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RMJM’s history in Africa is well documented with the firm having completed numerous major developments since its first steps onto the continent in the early 1960s when they were commissioned by the Nigerian Government to develop standards for schools and universities across the country. RMJM subsequently delivered over 100 schools in Nigeria highlighting not only its commitment to developing sub-Saharan Africa but also delivering first class education facilities. In 2014, RMJM established its first office on the continent (in South Africa) and in early 2015 the firm’s presence in Africa grew substantially with the formation of RMJM Symbion. The company now has offices in Nairobi in Kenya with further offices in Mombasa (Kenya), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Kampala (Uganda) and Gaborne (Botswana). There is no doubt that Africa plays a significant role in RMJM’s future strategy. Kenya, in particular, has been able to take advantage of its excellent links on the East coast of Africa connecting it to the booming economies of the UAE and Asia, where RMJM is well-established. In an architectural sense, Kenya is well placed to take reap the benefits of RMJM’s strategic locations over the coming decades.
If we sharpen our focus to solely Kenya then we see why many believe it to be the jewel in Africa’s crown. Its capital, Nairobi, was recently named one of the 37 fastest growing mega-cities globally. This rapid urbanisation has undoubtedly provided the country with an opportunity it would be foolish to let slip. Its geographic location means that it is not short of opportunities on a global scale either. Kenya, without question, will be an international force in the 21st century. Urbanisation, though, frequently highlights the problems a city or country is undergoing. The struggle with internal migration has made Nairobi a destination for many unemployed Africans and there are reports that the cities unemployment rate is now as high as 40% with work especially hard to come by for those aged under 30. The long-term plan for the city is, by all accounts, a well considered one that has heeded the lessons from similarly sized cities that have already undergone such change. The city’s problem now is reversing past mistakes that have led to high unemployment, infrastructure problems, poverty and high crime rates. Nairobi’s chaotic character is clearly part of it’s appeal but this is a stretch too far. If these can be corrected then Nairobi could well live up to the hype of being ‘one of the 8 cities that show you what the future will look like.‘ According to several studies, though, the Kenyan urban population is set to quadruple by 2045 meaning that infrastructure that is already stretched, will need to be drastically upgraded. Africa’s keenness to urbanise is a necessary step for its people to achieve the high income it craves.
Despite having made significant progress in infrastructure development in recent years, the country’s infrastructure indicators remain below the levels found in Africa’s middle-income countries, like Egypt and Nigeria. Through a program called Kenya Vision 2030, the government hopes to deliver “a newly industrialised, middle-income country providing high quality of life by 2030.” It’s a hugely ambitious goal but the infrastructure projects that have been earmarked certainly have the potential to transform the Kenyan landscape with $50 billion already committed to improvements. These won’t be vanity projects, either. Kenya’s target is to exploit its strategic location. The country is currently building a $4 billion railway system – its single biggest investment in infrastructure since it gained independence from the British in 1963. The completion of the Standard Gauge Railway Project is at the core of the country’s growth predictions. Similarly, Kenya hopes that new highway, airports, pipelines, ports and transport hubs will all be net contributors to the economy in years to come. Bringing Kenya’s infrastructure up to the level of he region’s middle-income countries could boost annual growth by more than three percentage points.
There are few continents with a history as long and varied as Africa. Nor are there many with a culture as bold and visceral. Accordingly, as Africa embraces new architecture and seeks expertise from the wider world, the hope is that 21st century Africa will be built on more than western ideas fused with local solutions. Africa, surely, should not look the same as the rest of the world but nor should it be any one thing. Africa’s bright future should incorporate what is best about architecture and ensure that it delivers what is needed. There is call for sustainable rural development as well as high-end luxury residences with civic constructions that heed the warnings and mishaps from the West also crucial. ‘Good architecture’ doesn’t mean necessarily iconic architecture, though, with a whole continent undergoing vast urbanisation there is likely to be no shortage of that. The vast array of methods, materials and technologies available to architects today mean that new developments in sub-Saharan Africa, and the rest of the continent for that matter, simply must be built with the long term interests of the continent at their core. The old adage of architecture has never been more appropriate: development only leads to growth when done right.
‘Our Strength is Our Partnership’
RMJM’s unique proposition aligns perfectly with Africa’s vision. ‘Our Strength is Our Partnership’ underpins the RMJM ethos and the network it provides. The RMJM network consists of studios around the globe that work in unison. Each studio brings its own field of expertise to any given project meaning there isn’t one aspect from concept to delivery that RMJM is unable to deliver. From engineering to lead consultancy to development and facilities management, RMJM’s African studies are now able to offer the services a growing economy requires. RMJM’s commitment to international design, delivered locally means that the client is able to benefit from our network of partners. Indeed, it’s RMJM’s own network that has led to several lauded projects in the region. Designs such as the Hill Towers complex in Uganda’s capital Kampala City highlight the firm’s creative potential, while the Sheheena Apartments of Kenya’s second largest city Mombasa showcase the firm’s pioneering residential designs. As countries like Kenya continue their evolution, the opportunities and links it both provides and gains from the rest of the continent will be key to its future. RMJM is well placed to ensure that the success these countries experience isn’t fleeting.