Earlier in the year, the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), organized a forum to recognize outstanding works of architecture in the country. The event was seen as an attempt to appreciate the immense effort that architects exert in their work, the end results of which are often breathtaking structures in the built environment.
As expected, established practices that have been on the scene for decades did walk away with a substantial number of awards. Impressively though, younger firms that have vigorously strived to make a mark on the architectural landscape through unique designs and innovative concepts were also recognized. Among them was Aleem Manji Architects (AMA-Kenya).
At only 6 years of age, AMA-Kenya has attracted attention through their deliberate effort to break away from the norm. Looking at the projects the young practice has handled over this short period, one can clearly see a different approach in the way the projects are designed and executed. But it was, The Elegance, a commercial complex that will soon be coming up in Nairobi’s high end Westlands suburb that endeared AMA-Kenya to the judging panel leading to a Runners-Up award for Best Concept and Innovation.
According to the Principal Architect Aleem Manji and Architect Nina Ndichu who are working on the project, The Elegance is an “exciting, unique and new office block in town”.
“The basic concept is a rotation of each floor plate by approximately 5 degrees as you move upwards, to create an effect similar to a deck of cards fanned out.”
According to the Architects, the client’s brief was to create the ultimate commercial address for businesses with a serene working environment featuring luxurious interiors.
The building will occupy 12,500 square metres and will feature special glass to regulate temperature, conventional and stacked parking as well as access control and green landscaped terraces among other attractions. “It is a unique piece of architecture, a steel structure with striking colours and a fairly unique form that strikingly steps away from the conventional curtain walled commercial blocks that are common in the country,” say the architects.
And it was not a rosy path coming up with the final design. According to the Architects, the unique footprint meant that each level had to be planned individually while at the same time maximizing the spaces within.
“In addition, the requirement for ample parking space meant that all this had to be done while maintaining the maximum comfort gridline for parking below, and at the same time due consideration of the end user and the user experience. Besides, as we were dealing with systems we hadn’t dealt with before, we encountered interesting challenges along the way, for example stacked parking requires a great deal of headroom and this being a steel structure we had to consider the secondary steel structure beams which in turn affected the original heights of the building. We therefore had to redesign major vertical spaces that were affected as we could not have ramps that were lower than the standard ratios and staircases needed to be comfortable for the user. But in the end, all was well and we achieved the desired architectural standards.”
The AMA-Kenya team was clearly elated with the AAK recognition. And although they say that the announcement came as a pleasant surprise, they add: “In a way though, it almost felt that a concept such as The Elegance deserved some semblance of recognition, so I suppose there was also an accompanying feeling of satisfaction as well.”
They speak highly of the teamwork that goes into every project handled by the practice saying that each individual in the team excels in their role culminating in unique designs such as The Elegance.
So what does this award mean to AMA?
“Hopefully it will provide much needed impetus and positivity for us to keep doing what we do: to keep trying to push boundaries and think outside the box and, hopefully, play a small part in changing the skyline of Nairobi”, say the leading architects at the practice.
They reveal that they are currently working on other exciting projects. Among them is Rumaisa, a new apartment block in Riverside, Nairobi, which features a massive rooftop swimming pool with a running length of over 100m. Others are Solitaire (see CR November 2015 issue), Solitaire Encore, White Oak and Oshwal Park.
“Hopefully we will be able to keep doing what we enjoy doing the most – creating beautiful spaces and iconic buildings”, they conclude.