Celebrating cultural heritage in your architectural and interior design

Wall hangings bearing photos of animals at the common area of Kilaguni Safari Lodge in Tsavo West National Park which home to nomadic communities that have historically lived with wild animals. .

What you need to know:

In most homes in Uganda, you will notice the reflection of personal tastes blending with nuances of their cultural backgrounds

Adapting one’s architectural and decor to a culture of a place is simply a form of assimilation, wanting to fit into that society or become accepted. Many people are happy to express their pride in heritage in artifacts and construction styles.

In most homes in Uganda, you will notice the reflection of personal tastes blending with nuances of their cultural backgrounds. Although most of the time the furniture and textiles used are often modern and functional, there are nevertheless décor accents that pay tribute to one’s cultural heritage. Art and décor are some of the aesthetic ways one can preserve their heritage and culture. 

Cultural artifacts

Artist and interior designer, Sheila Nakitende, of Zaabu Interiors, says using cultural artifacts and patterns in interior décor is a unique way creating something fresh and exciting. It is also a way of celebrating a culture whether of your own, or for one you admire.

Nakitende has worked with different traditional objects and materials to design some clients’ spaces.

“Elements such as colourful, patterned mats can embrace multiple cultures in Uganda. I also use furniture such as a table or stool, animal hides for either the floor or on a wall,” says Nakitende.

Brenda Mpiirwa, an interior designer notes that human beings gravitate towards things they are familiar with instead of those that are foreign, so when a property owner chooses particular cultural elements for their décor, they appeal to the people that identify with that culture.

“Culture and its representation bring a sense of belonging to any space. If you ever you want to feel at home somewhere, you should carry something that is representative of your culture. That reminds you of home, your roots, and your people. In fact if the design has been done properly, it usually attracts other people that are curious about culture; it becomes a sort of tourist attraction,” Mpiirwa, the proprietor of K’wanzi Accents notes.

This probably explains why culture and heritage features are often part of the décor in some major local and international hospitality establishments.  For instance, the Serena franchise tends to adapt its designs to the culture of the people where it sets up its hotels, camps, and lodges.

Phillip Luwemba, an interior designer says the Serena properties use art pieces such as fish at the reception of its Kigo facility which is a fantastic way to pay tribute to its location on Lake Victoria.

Religious symbols

Landscape designer Emmanuel Aleko, of Roots2Petals Gardening, observes, “Sometimes the artifacts might not necessarily belong to a particular culture but are recognised for their historical significance such as at the Uganda Martyrs Namugongo Shrines. It was obviously important to incorporate the history of the martyrs into the garden through use of statues.”

Diversity

Carina Musila, an architectural designer says blending cultural elements is a great way to add character to a space such as what she did for a hotel facility in Gulu .

“I tried to incorporate the local lifestyle with the hotel’s luxury ambiance, the result was stunning,” she explains.

When she embarked on another design project in Fort Portal, she did research that pointed her to the communal aspect of living among the Batooro so she crafted the design to accommodate a quadrangle with a welcome area, a visitors’ area and main house.

Luwemba advocates for cultural diversity in design.

“If a Muganda admires something from the Acholi culture I do not see why they should not use it in their living spaces. Not only will its presence remind everyone that we are ultimately one people but it would also make the Acholi visitor feel appreciated,” he says. 

Consistency

Mpiirwa has worked with clients that are so invested in their cultural aspects that they will only accept a symbol of their culture as part of the decor pieces.

“For example, a Munyankore may insist on having a milk gourd (ekyanzi) as part of the decor pieces on a display shelf. The very common ones are baskets that are hang on a wall to form a pattern or design. They are almost the standard pieces of art that you may find in spaces that represent African culture whether in Uganda or abroad. A recently famous example is the cow hide which non-Africans just discovered,” says Mpiirwa.

The interior designer recounts that she grew up with the dried skin hide which they used as floor rugs.

“Then, they were nothing special but they have now become very trendy and expensive. For instance, a zebra hide can go for anywhere between Shs600,000 and Shs1.5m in leading shopping stores, centres and flea markets depending on their authenticity and condition,” says Mpiirwa.

Luwemba decries the absence of such art in work spaces.

“In Uganda right now, art is for middle income earners. Most people do not have the luxury of including it into their spaces but it would be something nice to include because it gives people a sense of pride in who they are,” Luwemba observes, adding that one way to express cultural pride is to include art, design and such in living and workspaces. He, however, advises that before adding, one needs to understand the users of the space and what message they might get from the element you have chosen.

TRENDING

The interior designer recounts that she grew up with the dried skin hide which they used as floor rugs.

“Then, they were nothing special but they have now become very trendy and expensive. For instance, a zebra hide can go for anywhere between Shs600, 000 and Shs1.5m in leading shopping stores, centres and flea markets depending on their authenticity and condition,” says Mpiirwa.

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