Author Archives: olauduku

Prof Ola Uduku is visiting Kigali in Rwanda as part of the Shared Heritage Project :

Indeed the city of a million hills, the views, wherever one looks show the hilly topography as 360 degree panorama all around. This is an efficient, exceptionally clean and organised African city, words that rarely roll off the tongue in relation to the continent.

For Kigali this however is happily true. Approaching this city of 3 million from its friendly and speedy immigration formalities at its small airport, one meets with Kigali’s symbolic moniker, the lit up Kigali Conference centre globe, set on one of the city’s highest hills, it acts as a waymarker into Kigali city. 

Unsurprising for a hilly city, poor drainage and standing water is not a problem, a usual feature in large urban areas of Africa. Kigali’s arteries are its well-designed and maintained, roads and its taxi and motorcycle public transport network. Yellow motorcycles, with red-helmeted drivers and their pillion passengers swarm the roads like bees, dodging in and out of traffic including the Yego taxicabs which are ubiquitous forms of transport for more well-off Kigalites. 

Meanwhile the roads are designed with both clearly marked out zebra crossings which drivers observe. This includes well-defined cycle lanes despite bicycles being rather rare, they have clearly been planned for. The central pedestrianised area also has had detailed attention to planting and urban infrastructure such as seating areas and shelters. This attention to city thoroughfares by Kigali’s planners gives the city its deserved moniker as Africa’s most well-planned city. 

A visit to the University of Rwanda also gave an interesting view of the different architectural and design influences to be found in Rwanda. The striking Rwanda School of Architecture displayed its vibrant colours and materiality in its external form, whilst the volumetric flexibility of these spaces internally was demonstrated as we held successful if slightly challenged acoustically, talks and workshops,  concluding with an informal review session in two of these spaces.

Central Kigali has a distinct historic colonial – mission informed central spine. A Catholic convent, a church, and a school complex delivering kindergarten and primary education feature on one axis. The characteristic use of locally made clay bricks and historical clay tiling give these buildings their historic identity.  Whilst the 20th century designed embassies of Belgium and France, with their national flags flying, dominate nearby.

Colonial Kigali then blends into an interesting newly repurposed space, courtesy of MASS design. The old Belgian school in downtown Kigali has now become home for the first Norskka startup campus. Classrooms have been recreated as meetings spaces, and the brand new central entrance meeting space doubles as free to walk into café certainly serving the best coffee this side of Africa.

The MASS Design-landscape team collaboration in design has resulted in a totally new and climatologically excellent marriage of landscape with environment. A successful contemporary case study on how this can be achieved for all working in sub-tropical environments such as Kigali. The third and final phase of this development is just going on site involving a local Architecture practice this has got to be a project to watch.

Downtown commercial Kigali, which formed the centre of the historic commercial town, comprises the usual mix of trading units, former mercantile company warehouses and post and telecommunications infrastructure. A pedestrian mall which features Kigali’s new post-modern banking office towers, connects to this downtown area.

A visit to the Kigali Cricket Pavilion, the result of Peter Rich and Michael Ramage’s 2017 architecture-engineering collaboration, was pure visual joy to behold. The eight mile drive out of Kigali to find the pavilion was an adventure in itself as there were few signposts or digital map directions to follow. A well-judged turn off the main road, however resulted in an initial view of the structure. Built in 2017 it has weathered extremely well, with the quaternary arch form clearly expressed internally, and the local material cladding in superb condition. The three domes amply fulfil their basic programme of shelter and a viewing space for members of the Rwandan Cricket Association. 

At our visit we were also able to drink great Ugandan coffee and access fast internet access as we sat down to admire the structure and the pavilion view. Unfortunately, no games were being played nor was there any cricket practice on our Saturday trip out to the pavilion, however the grounds were in perfect condition and we were informed that the Rwanda girls cricket team had recently beat their Ugandan counterparts in a regional match, having a home pavilion like Kigali’s must be a source of inspiration for Kigali’s youth cricketers. 

Back into the leafy former colonial government suburbs of Kigali, only one hill away from Kigali’s commercial hub a visit to the Kandt house took us straight back to  colonial times,. This is the preserved home of Kigali’s first German governor now provides an extensive history of Kigali and Rwanda’s early mission and colonial history and heritage. A reptile zoo complete with crocodile was the bonus attraction to view.

Back into the leafy former colonial government suburbs of Kigali, only one hill away from Kigali’s commercial hub a visit to the Kandt house took us straight back to  colonial times,. This is the preserved home of Kigali’s first German governor now provides an extensive history of Kigali and Rwanda’s early mission and colonial history and heritage. A reptile zoo complete with crocodile was the bonus attraction to view.

No trip to Kigali, should omit a visit to the genocide museum, this is a deeply emotional and heart-breaking site, which comprises both burial grounds and a landscaped garden of remembrance and also the Genocide memorial now connected to a genocide archive which may be visited on week days. The landscaping of the memorial garden allows for quiet contemplation and reflection, whilst the museum, assisted by the Aegis Trust, to  the people of Rwanda tells the story of the 1994 genocide to the world, in the hope that we may all strive for peace and reconciliation.  It was masterplanned by John McAslan and partners, and completed in 2014. Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre in a circular void, by WALL Corporation / Selim Senin remains unbuilt, and is still work in progress.

You might also catch a view of the remains of Rwanda’s central prison in Kigali, which is  on another hill nearby. It is a large colonial jail which unfortunately is scheduled for erasure if future plans are put in place. Currently however with some persistence you can get in and view the structure which only closed in the early 2010s.

Finally, a visit to the now called ‘Hotel Milles Collines’, the true site of the Hotel Rwanda, takes one back to halcyon days of the modern intercontinental tropical hotel. Copies of this hotel style grace most of the globe’s tropical locations, with the swimming pool, bar area and tennis courts to view. This is a definite contrast to the boutique hotel we stayed in with its contemporary reinterpretation of space, complete with mosquito nets, and open-air dining.

A great way to end a trip would be to have dinner at Kigali’s latest dining venue, just opened in time for the Commonwealth Governors and Heads of state meeting (CHOGUM)  that took place in Kigali last autumn.  It’s fine dining, interior decoration, and panoramic view of this city of hills is a great way to conclude a trip.

As the posters across this city proclaim, “Visit Rwanda”!

Ola Uduku Writes: 24 hours in Lilongwe

Arriving in the dead of the night there was not much to see at Lilongwe Airport. The trip to the city was a long, quiet drive on a single lane road with not much to indicate what the city would deliver. Hotel check in suggested this might be a ghost destination in a ghost town with large edifices and pretensions of grandeur.

Later on at 7am in the morninig however,  the city began its reveal. My hotel room at the Umodzi-President hotel set in the grounds of the lush green Umodzi Park gave the perfect vantage point of the modernist icon the Malawi Reserve Bank building (c. 1964 but who designed it? – apparently an exact copy of a building in South Africa), and also a view out to the Mausoleum to Malawi’s first president Kamuzu Hastings Banda.  

The Malawi parliament Complex also got a detailed view from my Umodzi vantage point. More curious was the conference complex which forms part of the Umodzi Hotel – Park setting, and I suspect this might have been or is the setting for presidential and other political rallying in days gone by. Post-covid it seemed an empty stage set for a drama yet to unfold. 

The field research trip that brought me to the city began in earnest later on that morning, not before a after a hotel room battle with climate and media control as both remote devices had only Chinese ideographic character instructions to follow. The Umodzi Hotel Park and facilities had been built through a Chinese arrangement…

So the trip began in earnest, a visit to the first point of call meant a drive past the Malawi National stadium complex, a gift of the Chinese Government, certainly worthy of international architectural merit. Close by a gated community also developed during the stadium’s construction and now a high-end housing estate.

Villas in Lilongwe: High value housing

Lilongwe owes its masterplan to the dark days of apartheid and its layout is credited to South African planners who projected the segregation of residence by race and buffer zones to what had become Malawi’s capital city. The hard trace of this layout very much structures 21st century Lilongwe.  Poorer Malawian and increasingly trans-African communities live the farthest out to the city centre whilst former European only (now mainly elite African) residents and Asian communities live the closest to the city centre. 

Local housing in Lilongwe despite sharing distance issues from the CBD,  is certainly different from West Africa. ‘Formal’ housing uses much more burnt clay brick than in West Africa, locally made bricks are used for the majority of housing with ‘crittal hope’-style windows predominating glazing options. Corrugated Iron, and formed aluminium roofing as in West Africa predominate with an absence of asbestos or other cement fibre sheeting types. Building crafts and trades also seem particularly well established on the ground, might this be because as a landlocked country all importation is expensive and local labour is more valued. The other thought might be that the ‘grip’ of South Africa’s emphasis on non academic ‘technical/service’ education for non-whites has led to a better skilled and trained local technical workforce. 

Low Cost Housing

Transportation-wise also sustainable transport gurus might be in seventh heaven,  the humble bicycle seemed the main form of transportation in many neighbourhoods with a locally welded handlebar for passengers to use. A range of second-hand imports also could be seen gracing the streets. Faster and more efficient than cars and cheaper than motorbikes given the exhorbitant cost of fuel.

Great efforts were being made by Lilongwe local government and at national level to deliver services to all communities. Sanitation and water projects abounded. Contracts had interestingly been given to several international contractors including in a case we came across a water hydrant project for poorer neighbourhoods, run by a Chinese contracting firm.

Water Hydrant Installation.

This seems to be in keeping with the Chinese involvement in the development of the Lilongwe highways projects and future interchange. Not to be outdone there has also been investment by the Japanese in the Lilongwe International Airport upgrading and expansion project, with some interesting architectural results.

Viewing Lilongwe in a day was going to be a hard call, let’s say that it is certainly a green city and one that seemed genuinely peaceful and friendly. Its key problems seem to stem on a poor transportation system, predicated on the apartheid zoned settlement city which means that there remains very little interconnectivity to neighbourhoods and a non-existent prioritised public transport system to the city centre where unsurprisingly all the jobs remain located. 

Mosque in Lilongwe

Foreign investment in the infrastructure and buildings in Lilongwe is truly international it is quite clear to see. If this was a former British colonial city, the trappings thereof are rapidly disappearing. Aid seems to come in many forms and many directions, the ‘Global East’ certainly being emergent. This investment seems now to be getting ‘grounded’ in infrastructure projects including a housing estate for the Chinese in Lilongwe close to the Presidential palace and the Chinese Embassy, a symbol of Sino-African friendship.

But to end as I began, my last stop was again to view the Malawian investment bank, a night time shot didn’t fail to impress. 1970s African modernism at its best. 

Malawi Reserve Bank

Good night Lilongwe…