Tracing the story behind the Kigali Convention Complex

“Dear KCC (Kigali Convention Center) leaders, I work in the events and trade show industry and I am interested in touring your Kigali Convention Center. I will be in Rwanda July 25 through August 12. I will be working with a female leadership and education effort. I would also like to connect with the leadership of the KCC. Please let me know a couple options to tour this center.”
The Magnificent Kigali Convention Center is expected to be completed in July. (File)
The Magnificent Kigali Convention Center is expected to be completed in July. (File)

“Dear KCC(Kigali Convention Center) leaders, I work in the events and trade show industry and I am interested in touring your Kigali Convention Center. I will be in Rwanda July 25 through August 12. I will be working with a female leadership and education effort. I would also like to connect with the leadership of the KCC. Please let me know a couple options to tour this center.”

This and other such pleas and requests have been flooding the video streaming platform, Youtube since a marketing video for the soon-to-be-opened Kigali Convention Center was uploaded in July 2014.

In the ten-minute clip, architects, planners and project developers present their overall vision for the ambitious project.

Perhaps the only aspect of the center that this short but comprehensive video clip does not address is the plea in the opening sentence: apparently the entire world wants a piece of the Convention Center magic –some are just not so sure how to go about it, yet.

In 2009, a Chinese construction firm –the Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) was entrusted to implement the German-designed blueprint for the project.

But the opening, which was initially scheduled for 2011 had to be postponed several times.

This led to discrepancies between the Rwandan building contractor and the Chinese construction firm, prompting re-allocation of the project to Summa, a Turkish Engineering firm.

Roland Dieterle, a German architect had come up with the breath-taking design for the project, way back in 2004.

Like many of his European compatriots, Dieterle would have had difficulties locating Rwanda on a map before his involvement in the project.

One day, while working as a chief architect for Siemens, the largest engineering company in Europe, he attended an event in Dubai at which a Rwandan participant he met there expressed interest in Dieterle’s architectural work.

Shortly thereafter, the Rwandan Embassy in Germany facilitated his air travel to Rwanda. The task at hand was for Dieterle to explore the country to develop some concrete ideas for several construction projects, including the construction of two hotels on Lake Kivu.

During the course of his trip, he also had the privilege of meeting with President Paul Kagame, an experience he talks at length about in the marketing video for the Convention Center:

“I noticed to be talking to a very bright and intelligent person, and somebody not just talking but also listening, and I was really surprised that he was not just telling me what is in his vision but he was really curious to learn from me how I perceive the country and the opportunities for the country,” Dieterle revealed.

“Of course he told me about where the country is, what has been the past, and what the challenges for the future are, and the challenges of the present time. He explained to me in detail about his vision for the country’s Vision 2020 to end this transition from an agricultural country to a service country of the 21st century.”

It was perfect timing for a man that was in the process of establishing his own architectural firm, Spacial Solutions, based in Munich, in his native Germany.

Dieterle admits that he knew little-to-nothing about the country before he came here;

“It was the first time, and honestly speaking I was totally, totally surprised in a very positive way because it’s such a wonderful nice country and you see the landscape, you see so many things which you didn’t automatically associate with Africa. It’s totally different than what people normally know of Africa, and particularly about Rwanda. It’s a totally different country in comparison to what normally the media tell us about.”

Why the colorful facade?

“The colors is also something we found in the country, like people are wearing clothes, also buildings are wearing an envelope like cloth, and our idea was to translate the tradition of how to wear clothes, particularly female dressing into the building.

And we believe after the sad story of the country, we believe that bringing fresh colors, bright colors and also something which is delightful to people is something that is positive for the new identity of Rwanda.”

The concept:

“First of all we developed the scheme which we believe is not just an import of ideas from outside like we see in many buildings and urban developments in Africa, but we had a phase of very intense investigation of the art and crafts here, how is the architecture, the climate –all these things had to be investigated by us and we derived the concept out of those findings,” Dieterle further revealed, adding that the dome structure of the Convention Center is the most important and significant element of the project.

“Honestly speaking it is also the most complex part of this project, and people immediately understood why we did this –there is a tradition of round buildings in the country, particularly the rebuilt King’s Palace which is also a dome-shaped building. Of course it’s not just blowing up the same architecture, it’s our own language which we developed, but people immediately understand that this is something which has to do with their own tradition.”

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The Kigali Convention center beams with Rwandan national flag colours at night. (T. Kisambira)

A one-stop center for the world:

The Kigali Convention Complex is designed to hold up to 2600 visitors, and has an adjoining five-star hotel, the Rwanda Kigali Convention Hotel. 

The main event venues are situated under a transparent dome that was inspired by traditional Rwandan hut construction.

The heart of the convention center is the dome and its arena. The hall provides space, atmosphere, technology, and catering facilities for events of all kinds and sizes –concerts, conventions –for health, finance, or economy, regional and international summits, sports events, 3D cinema, film festivals, exhibitions and trade fares, official receptions, or private events like weddings.

Put another way, the convention center is open for everything and for everyone.

“When I came to Kigali and was asked to make a design for the convention center I went around Kigali and I saw that there’s no real center in the town, and also there’s not a real land mark building. So immediately the idea came up to make a design which is also a landmark building for the city,” Dieterle further explains the inspiration for the striking dome structure.

“It was very interesting for me to find the theme for this design here in Rwanda.”

With its unusual architecture, the architect believes that the new convention center is a reflection of an up-and-coming country - a success symbol for investors and organizers alike.

And thanks to the country’s reputation for security and a functional public infrastructure, the most important and high profile conventions of the African continent may have found a new forum here.

Integrated into the convention center complex are; an ultra modern office park, a new retail center, the Rwanda Experience Center, and one of the best hotels in the whole of Central Africa –the Rwanda Kigali Convention Hotel. Luxury, class, and a perfect location make the 5-star hotel a top destination and a popular meeting place for business travelers, tourists, convention center visitors, and residents alike.

The complex’s centerpiece is the multipurpose hall in the arena beneath the towering dome. It holds enough space for a variety of events, ranging from summit events with 100 participants to a pop concert with 2.600 people.

The amenities on offer are literally endless; the courtyard with a large swimming pool, wooden decks, palm trees and a bar, all of which accentuate an aura of relaxation and recreation right in the midst of Kigali’s main business district.

The courtyard is meticulously terraced, reflecting the typical landscape patterns of Rwanda. These terraces are planted with typical flowers, which bloom in colors yellow to red.

Then there is the Rwanda Experience Center, located in the basement floors of the IT-Park and sharing the Courtyard with the Convention Centre. It offers an intriguing journey through the culture and the beauty of the country.

It shows the historical development as well as the actual and prospective progression of the country. Its extensive exhibition space is a showcase of  the myriad exciting stories about Rwanda.

Here, one will find installations based on a diverse mix of authentic exhibits; photographs, large-scale graphics, documentary films, explanatory animations, and interactive applications.

“During my first visit to Rwanda, His Excellency the president asked me to visit the National Museum in Butare, so I got the opportunity to learn about the traditional roots and fascinating culture of the country – a chance which most visitors don’t have. This gave us the idea to integrate an innovative exhibition facility into this complex in Kigali –the Rwanda Experience Center was born,” Dieterle explained.

Earlier, critics from Germany and Europe had accused him of importing an overly luxurious (and expensive) engineering concept to a country that is only rising from the ashes of political and economic ruin.

But Dieterle believes that the Kigali Convention Complex is a perfect model for sustainable urban development in Africa:

‘In practice it is not realistic for a country to develop itself from the grassroots level to the high-tech level’, Dieterle retorts, adding:

“‘It needs landmark projects that demonstrate Rwanda’s success in order to reach an international level, as well as to show highly educated Rwandans that they can be optimistic about finding perspectives in their own country.” 

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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