Kenyan-born Andrew Kusewa Kilonzi has been overseeing the Nairobi office of Boogertman + Partners Architects since October 2012, along with South African Johann de Wet, both who are registered with the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS) in Kenya. The decision to open an office in Kenya was to provide this expanding and growing international market with the design skills and technical expertise that is synonymous with Boogertman + Partners Architects, and what started as a two man office has evolved into an award-winning medium-sized practice of 15 people.
Before he joined Boogertman, Kilonzi studied architecture in the United States at the University of Oregon, where he went to school for five years and received his Bachelor of Architecture, undertaking internships in San Francisco and Sacramento before moving back to Kenya in 2008. “Interestingly enough, many of the firms in the US where going through a period of strategic transition where they were finding alternative sources of income just before the real estate market crash,” notes Kilonzi. One of the biggest trends at the time was cross border practice with a lot of the clients from emerging markets, such as China, seeking design consultancy from US firms. “In many ways, this experience set me up for working at Boogertman – a collaborative practice,” he says.
Kilonzi and the practice have recently seen their efforts rewarded in the form of two awards. At the end of last year, he was announced as one of Kenya’s Top 40 Under 40, a competition run by the country’s biggest newspaper group, Business Daily, which highlights the young Kenyan ‘movers and shakers’. “I was appointed as a director when I was 33-years-old, have been busy setting up the practice and running projects and it eventually caught up with me,” laughs Kilonzi, though he did say it was an honour to be recognized for his work alongside other influential businessmen, film makers and athletes. The practice was also recently awarded the Architecture Firm of the Year 2017/2018 and the second runner-up in the Sustainability Award for the Two Rivers initial construction phase in the inaugural Construction and Real Estate Awards (CORE). The gala event was held on the 22nd of March at the Heron Portico Nairobi and honours companies in the construction and real estate sector whose products and services demonstrate excellence, innovation and sustainability. “We are not a practice which submits projects for many awards, so it was great to be recognised for our portfolio of completed work in Kenya,” says Kilonzi.
One of the factors which differentiates Boogertman + Partners Kenya from other local architects is the collaborative design process. “Our design approach is regional, we understand each local market and deliver architecture relative to the local site, social, cultural and environmental conditions, yet we are able to tap into the resources of a successful, international mothership in South Africa,” he says. As testament to their expertise, local architects are now approaching them to collaborate as design or architects-of-record on numerous projects. “This allows us to inform the design process, even though we are not the design lead, and is teaching us a new way of working – a collective plus.” The transfer of knowledge goes both ways as the Kenyan office is able to share their knowledge around regional designs and materials with the rest of the group who are working across countries such as Mozambique, Uganda and Tanzania. The firm has recently launched a research based design initiative, Future-Part, aimed at documenting and creating a database on different project typologies, a first of its kind in Africa.
The practice has flourished and despite seeing much of its work in the past five years coming from the retail and the commercial sectors, Kilonzi is a noticing a shift towards work in both the logistics fields and the residential market. “In Kenya, there is a multitude of agricultural produce which is being processed and exported. In addition, the biggest change in retail has also been the formalisation of the retail offerings, which has driven the need for logistics facilities. We have been working on over 150 000 sqm of logistics space as well as food production facilities for the different retail offerings which are coming to the market,” explains Kilonzi.
He further notes that the outlook for Kenya is very promising, and the last 10 years have seen unprecedented growth in terms of infrastructure. “The infrastructure spurs development and creates the need for better planned and designed communities, and, in effect, buildings. Another area I see potential growth in is the residential sector,” he says. “Kenya is seeing a large population growth in urban nodes, and there is a serious lack of residential offerings in the middle income and low income sector. Currently we are doing a number of student housing projects for private developers. In the future I see architecture tending to go towards sustainable design, and also just a general improvement of the architecture in Kenya which has generally had rushed developments over the last ten years.”
Challenges, however, are driven by the cost of land and building materials. “We work with a lot of clients who want an ‘iconic building’, although the tenants aren’t going to pay iconic building rentals, but our expertise allows us to get more projects off the ground than was previously the case. A lot of projects in Kenya die at concept because projects which are designed outside of Kenya often cannot be built here. This fact has led us to selecting and using construction materials and technologies in a different way rather than just what is generally accepted in the market and construction practice,” he says.
Favourite projects of Kilonzi’s include the Tatu City Education Village for Crawford International, which was a finalist in the Education: Built Project category in the World Architecture Festival 2018. The Tatu City Education Village is ADvTECH’s flagship entry and investment into education in Kenya and will be the first Crawford International typology. The parti diagram of classrooms and residences around an internal courtyard affirmed a new approach to education where nurturing and affirmation of identity become central attributes of the process. Micro and macro motor skill development overviewed in separate hierarchically smaller secure garden courts, affirm the generic derivation of the same parti which reflects surveillance as its core focus.
With Johann de Wet recently relocating back to South Africa, Kilonzi is quick to praise the role of his partner in helping to grow the Kenyan arm of Boogertman. ““Interestingly, when, Johann and I started the practice, he had lots of experience with logistics and Industrial projects. Now that he is moving back to South Africa we are seeing an influx of the projects where this experience comes in handy. It just goes to show that even if you have expertise in a certain field that may not be what the market in the region is in need of. So you shift your focus and move with the market,” he says. Appropriately, Jean Grobler has joined the Kenya Directorate to bring much needed urban design and masterplanning expertise which complements several interventions in urban planning that the firm is currently designing in Kenya. It is this flexibility, along with the expertise and backing of a successful international practice, which is sure to see further growth for Boogertman+Partners in the region – the collective plus.