Aleem Manji Architects (AMA-Kenya) was founded in December 2010 as a sole proprietorship by Aleem Manji after working for five years at Studio Infinity Architects. The practice started off with a small office consisting of the Principal architect and two assistants on the back of a single project: Casilda, four townhouses in Nairobi. Seven years later, the practice now consists of the Principal Architect, five Project Architects, one Project Manager and an Architectural Visualizer as well as support staff. They are currently handling a portfolio of projects in excess of US$ 100 000 000, consisting of residential apartment developments, commercial buildings as well as interior fit-out designs.
The Nairobi-based practice recently scooped two awards at the prestigious Africa & Arabia Awards as part of the International Property Awards which were handed out on September 7, 2017, at a glittering ceremony at the JW Marriot Marquis Hotel in Dubai. AMA-Kenya walked away with two awards at the Africa & Arabia Property Awards for a pair of projects which are currently under construction in Nairobi; in the Commercial High-rise Architecture category for The Elegance, and the Residential High-rise Architecture category for Rumaisa. Another project which they designed, Crystal Edge, won an award for Globe Developers in the Best Apartments category, while in the final awards of the evening, both Crystal Edge and Rumaisa were recognised with 5 Star awards, the top honours at the event.
Aleem Manji was born and raised in Nairobi, and although he was not acutely aware of the architecture around him as he grew up, he notes that it was in his teenage years when he became a little more aware of spaces and forms, some of which were appealing to him and some a little less so. After pursuing architecture as a career, he graduated from the University of Nairobi in 2005 where he qualified with a B.Arch (first class honours).
Hitting the ground running
The first completed project by AMA-Kenya, Casilda, consists of four big houses in the Kyuna area of Nairobi. When Manji looks back on it, two parallel thoughts come to mind: “In terms of the architecture, it still gives me an immense sense of happiness that some of the principles I hold dear to date regarding architecture, such as the use of interpenetrating spaces, fractured facades and exceptional quality of indoor light through the day, were present even then in the embryonic stages of the firm,” he says. In terms of architecture as a business, he admits that he is constantly surprised at the risk he took in setting up his own firm on the back of the one project. “It seems like a fairly small step, but in reality, in this field and market, it could have gone pear shaped fairly quickly, and that would have meant going back to employment, something that I feel I’m patently unsuited to!” he laughs. He recalls working on the project with his ‘office’ being a small desk in the corner of his bedroom, taking meetings at the nearest coffee shop. “Casilda always reminds me of how it’s possible to build a foundation, as long as you’re willing to work really hard, be diligent, and above all, have a burning passion for what you do, and what you want to do.”
When talking of his architectural influences, he notes that he has always been an admirer of the works of Richard Meier. “I love his use of clean, bold lines and large swathes of glass. I feel his designs have a certain purity of thought and clarity of vision.” Although he is hesitant to compare his practices’ output of work to Meier’s, studying his designs gave him the freedom to start considering how things are built in Kenya, and how it could be subtly different.” Additionally, it allowed me to start looking critically at the prevalent typologies, and understand that the envelope we create for spaces doesn’t necessarily have to conform to traditional accepted norms. Thinking outside the box, to improve what’s in the box, as it were,” he explains.
Although he notes that it isn’t straightforward summarising the practice’s design philosophy, in principle he has always believed that form follows function: the building itself is just an envelope for space. “The spaces need to work first before the envelope can be considered. In terms of the envelope, I believe in expression: this comes either by way of designing the form of the façade (examples of which are our Cascades and Solitaire projects), or fracturing the facades in terms of pushing forward and/or pulling back fractions of the facades to provide an element of design, coupled with the use of different material palettes for each of the fractures (a good example of this is the Landmark Centre),” he says. In some instances, however, they have used both techniques, in the Crystal Edge project, for example.
“We have set up ourselves up extremely well thus far in terms of apartment design, where we’d like to think we are one of the most prolific firms in the country in terms of providing unique and iconic apartment designs. What we would like to work towards in the future, however, while still focusing on providing great apartment solutions, is to venture into commercial and institutional architecture, such as office towers, schools, museums, hotels etc.
Although having travelled extensively, Nairobi remains, undoubtedly, his favourite city. “It’s the only city whose skyline is moulded by me, albeit in a small way,” he says with a smile. And while the current state of the construction industry in Kenya has been rather lean this year, he is hopeful for the future. “It has been a tough year, mostly due to the elections as well as the capping of interest rates, but hopefully the industry will be revived once the presidential election is completed.”
The future of African architecture
He sees the innovative use of materials, specifically external façade solutions, at times fairly intricate while at the same time simple, as one of the defining elements of African architecture which inspires him. “A lot of African architecture is a response to a myriad of influences: cultural, environmental and technological, which has led to a vast array of archetypical forms and volumes attesting to the variety and ingenuity of African architecture. African architecture, in my opinion, is a reflection of the African people: unique, filled with character, bold and mostly pleasantly surprising.”
In the foreseeable future, he feels that the biggest challenge facing African Architecture is going to be its adaptability with modern construction techniques and requirements. “We are already witnessing some architects on the African continent attempting to blend elements of African heritage in their modern design, a quasi-neo-African architecture. I feel this will probably lead to some exciting, dynamic and bold developments in the next decade that will hopefully be the face of a continent awakening itself to its potential, and, while unique, still able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the architecture of any other continent.” With a solid understanding of design, and the recent recognition of the architectural world behind them, Aleem Manji Architects are in a position to not only change the skyline of Nairobi, but also raise the profile of African architecture around the world.
AMA-Kenya is a Registered Architectural Firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. Founded in 2010, the firm undertakes full-scope services in Architectural Design as well as Interiors. Founded on the basic premise of great design, great service, the firm provides innovative designs matched with exceptional service.
For more information, visit www.ama-kenya.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +25472278820