Kampala’s first modernist buildings: Part 2

Wednesday April 10 2019

Amber House was the first modernist building in

Amber House was the first modernist building in Kampala. Photo by tony mushoborozi 

By Tony Mushoborozi

In the second and last part of our article about modernist buildings in Kampala, we bring you the stories behind Kampala’s historic buildings.
The buildings in question are landmarks that have been Kampala’s identity from the 1950s. These buildings were all built around independence; in 1962 shortly before and shortly after. Because of that, they would become indelible statements of independence, new beginnings and self-actualisation.

They represented the aspirations of the people at the time and thus, they tell a story about our history that nothing else possibly can.

They were all built using the same architectural philosophy called modernism. Modernist architecture means simplicity in form and design.

The style, which was invented by Le Corbusier, a French architect sought to build high-rise buildings that could stand firm and function with only three main parts: slabs, columns and stairways.
It is created by working with simple geometric forms and linear elements.

AMBER HOUSE
Other names: Originally Uganda Electricity Board Headquarters
Primary Use: Office
Completed: 1953
Architects: Graff Architects, Johannesburg, South Africa

Amber House is situated on plots 29, 31 and 33 on Kampala Road, and plots 1 and 3 Speke Road. It was the first modernist building in Kampala. The property comprises Amber House complex and the Standard Chartered Bank car park nearby. According to the December 2013 Auditor General’s report on the financial statements of Amber House Ltd, the building was constructed by a company called Amber House Limited.

Amber House Limited (AHL) was owned by three shareholders; Uganda Electricity Board (61 per cent shares), Lint marketing Board (29 per cent shares) and Coffee Marketing Board (10 per cent shares), all of which were government parastatals. The company was incorporated on January 22, 1954. Over the years, those shareholders have changed form and shape and consequently lost ownership of the company. The current shareholders are the Minister of State for Privatisation and the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development according to the report. Most of the space in the building is occupied by Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.

POST OFFICE
Primary Use: Post Office
Completed: 1958
Architects: MC Guinness Inglis,
Project Architect, Sean Rothery

The Post Office was originally under the Uganda Post Limited, which was part of the East African Community. With the dissolution of the East African Community in 1977, it was replaced by the Uganda Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (UPTC).
In 1998, Uganda Post Limited was divided into Uganda Telecoms Limited (UTL) and Posta Uganda. Posta Uganda now has control of the building and has recently renovated it.

MAKERERE UNIVERSITY, MAIN LIBRARY
Primary use: Study and research
Completed: 1959
Architects:
1959 - Norman and Dawbarn
1961 - Hughes and Polkinghorne
2006 – Technology consults

The Main Library was constructed in 1959 with a total area of 4,000 square metres and was later extended in 1961, 1972, and 2006.
The extensions increased the area to 12,000 square metres with a seating capacity of more than this 2,800. Being the oldest academic library in Uganda, it also serves as the national reference library and the legal depository of all works published in Uganda.
In fact, it boasts a collection of 270,000 books and 27,000 electronic journals.

LUMUMBA HALL
Primary Use: Hall of residence
Completed: 1971
Architects: Brown and Dallas Architects and Associates

Lumumba Hall opened in 1971 as the biggest hall for male students at Makerere University campus, with a capacity of 720 students. It was named after Congo Kinshasa’s renowned freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba. It is located on Lumumba Road next to Mary Stuart Hall.

Lumumba has more than the decades toed in the footsteps of the freedom fighter it was named after. Most of the perennial strikes at Makerere University always have their roots in Lumumba Hall. Lumumbists have put it upon themselves to fight for all sorts of student grievances. And this responsibility has not just started. It is reported that in early 1970s, shortly after its opening, Idi Amin’s soldiers invaded Mary Stuart Hall and Lumumba students threw caution in the air and attacked the soldiers to defend their neighbours.

It is said that the students overwhelmed the soldiers and repulsed them but one student, a one Gongom, lost his life during the battle. To this day, there is a monument in honour of Gongom.
Residents at Lumumba boast about the supernatural support the ‘spirit’ of Gongom lends them when a need to fight arises.

MITCHELL HALL
Primary use: Residential hall for male students
Completed: 1963
Architects: Norman and Dawbarn

The history of Mitchell Hall is traced back to the early 1920s; the three hostels that make up Mitchell were named after the first prefects Sempuya, Semakokiro and Bamugye and later on merged in the 1930s to form one hall, Mitchell, named after the then governor of Uganda, Sir Phillip Mitchell. Rationale for this is that Sir Phillip contributed a great deal to the changes that laid the foundation of the University.
Other than the small problem of broken toilets and a stench in a few corridors, Mitchell Hall is still standing strong. The structural integrity is the honeycomb structure is as good as it gets.

MARY STUART HALL TOWER
Other Name: Box
Primary use: Female student housing
Completed: Between 1965 and 1972
Architects: Peatfield and Bodgner

At the end of the 1920s, the first female students were admitted to the then college. As time passed, more female students were admitted and the need for female student accommodation facilities increased. In 1933, a small female residence was built at the present day Makerere Guest house.

In the 1950s, after Makerere College had grown to become the University of East Africa, there was pressure to build a new block to accommodate the big numbers of female students. That is when Mary Stuart Hall was built. The hall was named after the wife of the then archbishop of Namirembe, Bishop Simon Cyril Edgar Stuart.

This special block of raw concrete was designed Peatfiled and Bodgner, an architectural practice in Kampala at the time. The eight-storey tower was designed with student rooms, common rooms and sanitary facilities. The records pertaining to this building were lost due to the political situation of the 1970s. A fall out between president Idi Amin and Israel sent many contractors running, and most of them were Jewish. It is estimated to have been completed between 1965 and 1972.

A story is told of how the lifts in this eight-floor building got to be closed indefinitely. A student on the top floor needed to use the lift late at night. She pressed the button and the doors opened. She stepped in only to realise too late that there was no lift. She fell to her death. They had occasionally been malfunctioning until this fatality forced the authorities to close them.

As you might have figured, there is a big structural difference between the Mary Stuart Hall and all the other buildings earlier mentioned. The sharp-edged, boxy building that looks like it could survive a nuclear bomb blast is considered ugly by many. But others consider it an architectural marvel. It is for that reason that it makes it to the list. It is a true architectural landmark.

This style of raw concrete is not part of the modernism style but is brutalism. Brutalism is an architectural style that came after the modernist style and flourished between 1950 and 1975. Brutalism has its roots in a French phrase, beton-brut which means “raw concrete” in English.

Other modernist buildings

STANDARD CHARTERED BANK
Other names: Standard Bank
Primary Use: Office
Completed: 1968
Architects : George Eimad

DIAMOND TRUST BANK
Other names: Primary Use: Office
Completed: 1970
Architects : UNKNOWN

TROPICAL BANK
Other names: Bank of India
Primary Use: Commercial

BANK OF UGANDA
Primary Use : Administration
Completed : 1966
Architects : Peatfield and Bodgener

CRESTED TOWERS
Other names: Stanbic Bank
Primary Use: Office
Completed: 1970
Architects: UNKNOWN

PARLIAMENT BUILDING
Other names: Uganda Legislative Chambers
Primary Use: Institution
Completed : 1962
Architects : Peatfield and Bodgener

MULAGO HOSPITAL
Primary Use: Hospital
Completed: 1962
Architects: J.L. Hope, K.P Smith, D. Pach, C. J. Wallworth
INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS

UGANDA FISHNET INDUSTRIES OLD FACTORY, BUGOLOBI
Primary Use: Factory

SHERATON HOTEL
Other names: Apollo Hotel
Primary Use: Hotel
Completed: 1965

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