A new serviced office tower at Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, Kenya (Instantoffices.com)

‘Stop copying the West’ with hot glass towers, African academic urges

3 February 2016 | By GCR Staff 5 Comments

African developers and architects must ‘stop copying the West’ by erecting tall, glazed commercial buildings that waste vast amounts of energy to cool, and instead develop styles that suit hot climates, a leading architectural academic said this week.

Musau Kimeu, chair of the University of Nairobi’s Department of Architecture and Building Science, said glazed towers and malls are being built all over East Africa now, creating a serious drain on scarce energy.

“We must stop copying the West and instead design buildings that are suitable to our tropical climate,” Kimeu told a workshop organised by UN-Habitat in Kenya this week.

“They give good visual impressions but they are not as sustainable”– Musau Kimeu, University of Nairobi

“We must pursue sustainable building design strategies to construct buildings that have exemplary humane qualities and that resonate well with the locale,” he added, according to Rwandan newspaper, The New Times.

UN-Habitat estimates that 56% of the total energy generated in developing countries is used in urban buildings, consuming more energy than the transport or industrial sectors.

“We have seen several buildings with glazed windows constructed in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda in the recent past,” Kimeu told attendees to the workshop, organised for journalists on the subject of sustainable construction.

Promotional photograph, inside Waiyaki Way office tower, Nairobi (Instantoffices.com)

“Well, they give good visual impressions but they are not as sustainable,” Kimeu said.

He said building designs should balance the need for natural lighting and cross-ventilation with protection against the sun.
“We need to localise the architecture we see from Europe and make it suitable for our region,” he said.

Kimeu’s views were echoed by Vincent Kitio, chief of UN-Habitat’s Urban Energy Unit.

Musau Kimeu, chair of the University of Nairobi’s Department of Architecture and Building Science (University of Nairobi)

“[A] huge amount of energy is wasted every day during the construction and the operation of buildings in the region,” said Kitio, adding that most modern buildings in sub-Saharan Africa now are replicas of Western designs.

“As a result, such buildings are heavily reliant on artificial means for indoor comfort in terms of cooling, heating, ventilation and lighting. This is due to inefficient designs and use of unsuitable materials which have resulted into tremendous energy waste, high electricity bills, air pollution and green house emission.”

Musau Kimeu urged governments in the region to encourage sustainable design, and said banks should offer lower interest rates to developers of green buildings.

Top photograph: A new serviced office tower at Waiyaki Way, Nairobi, Kenya (Instantoffices.com)