Named: Kenya’s top 15 buildings

Kenyatta International Conference (KICC) garnered the highest number of votes. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • For the first time, we bring you the country’s architectural masterpieces – design, aesthetics, innovation and heritage – as voted by experts

One building has no air conditioning system, the other is the city’s capital of sleaze. Another one has more than 500 exotic trees, and gardens, in a mix of ancient and modern architecture.

Visitors don’t come to Nairobi expecting great architecture, but if they look closely enough they’ll find it.

Despite the city’s recent notoriety for buildings that go down as fast as they rise, Nairobi boasts some buildings that have stood the test of time.

A survey by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) and the National Museums of Kenya for Saturday Nation revealed the top 15 iconic buildings that give the city its unique character.

The selection and polling was conducted through an online voting system coordinated by architects Emma Miloyo and Aref Adamali on behalf of AAK. Mr Adamali runs an initiative that aims at conserving Nairobi’s architectural heritage.

Great architecture and aesthetics, uniquely Kenyan or African architecture, high quality construction, use of innovative technology, representative of a certain period in history, environmentally friendly or “green” design and representative of the work of a noteworthy architect or designer were the guiding principles in the voting.

“The result reflected the diversity and richness of the city that stands out in the region as a modern and vibrant metropolis,” says Mr Steven Oundo, the AAK chairman.

However, as Nairobi’s skyline continues to evolve, it’s quite shocking that only one of the building voted among the top 15 was completed in the past five years.

“Reasons include changing trends in the market, whereby clients are more interested in the returns from the investment than the art and beauty of the architecture,” says Ms Miloyo.

“Older buildings are predominant in the list because more people have interacted with them and subsequently developed an emotional attachment to the buildings,” she adds.

Kenyatta International Conference (KICC) garnered the highest number of votes, followed by Parliament Buildings and Kipande House, with University of Nairobi (UoN) Mahatma Gandhi Building and the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library completing the top ten.

Co-operative Bank House was voted number six, followed by Coca-Cola headquarters, Holy Family Basilica and IPS Building. Florida Nightclub, on Koinange Street, sealed the top 10 list.

Sarakasi Dome, formerly Shaan Cinema, was number 11, followed by Hilton Hotel, Kenyatta National Hospital, Village Market and Kenya Railways headquarters.

1 Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) City Hall Way

Architect: Norwegian Karl Henrik Nøstvik, 1973

Engineers: Gordon Melvin and Partners

A few buildings in East Africa can hold a candle to Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), an architectural masterpiece that will forever remain a major landmark due to its unique design.

The KICC has graced covers of postcards for decades and very few visitors to Nairobi have not had a photo opportunity at the building.

Norwegian architect Karl Henrik Nøstvik designed the building in 1966 after being inspired by the traditional African architecture, mainly the hut.

The building has just one colour and rough texture on the exterior and the perfect balance of its tall structure standing next to the pyramid creates an aesthetic appeal. Without an air conditioning system, KICC uses natural air flowing from the “fins”, making it an environmentally friendly building.

Construction of the 32-storey KICC, the first building in East Africa with a helipad, was completed in 1973 at a cost of Sh9 million.


2 Parliament Buildings Parliament Road
Architect: Mr Thonrnly Dyer and Mr Amyas D. Connell, 1954 and 1965

Governor Sir Philip E. Mitchell laid the foundation stone on March 6, 1952 for the older portion of the current Parliament Buildings, known as Building A, which was opened on February 16, 1954.

Designed by Mr Thonrnly Dyer in association with Mr Amyas D. Connell, it bears many similarities to the Palace of Westminster that accommodates “the mother of Parliaments”.

The Clock Tower resembles England’s Big Ben Clock Tower. Its dominant feature is the tower that rises to 150 feet on the lantern frame. Its doors are made up of massive, richly carved Arab doors, made of Mbambokofi wood in the traditional Arab style.

At the east of the old portion lies a brass plaque recovered from the Palace of Westminister after being damaged by an enemy air attack.

The construction of Building B, an extension designed by Mr Connell, began In 1964. It was opened on November 2, 1965.


3 Kipande House Kenyatta Avenue and Loita Street

Architect: Wevill and Davies, 1913.

The miniature demeanor of Kipande House is a century-old masterpiece and this little building was once Kenya’s tallest structure until City Hall was completed in 1935. It still sports its ubiquitous quirky 165-foot tower that railway manual labourers watched in amusement as they waited for their meagre wages.

Now housing a Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) branch, Kipande House has maintained its timeless looks, ageing gracefully since the days when the building was used as a registration centre for Africans working in colonial Nairobi who, after obtaining the IDs, hanged them around the neck like cowbells.


4 Cooperative House (‘Bell Bottom House’) Haile Selassie Avenue

Architect: Zevet Kenya Architects and Engineers, 1981.

Engineers: Gordon Melvin and Partners.

It looks like the “flare” trousers that were popular in the 1970s and, because of that, some call it the “Bell Bottom House”. The modernism-architectural style 27-storey building survived the 1998 US Embassy bombing. Co-operative Bank reoccupied the building after completion of renovations in 2002.


5Coca-Cola Headquarters, Upper hill Kilimanjaro Road

Architects: GAPP Architects & Urban Designers of South Africa, and Triad Architects, Kenya, 2008

The Coca-Cola office, which serves as the headquarters of the company in the East and Central African region, is Nairobi’s most flamboyant new structure.

The building has a circular design, all windows face north, has triple volume ceilings and decorative feature walls.

The building’s concept was derived from the Coca-Cola brand ribbon and its features — such as solar heating, rainwater harvesting, power conservation devices and a green roof garden — make it both refreshing and inspiring.


6Holy Family Basilica Parliament Road

Architect: Dorothy Hughes of Hughes & Polkinghorne Architects, 1960

Its construction goes back to 1899 when plans to build a church at a growing tiny rail camp started.

The first church at the site had a sitting capacity of 300 to 400 people. With a sitting capacity of 3,000 to 4,000, the Basilica has a main altar, two side altars, eight sitting chapels, an icon of the Holy Family and a grotto.


7 Village Market Limuru Road

Architect: Mehraz Ehsani, 1995

The Iranian-born architect Ehsani’s exquisite functional design has made Village Market a building of interest.

The building is based on an African theme and is reflective of salient cultural features such as waterfalls, rivers and over 500 exotic plants and gardens.


8 Kenya Railways Headquarters Moi Avenue

Architect: Sir Herbert Baker, 1924

Sir Herbert designed one of South Africa’s most famous buildings — the Union Building, in 1910 — and the Pretoria Railway Station.

The construction of the Kenya Railways Headquarters, among the country’s landmark buildings, began in 1924 and the building was opened in 1927. Its design was borrowed from neo-classical architectural style that dominated the fashion of that period.


9University of Nairobi Mahatma Gandhi Building Harry Thuku Road
Architect: Henning and Chitty, 1962

Constructed as a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, a champion against imperialism, the building bears the University of Nairobi emblem.


10 University of Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Library (JKML) University Way

Architect: Mutiso Menezis International, 1981


11Florida NightClub Koinange Street

Architect: Hughes and Polkinghorne.

The club is a sphere on top of a petrol station. It started as the Florida Nightclub in 1979 but was probably constructed in 1965.


12Hilton Hotel Watalii Street

Architect: Zevet Kenya Architects and Engineers, 1969.

An emergency staircase unfortunately took away the clear original layout of the plan of Nairobi’s first true highrise building, its dot-patterned outward finish starring reinforced concrete.

Hilton Hotel was the first true highrise building in Nairobi.


13 Kenyatta National Hospital, main block Hospital Road

Architect: Cobb, Archer and Scammell, 1957, and Watson and Crowder, 1967


14Shaan Cinema (now Sarakasi Dome) Ngara Road

Architect: TAC (The Architects’ Collaborative), a company from USA, 1952

This building was built around 1952 as a cinema mainly featuring Asian films.


15IPS Building Kenyatta Avenue

Architect: TAC (The Architects’ Collaborative), 1967

IPS Building was designed in a very modernist style.


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