Searching for the new face of Kigali’s architecture

THE CITY of Kigali is growing by the day with all the prerequisite challenges. Currently its ‘informal sector’ (which house the less wealthy members of our society) is slowly being replaced with ’formal sector’ buildings that can be described as more ‘modern.’ How these changes will affect daily life is something that hasn’t been fully examined. That is, until now.
Guillaume Sardin with his students in the field.
Guillaume Sardin with his students in the field.

THE CITY of Kigali is growing by the day with all the prerequisite challenges. Currently its ‘informal sector’ (which house the less wealthy members of our society) is slowly being replaced with ’formal sector’ buildings that can be described as more ‘modern.’ How these changes will affect daily life is something that hasn’t been fully examined. That is, until now.

A team of researchers believe that Rwanda can have its own form of urban design with both sectors co-existing and collaborating. 

Learning from Kigali Project 

Learning from Kigali, a three-week research project by the George Periclès think tank and sponsored by Turkish Airlines, was composed of a team of architects and students of architecture from Rwanda and Europe. Fifteen students and a lecturer from Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Department of Architecture, are also part of the team. 

Guillaume Sardin, the 26-year-old architect and project leader, says the project, which started on May  15, and ended on June 5, was meant to create a Rwanda-based research project about Kigali, focusing on formal and informal development.

“Our aim is to witness, record and analyse the lives of the people in Kagugu, the public spaces they have created, the interiors they have designed, the shops they are using, the path they have created and the resulting social interactions. We wanted to study how they design spaces in this neighbourhood and shape the lives of its residents.”

“At the fringe of the sprawling patchwork that is Kigali, lays Kagugu, a distinctive neighbourhood. Eight years ago it was an overgrown forest. Today, Kagugu is a mix of mansions and suburban development,” he said.

Sardin also said that they chose Kagugu, a suburb at the edge of the city, as their research area because the neighbourhood perfectly demonstrates what is happening in Kigali.

Olga Buranga, a third year architecture student at KIST says this project has taught her a lot and gives architects a lot of guidelines for the future. 

“Yes, we are supposed to plan these urban settlements according to the Kigali City Master Plan. An example is shortcuts that would otherwise save people from walking a kilometre or more yet they are going to places just metres away,” she said. 

She added that even with new developments and plans, people’s lives are supposed to be made easy and this isn’t something they can learn from developed countries but from the way Rwandans have been living.  

Finding a Rwandan style of living  

The research also developed a City Use Map; which shows the daily life of the people, the main areas they go to and basically their general movement. 

Eric Mutabazi Kayijuka, a third-year student at KIST, says the City Use Map of middle and low-income earners shows that most people do all their activities around their home area and leave the place less than five times a month.

Janvier Niyigena, a technician and a resident of Kagugu, agrees. He says his activities revolve around the neigbourhood. 

“We hear of the Kigali City Master Plan and we understand all these small homes and shops will be wiped away. But then, these are the same shops where all these people in big mansions come to buy their needs. We make life easy for them,” he said. 

Niyigena added that he can’t afford the rent of the big houses that the Master Plan suggests but if there is a way to plan then he will welcome it. 

Some of the solutions that the research found

Mutabazi says that the research found out that there was a great relationship between the informal and formal sector.

“As future architects, it’s up to us to design the city in a way that is comfortable for the residents. Instead of having one big building with huge amounts of space, we need to construct buildings with multiple small spaces to make it easier for everyone to actually be a part of the growing infrastructure without losing businesses,” he said. 

Mutabazi added that these small shops get more money than the big ones because of the number of customers they get. 

What does the future of Kigali housing look like?

As Kigali’s population increases, affordable housing is quickly becoming harder to come by.  According to a recent report by City authorities, Kigali needs at least 344,068 new housing units over the next ten years to accommodate the rapidly growing population. 
With an annual population growth rate of 5.7 per cent, the City Council projects the population to rise from the current 1.1 million to two million by 2022.

Parallel to the research, Sardin is developing an affordable housing project named ‘New Rugo’. Urugo means ‘home’ in Kinyarwanda. 

He says the New Rugo seeks to establish a link between the values of Rwanda’s pre-colonial (community, adaptability) and modern typology. 

“New Rugo is an affordable housing project developed in response to the need of decent living conditions for the people. We believe that planning has to respond to current needs and also be relevant for a wealthier and more developed Africa. That’s why affordable housing for the poorest has to be able to evolve as comfort standards evolve too. The project integrates the quality of traditional housing,” he said.

 

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