance of good architecture could greatly affect how our cities evolve, and will influence the future of the built environment throughout the rapidly-urbanising Africa.
It is against this background, and through shared experiences of working in various parts of Africa, that a diverse group of architects came together in Johannesburg, South Africa, to establish a new African Architecture Award. Among them were Lesley Lokko (Ghana), Issa Diaboite (Ivory Coast) Urko Sanchez (Kenya/Spain), Luis Urbano (Portugal), Mpheti Morojele (South African), Thomas Chapman (South Africa) and myself, Doreen Adengo (Uganda). This event was made possible by Saint-Gobain, a French multinational cooperation advancing new technologies in the building industry and promoting the role of socially responsible architecture. ‘The Saint-Gobain Social Gain Architecture Awards’ was established in South Africa in 2015, and it was a huge success. The African Architecture Awards was then established in 2016. The idea is to continue serious exchange of ideas and solutions, and open up the discussion on the emerging role of architecture in Africa.
An award of this magnitude could promote successful, beneficial projects and in doing so, help spread awareness to the general public about the role of the architect and the importance of
Architecture to the continent’s future.
Our panel was asked to present categories for the new award, focusing on the values or themes to be emphasized. We discussed specific challenges facing our diverse practices, and how the award might contribute to alleviating them. By doing so, it would promote what we called ‘good practice’. We recognized that this award could also help end the isolation that we all feel in our various cities, unaware of what is transpiring elsewhere in Africa.
We decided on the following categories: built work, un-built work, student project, and dialogue/critical writing. The values inherent to all categories were: innovation, a response to identity/heritage/context, and demonstration of ‘good practice’ reflected in the design and construction process.