As the construction industry embraces modern architecture and builders experiment with new styles and plans, there is a growing difference between building types and styles used today than those built even a few decades ago.
Certain styles of buildings are widespread in Kenya and seen as the de facto standard. As a result, most buildings have similar designs and forms that contribute to building limitations in terms of flexibility and ease of use.
Traditional styles of building in Kenya
Until recently, buildings in Kenya have had common characteristics in their construction that are determined by
- Skills of the labor force
- Accessibility and affordability of building materials
Developers are beginning to work outside their comfort zones to use varied building plans and construction materials resulting in innovative architectural looks and forms.
Buildings in rural Kenya
Temporary and semi-permanent structures
The building types and styles in rural Kenya are significantly influenced by the region and traditional culture of the people living in a specific rural area. For instance:
- The Maasai and Samburu tribes construct temporary huts called ‘Manyattas’ to match their pastoralist lifestyle. These are made from twigs tied together by dried tree-bark or strings to make walls with thatched roofs.
- The Kalenjin tribe construct semi-permanent huts using twigs and posts joined together using nails. Mud or clay is plastered on the twigs to make walls and the floor while the roof is made of long grass or reeds.
- Coastal people such as the Mijikenda make houses from coconut leaves popularly known as Makuti houses
- The Kikuyu, on the other hand, use timber for the walls and iron sheets for the roof.
Temporary structures are dying off and being replaced by permanent houses made of stones and mortar.
For those who cannot afford stones and mortar, bricks are made by mixing clay with sand, straw, stone, concrete and lime, and then shaped into blocks that are either air-dried with fire or dried in a kiln. The bricks are used for walls and pavements.
Interestingly, bricks are finding their way into urban areas as developers seek to construct affordable housing for urban dwellers.
The few permanent buildings in rural areas have similar styles owing to the construction materials used and lack of sufficient skills by local workforce. Most of these homes have:
- L, T, U and I shaped designs
- Several bedrooms and a living room (sitting room)
- Bathrooms and kitchen often built in separate locations from the main house
Commercial buildings are simply built as plain empty halls with no design and style taken into account.
Customary styles and types of building in urban Kenya
The styles, designs, architecture and types of buildings in urban Kenya are more expressive with most built using stones and mortar for walls, cemented or tiled floors and iron sheets or roofing tiles for roof covering.
1. Flats and apartments
They are the most common building type among urban dwellers.
- Accommodate high numbers of tenants and are relatively affordable
- Less sophisticated in terms of design and style
- Range from single rooms, bedsitters and self-contained one-bed houses to self-contained two and three-bed houses.
It is rare to find apartments and flats with more than 3 bedrooms.
More sophisticated in design and based on the personal style of the owner, there is growing demand for maisonettes in Kenya to accommodate the increasing middle class. As a result, companies are developing large-scale projects of maisonettes in a bid to capitalize on the new housing market.
- Mostly built by upper middle class and class A and AB
- Highly sophisticated in terms of design, style and type
They are the most versatile in terms of design, type and space, and materials used range from glass and metal to stones and mortar, plastic, bricks and combination of timber and stones, etc.
- They include sky scrapers and storied buildings
- Their designs and use of space is determined by the function of the building with shopping malls and entertainment spots being more open in terms of architecture and design.