by Jincy IypeJul 21, 2023
Translating every design journey and building into a social process, Diébédo Francis Kéré and his projects, have always held a relevant presence within the realm of ‘architecture for people’. Keeping these ideas in mind, Kéré Architecture unwinds their latest project that follows the humanitarian principles of design, in a densely populated region of Kampala in Uganda. The Kamwokya Community Centre is an embodiment of the relationship between the built environment and the city. Though granularity is a term often used in the context of astronomy, physics, linguistics, photography, and information technology, it is also a word that is often used when discussing the multiple layers of a city. While cities and economies are directly related, it is the built environment that acts as a link between them and its role in determining a city's economy is more important than one may realise. Depending on their sizes and density, these built environments mark the region's urban development as fine-grained or coarse-grained. A city with more small buildings, densely placed, constitutes fine-grain urbanism, and one with bigger buildings spread out is an example of coarse-grain urbanism, directly affecting the business in these places. The site of Kamwokya Community Centre sits confined in a highly dense area of Kampala. From a distance, the location is an unplanned context with many low-rise structures tightly packed, almost stifling and blurring the streets that go through them. Probing into it, these claustrophobic streets breathe lively encounters into the area with their imperfectly drawn organic planning that perfectly caters to the activities of life.
In what seems to be the largest and probably the last, buildable area in the immediate context, Kéré Architecture’s community centre builds on the character and familiarity of the structures surrounding it. With a multipurpose building, community hall, gathering space, multisports field, raised play space, changing room, toilets, water tower, and rainwater harvesting area, the project uplifts the local community by providing them with necessary functional spaces. With this project, the Burkinabé-German architect’s studio employs architecture as a device to deliver their social commitment and stays true to the ethos of their previous work.
While all community projects initially talk about how the design of the new structure relates to the culture, history, and essence of the region, in Kamwokya Community Centre, these concepts can be visually observed, at first glance. The architects chose to mention the efficient drainage system they introduced in their project plan, to protect it from recurrent flooding during heavy rains. As a result of this intervention, the entire project rests on a raised platform. This platform is the main infrastructural element, that is broken into levels to accommodate different functions. With inconsiderable differences in these levels, multiple activities can simultaneously occur, without intruding on other functions. The main sports field in the middle is wrapped in tribune-like steps to gather or watch the games.
Towards the east end of the main sports field is a building, raised on a platform, accommodating a gym, an internet café, various multi-purpose rooms for classes and workshops, a music studio, and an office. On the west end, a raised play space accommodates a building with changing rooms and restrooms. These spaces are covered by butterfly roofs and raised by steel structures. While the roof profile gives the project a unique form and identity within its context, the materials used borrow from the surroundings. More often than not, the common perception around a building blending in its context remains in relation to locally available and vernacular materials. In the case of Kamwokya Community Centre, the Pritzker Prize winning architectural studio narrates a new building that fluently fits into the architectural language of the local context. These are present in the new building through its materiality. The steel roofing sheets resemble the worn-out steel sheets on the adjacent buildings, while theexposed brick wraps the unpolished nature of the spaces together. However, the water tank, which is designed as a structural contrast in both design and scale stands out and becomes the visual identity of the project.
The Kamwokya Community Centre, abides by Kéré’s thoughts of “architecture is a wake-up call” and presents itself as an extension of its context and not as a new addition. While doing so, it invites the users to take part in the growth of the building and encourages the architecture to resonate with the community. The centre has exposed brick walls, louvre windows, wooden doors, grey floors, and steel structures, like most buildings surrounding it. In an official press release, Berlin-based Kéré Architecture states, “The goal of the project is to maintain and enhance the public and free character of the site, seeking not to impose, but to gently uplift it.”
The architect added, “Beyond its practical function, the project aims to transform the community by becoming a source of inspiration and pride that in turn can create a sense of agency and ownership.” The Kamwokya Community Centre is the result of a partnership between the local non-profit Kamwokya Christian Caring Community, which runs sports, leisure, and artistic activities in one of the poorest areas of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and the Ameropa Foundation, which works internationally on projects aiming at improving the lives of marginalised communities.
Duration: 2016 - 2022
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Area: 1600 sqm
Client: Ameropa Foundation, Binningen, Switzerland & Kamwokya Christian Caring Community (KCCC), Kamwokya, Uganda
Local Architect: j.e.nsubuga & associates, Kampala, Uganda
General Contractor: Soleco Construction co Ltd., Kampala, Uganda
Structural Engineer: AECOM, London, UK