Ugandan Architecture Through the Years II
The story of shelter begins in the caves with the hunting and gathering man. Eventually, as he became agriculturist, it became imperative for man to have a fixed base to keep an eye on his crops and animals. Constrained by the existing physical setting and technology, man begets a shelter form dictated by his cultural beliefs. This is Part 2.
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First published: June 15, 2005
Housing is an important indicator of standards of living. In the framework for shelter provision, Government, through the ministry responsible for housing, provides an enabling environment for private firms and individuals to build (Government has divested itself of the role of direct housing construction). But National Housing Corporation (NH & CC), a government parastatal established in 1964, is still fairly active in construction. NH & CC built the Bugoloobi and Bukoto flats, which, though dilapidated, are still hot commodities for the Kampala middle class. Yet in developed countries such repetitive accommodation arrangements with dead spaces in between are undesirable and being demolished. Naalya Estate is the most recent large scale NH & CC project. NH & CC collaborates with the Housing Finance Company whose purpose is to provide building construction loans. One result of Government concentrating on broader issues is the School of Architecture at Makerere, which has an explicit aim of attaining a contextual architecture appropriate to Uganda. Graduates of the school are unfortunately not being used maximally as people are generally not aware of what they can offer in making delightful architecture as well as ordering the urban environment at neighbourhood scale.
Given the huge shelter need, the effect of NH & CC and Housing Finance is negligible. And with no significant private sector player in the field, people are left to use their individual efforts. The new middle-class, despite the fact that some of them can very well afford to buy a finished house, must go through the entire process and hassles of getting a house constructed. Acquisition of land is the first problem, which is sometimes solved by attacking swamps. Getting the funds to start building is the next huddle as the housing finance system is inadequate. He then gets a plan (probably a poor quality one from a draughtsman), and undergoes the tedious urban authority approval process. Getting water and electricity is another long story wrought with bureaucracy and corruption. This contrasts with the developed world where practically any citizen can acquire a finished and serviced house any time through the mortgage system that ensures that they don’t have to have all the money in a lump sum. As the “rich-man’s slum” in Muyenga demonstrates, laissez faire in Uganda has resulted in chaotic built environments. Many of the rich must live in a sea of poverty and must create prisons of high walls around the compound to keep out the poor, whom they view, sometimes justifiably, with suspicion.
High fenced housing.
Individualism without adequate and appropriate supra-controls results in disorganised habitats with the associated financial and social costs. This disorganisation is best attested to by the fact that there is no home address system, even in Kampala, such that to direct somebody to particular house one goes like: “at the mvule turn left, then move on to the rubbish heap and turn left again. When you reach the little kiosk ask them to direct you to Nalongo. She will direct you to me. Don’t worry you won’t get lost”.
A distant view of Ntinda
The grounds of a home in Muyenga
The middle class house is the best representation of recent high domestic architecture. Following a construction slump due to political and economic anarchy was a period of rapid construction activity in form of bungalows in areas like Muyenga, Naguru, Ntinda and Bunga starting around 1987. The typical middle-class house is as big as possible and completely a result of individual effort. Size matters more than quality and it is done piecemeal as resources are availed. Today’s house is not so good in workmanship and detailing (relative to the fine colonial British and Asian building). Actually there is no true aesthetic reflective of the aspirations and context of the middle class. The tacky detailing is a reflection of the pervasive confusion in the building sector and the Ugandan society. Such houses are often done without an architect’s input and there is therefore no consistent thought to style and refinement of taste.
Workers House, Kampala
On the commercial scene, 19-storey Workers House is Uganda’s ‘skyscraper’ (it is a baby, say when compared to the 110-storey twin towers of the World Trade Centre that crumbled in spectacular fashion). Its sleek tile and glass aesthetic, first made prominent by Communications House, is now hip in the city. Other fairly recent buildings include Rwenzori House (a pseudo-classical style with post-modernist ethos) and the Rwenzori Courts. Contractors for these are international based – ROKO, SKANSKA, etc. Local ones can only manage the smaller projects. Many new 4-6 storey building by local businessmen such as Basajjabalaba are coming up in the Commercial Business District. All these buildings are isolated works and while they might be good individually, many have a negative impact on urban spaces. The city is slowly degenerating; there are no decent pedestrian spaces to speak of as cars and border-border cyclists have conquered all streets. Add the vagabonds and walking in Kampala is a hellish experience. Furthermore, developers want to use up even the little existing green; the effect of which will be that the city will become one chaotic mess of activity. In upcountry towns, 2- 4 storey hotels such as White House in Lira and Nyakanyero in Gulu are the swankiest recent additions.
Kampala: A not so organized city.
By and large, the pre-colonial landscape was dramatically altered by new forces engendered by the British. Today, the country, though predominantly rural, is rapidly urbanising. In rural areas people continue to live in rudimentary shelters but have the advantage of lots of space. In towns, the majority are very poor and live in unhygienic conditions in informal settlements. Within this poverty there are some high quality developments that have nonetheless occurred without following a particular style that one could say is a conscious result of the Ugandan unique situation. The issues that emerge therefore are how to improve the housing situation of the poor masses in villages and urban areas, and how to beget an architecture that is truly reflective of ideals and aspirations of all Ugandans. In so doing political questions on land and income distribution will definitely come up.
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First published: June 15, 2005
From August 2002 to date he is undertaking doctorate studies at the Oslo School of Architecture. His doctorate research proposal is entitled “Living in Earth – the Sustainability of Earth Architecture in Uganda”.
He works as an Architect in Technology Consults Limited, a cross-disciplinary firm that offers consultancy services in architecture, engineering, computing and surveying.
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