Planning Systems Services Ltd
Planning Systems Services Limited, better known simply as PLANNING, is one of the biggest names on the Kenyan architectural map. CR sought to understand from Management the journey the practice has travelled over the last four decades
CR: You are approaching your 40th Anniversary. Please sum up the highlights of PLANNING of your decorated architectural journey.
PLANNING: Planning Systems Services had humble beginnings! Our offices were a narrow balcony in a car repair workshop in the Industrial area! PLANNING had one client – Starehe Boys Centre – as well as two excellent personal track records from years in Uganda.
A major breakthrough was winning of the Lower Kabete Lakeview Housing Competition, with Nairobi Homes as clients.
PLANNING’S appointment for phase I of Kayole low income housing, for Kenya Building Society, followed. Then came a request from the Government of Kenya for PLANNING to extend State Lodge Sagana in preparation for a visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Starehe Boys Centre became an excellent introduction to Terry Childs of Braeburn Schools, with whom PLANNING has worked ever since.
PLANNING then began to create work. The Australian High Commission on Riverside Drive emerged. Together with Quantity Surveyor John Marlee, PLANNING identified a dormant I.C.I.P.E. site for development. Barclays Bank provided construction finance; it worked out well as did a similar arrangement with Williamson House on Nairobi Hill.
PLANNING then received National Awards for Lakeview Estate and the Australian High Commission.
Fedha Towers, Windsor Golf and Country Club Hotel and Lonrho House followed in quick succession – strongly contrasting styles of design; the Victorian Windsor and the ultra-modern Lonrho.
PLANNING developed the Pamoja Shell of Steel, a rapid building concept, resulting in their International Award in Berlin 2002.
By then, PLANNING was conscious of the buildup of rubbish and neglect of Nairobi’s rivers. The Community Cooker and Nairobi INTERVENTION emerged as PLANNING’s concerned response. Both have won numerous National and International awards and funds, with iNTERVENTION and Kipande Road emerging at MIPIM as second equal in the world in their Major Projects Award in 2009.
PLANNING continues to strive to deliver quality design on budget and on time.
What is the difference between PLANNING of 2016 and PLANNING of 20-30 years ago?
The great difference is of course, the entry of the computer and demise of soft lead pencil. Also the dominance of email and the digital age! (Not, the founding Partners contend, always to the advantage of the quality of the built product!)
PLANNING’s early years had two Partners and two to three staff; now there are over 60 working at PLANNING House. The Practice holds 26 National and 19 International awards for excellence in architecture. The new generation of Directors is taking over from Jim Archer and Trevor Andrews – both of whom are very happy in their new support roles.
Describe the changing landscape on the architectural sector and how PLANNING has adapted to remain a choice consultancy for corporates, Government, institutions and private clients.
PLANNING has adapted well to the shifts that have occurred in the global marketplace, and thus managed to remain very relevant to our clients. We have found that architecture today is highly influenced by a number of factors that have affected the wider global economy. These factors include the primacy of cutting edge design as an important branding element; the prevalence of information technology and related hardware as critical to work and life style; climate change as a driver towards lower energy use and building efficiency; and globalization that has exposed many people to the best the world has to offer thus setting a high standard for architects locally. We have adopted a rigorous approach to all these factors in our design process and project delivery, thus keeping the practice very attractive to our clients.
As one of the leading practices in the region, please share your thoughts on architecture today in Kenya and the wider East African region.
Architecture in East Africa today has been largely awakened and expanded by the newly realized popularity of real estate as an investment choice. What used to be sporadic development trends has now turned into a frenzy. This has been both a good thing and a bad thing as well. Good, because it has created many more opportunities for respectable architecture practices to deliver great projects. Bad because quacks and poor planners and semi sophisticated practices and clients have also jumped on the development bandwagon with little thought to the outcome of what they are doing other than just making money! We however see strong opportunities in the current environment to take not just our building stock, but also our cities and nations to another level. The last time the East African region saw such a great shift in development was likely in the decade following independence.
During the recent AAK Duracoat Awards of Excellence in Architecture 2016 held on 18th February at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi, PLANNING walked away with awards in multiple categories. Please give us brief details about these projects and why you think they emerged winners. What do these awards mean to PLANNING?
Out of the eighteen awards on offer, PLANNING received a total of nine project awards. We’re proud to say that we are way ahead of the pack, PLANNING received an award for every category submitted. Each project won for its strong design creativity, sensitive use of materials, especially locally available materials and sustainable response to the environment. The projects also displayed strong and very practical responses to local needs – most prominently the Pamoja Shell of Steel, the Community Cooker, and at the urban scale, the proposals for the rehabilitation of the Nairobi River. We are grateful to all our clients for giving us the opportunity to deliver quality projects and look forward to continuing our business relationship with existing and new clients who challenged us to go to the next level. The awards have also spurred us to continue to strive for excellence in the services we provide as Architects, Land Use Planners, and Project Managers. The projects awarded were as follows:
- Best Educational Institution Project – Braeburn Garden Estate
- Best Health Care Project – Pamoja Shell of Steel
- Best Urban Design / Town Planning Project – Nairobi Intervention
- Best Commercial Building Project – Kenya Commercial Bank Headquarters
First Runners Up
- Best Educational Institution Project – Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa
- Best Concept/Ongoing Project – Kipande Road Zone
Second Runner Up
- Best Residential Building Project – Sultan Palace Beach Retreat
- Best Concept/Ongoing Project – Community Cooker
- Best Commercial Building Project – Imperial Health Sciences Building
Describe the ethos at PLANNING that promotes creativity leading to this kind of recognition.
Planning Systems Services’s ethos is hinged on a strong design driven studio culture that combines aesthetic, ecological and technical thinking.
PLANNING’s approach to architecture, land use and infrastructure planning is driven by the principle that the success of any project is driven by the understanding of the opportunities and constraints of the project site and the dynamics that drive local, regional and national micro and macroeconomics.
Planning Systems Servicesprides itself in its holistic approach to every project providing strategic thinking and design solutions, by balancing technical, operational and financial dimensions to achieve optimum design outcomes for the best possible value. We approach every project from its wider context. We look at the building and its site very carefully and ensure our designs preserve and respect the sites on which they are built. We often design around the trees, for example, to make every effort to preserve and enhance a site’s existing ecology.
There has been management transition at PLANNING in recent years with fresh blood having been groomed to take the practice to the next level. What is the current management structure and how has this transition played out? Is the practice on course to achieve even more?
PLANNING has indeed undertaken a leadership transition in the few years. We are grateful for the legacy and wisdom of our founders Jim Archer and Trevor Andrews, who continue to serve with us and mentor us. The practice is now led by a Board of Directors that includes Mumo Musuva as Managing Director aided by a team of five Directors and two Associate Directors. In addition to this team, PLANNING has two Associates, several architects, designers and technicians. We are very proud of the diversity within our office that includes a good number of accomplished female architects (in an industry that is traditionally male dominated), and staff representation from six different countries (of which four are outside Africa).
Where do you see PLANNING in the next 10 years?
We see Planning Systems Services Ltd continuing to grow and gain prominence locally and globally. We plan on sustaining and growing our reputation as the go to architects in the region. We also hope to work more frequently beyond Kenya.