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Swahili Dreams, Lamu Apartments

Swahili Dreams is a luxurious, eco-friendly building fusing contemporary architecture and lifestyle, along with Swahili tradition. Taking the scheme of condominiums, the project sits in the heart of the town of Lamu and consists of nine living units, each with one or two bedrooms. It adopts the old flavour of the Island, while being innovative in its all-modern facilities and environmental design.

Context: Lamu

Lamu, Kenya, is the oldest surviving Swahili town in East Africa, with a culture born from African, Arab and Asian heritage. Its architecture still, to a great extent, is intact, and on the coast of the Indian Ocean, it is designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. The Old Town, where the Swahili Dreams are located, is a maze of typical narrow, quiet, shady and fresh streets with twisted alleyways. Houses are distinct for their courtyard configuration, surrounded by thick, coral stone walls and accessible through elaborately carved wooden doors.

Swahili Dreams takes part in the ongoing development of the Lamu Corridor and offers modern, secure, eco-friendly lifestyle.

Also Read: Tudor Apartments, Mombasa, Kenya

Integration to context

By articulating the project around, Urko Sanchez Architects created an ensemble born from the morphology of the townscape and perfectly integrated to it. Through offsets and setbacks, the volumes are simple and harbour a clean, white geometry. Material distinction, between plaster finish and coral stone walls, amplifies the variation of the project while using local materials and know-how. The aim, overall, was to create a building with a fragmented geometry at the scale of Lamu.

The houses are oriented for optimal views: from strategically-positioned windows, and ample but private terraces, including ones on the rooftop, the building frames views over Lamu Town, the Indian Ocean, and the neighbouring Manda Island.

Swahili inspiration

Evocative of the palaces of the ancient Sultans, Swahili Dreams blends design with artisanal crafts. Local artisans hand-designed all finishes, exterior and interior, starting with Lamu-style plaster work throughout the project. Main living areas are enhanced with intricate Swahili ceiling designs, beamed ceilings and polished floors. Wooden joineries complete the spaces, with hand-designed lattices and patterns: from wooden shutters on sunny façades to fixed wooden lattices on windows and railings on full-height openings, they embrace tradition and participate in the passive climate-control for filtering sun and letting wind through.

Contemporary lifestyle: environment and sustainability

The architects wanted to invent homes in perfect harmony with their context, and which adopt sustainable lifestyles. A Roman-inspired pool and spa occupies the ground floor, divided with walls and partitions that give it intimacy, shade and freshness. Two ventilation shafts take off from there and go up to the roof terrace of the building. These wind-catch towers ‘catch’ the wind from overhead and allow it to enter the depth of the building; this way, all apartments have cross-ventilation, with all sides able to open up. Like a reduced patio, they also allow for filtered light to come through.

Load-bearing walls, made of locally sourced coral blocks, and reinforced concrete slabs, were designed to reduce heat in the interiors by being a big enough mass for thermal absorption. The exterior finish is of Lamu plaster with anti-fungal treatment, allowing it to protect the building and last over time; its white colour reflects the sun and further reduces heat absorption.

Water is managed through a 30 000 litre underground rainwater catcher that allows near-sufficiency and good use of natural resources, while solar-power water heating is installed to initiate clean energy.

The project won the Best Residential Building Project prize in the AAK Awards of Excellence in Architecture 2016.

About the architects

Urko Sanchez Architects is an award-­winning Kenya and Spain-based boutique architectural firm renowned for excellence in design. Their projects range in size, complexity and function. In all cases, however, the focus is on the client and the context, with a tailor-­crafted approach to each unique project. Commercial projects include hotels, office buildings, industrial spaces and residential developments amongst others.

The firm is deeply committed to environmental stewardship, and for each project, the team considers the cultural roots of the structure, and how the building will be best integrated into its environment; the view, the indigenous materials and the flow of the surroundings. Hallmarks of Urko Sanchez projects include contemporary twists on traditional architecture; a green aesthetic that harnesses wind and solar power and recycled water; and leveraging natural architecture to showcase natural light.


Project: Swahili Dreams (Lamu Apartments)

Location: Lamu, Kenya

Year: 2014

Client: Swahili Dreams Ltd. Kenya

Area: 1 600m2

Team: Blanca Sánchez-Balgoma, Verónica García Iguaz

Photo credits: Javier Callejas/Corrie Wingate

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Dennis Ayemba
Country/ Features Editor, Kenya


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