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Nairobi’s growing modern skyline

Posted by admin on 3 February 2021

In the last five years, developers have become more daring in the designs they chose to execute, taking time and spending money to come up with building designs that are visually attractive to buyers.
When Ravi Vasta, the managing director of Mark Properties, wanted to build something exceptional, he flew his team of consultants to Dubai for inspiration.

According to Vasta, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers hundreds of brilliant architectural designs, which he calculated would stimulate the team’s imagination.

In his mind, he wanted a building model that would not only be considered ‘new’ for Kenya but which would be attractive enough to catch investors’ attention.

The Le’ Mac – a 22-floor residential development in Nairobi’s Westlands – was the design his team of professionals came up with. The building is still under construction and is flaunted as the tallest residential development in the country.

In the last five years, developers have become more daring in the designs they chose to execute, taking time and spending money to come up with building designs that are visually attractive to buyers.

Chema Katua, a director of Dimensions Group, one of the leading architectural firms in Nairobi, agrees that some developers are going the extra mile to incorporate attractive construction designs that are changing the city’s skyline.

“The Nairobi skyline is looking increasingly modern and cosmopolitan,” he says.

It is true that the new designs are aesthetically pleasing to the eye compared to the more pure forms (especially rectangular blocks) which have marked the face of real estate both commercial and residential for years.

As a plus, the new designs, despite the creativity that goes into them, don’t attract extra design charges other than what is provided for in the law. What these projects do is to take into consideration aerodynamics, lighting and aspects of green building for energy efficiency.

Landmark structures

But what is informing this shift to landmark structures that any developer worth his name wants to adopt?

“A lot of them are making architectural statements to attract wealthy investors and add prestige to the profile of the building. They are also taking advantage of plot ratios to maximise on space, which has become expensive,” Katua says.

The cost of development land in Nairobi’s prime locations such as Kileleshwa, Upper Hill, Karen and Muthaiga has skyrocketed in recent years.

Global real estate consulting firm Knight Frank in its Q2 report released last month noted that land prices in Nairobi’s prime residential areas have doubled since 2009. The firm attributes this to infrastructural improvement and land scarcity.

“Knight Frank has received significant interest in prime development land in its books. The most notable being a 4.9 acres of development land being transacted in Kileleshwa. Other noteworthy deals anticipated to be closed in Q3 include 8.9 acres in Loresho and 2.3 acres in Upper Hill,” reads the report.

Knight Frank this year sold a five-acre plot with a residential house in Kileleshwa area worth Sh760 million for Sh1.6 billion.

“The reason is because it was switching from residential to commercial, and so instead of being a residential house, it’s probably going to be a mixed-use development,” said Ben Woodhams, managing director Knight Frank.

Apart from Le’ Mac, other new buildings with unique designs coming up in Nairobi include Goodman Plaza, Lenana Towers, Gold Rock Plaza, Sifa Towers, The Mirage, Prisms, The Oval and West End.

The Oval in Westlands was designed by local architectural firm Bowman Associates. The firm was founded several decades ago by Tom Bowman – the firm’s chief architect and principal owner.

Bowman is the face behind the Junction, Galleria and Westgate malls. Adnan Saffarini Engineering Consultants, who are headquartered in Dubai, came to Kenya in 2012 eager to contribute to the changing skyline.

The design and consulting firm is known for signature projects in the UAE like Dhow Palace Hotel, Champion Towers, Elite Tower, Armada Towers and Princess Tower – a 101-floor skyscraper reputed to be tallest residential building in the world.

Locally, the company that has 750 in-house staff engineers, architects and quantity surveyors, has worked on what it describes as a masterpiece mosque design to be constructed at Adams Arcade.

Prism Tower, a commercial building still in the early stages of construction in Upper Hill, is being developed by Kings Developers Ltd. Prism’s design is by an Indian architectural firm.

Emerging concerns

King’s love for unique building also extends to its two other projects – Kings Distinction, a residential apartment in Hurlingham, and Sifa Towers on Lenana Road.

But even as more attractive buildings dot the skyline, there are emerging concerns that what some consider to be landmark designs locally are mere copies of buildings in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Notwithstanding this criticism of lack of originality, the land utilisation model adopted by the new architectural designs is welcome especially given that the integrated urban development master plan hails such models.


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