The ultra-modern debating facility at the Kenya Parliament Buildings has cost the taxpayer about 920 million shillings and was renovated in three years.
The major task in the refurbishment was to infuse modern technology and the trappings of the information age to the present chambers. This was to be done in a way that preserves the nostalgia that the Kenyan parliament inspires in those who served in the past.
The challenge was to ensure improvement of natural lighting, internal climate, voting comforts, acoustics and considerations for the physically challenged while maintaining its historical symbolism and appearance.
This whole project was however marred by the controversy behind the price of the seats that were installed in the chambers. Media reports quoted figures ranging between Kshs 200,000 to Kshs 500,000 per seat, a figure that was so infamous and noted to be insensitive to the economic conditions in the country.
During the opening of the seat of the Kenyan National Assembly, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president said, “This parliament represents our republic and the republic is the people.” The refurbishment and modernization provided an opportunity to reinterpret Kenyatta’s statement.
The main objectives of the refurbishment were to accommodate increase in number of MPs; install radio/TV broadcasting facilities, CCTV systems, electronic voting system and telecommunication systems; improve acoustics and lighting and update interior décor to reflect contemporary standards.
The rectangular block seating arrangement in the chambers was outdated. The benches were bulky and occupied large amounts of spaces. Additionally, the seats lacked desk tops for note taking during parliament sessions.
The colour scheme and interior décor was not well coordinated and looked dull to aging with time. Electrical and mechanical systems were outdated and inefficient. Fire fighting systems were inadequate.
The new design proposed a spacious chamber providing sufficient space for individual MPs. Generous circulation spaces were allowed for and easy sightlines were achieved across and along the chambers. Emergency escape routes were also punched in major sidewalls.
Traditionally, parliaments are made up of two distinct opposing sides who normally sit on opposite sides of the chamber. Such an arrangement is often associated with incessant squabbles and heated arguments in parliament. A horseshoe layout was implemented to foster cooperation between the two opposing sides.
Benches were used in the older chambers to ensure close interaction of MPs. This however did not define personal space. The current arrangement has individual seats for the MPs which are clustered in groups of six separated by an aisle for ease of access.
The seats have desktops which can be retracted into the workstations. These seats, which have been fastened sturdily into the floor, have been fabricated from high density reinforced polycarbonate cushion clad in subtly coloured leather.
Views along and across the chamber have been enhanced. Natural air circulation has also been improved by increasing the interior volume through sinking the floor. This has reduced the need for air conditioning.
The chamber floor is clad in high quality carpet in a blend of organic wool fibre and acrylic for durability and fire resistance. The walls are sound proofed and upholstered in acoustic padding that complements the interior décor.
The general arrangement and fittings have responded well to the user’s needs by increasing the comfort levels, improving accessibility even to the disabled and addition of technology aids. There is a big screen display that will show interpreters for MPs with impaired hearing or speech.
Authentic Kenyan décor, artifacts and cultural materials have been selected and displayed in an effort to improve interior aesthetics. This has showcased local craftsmanship using timber, tapestry, metal and other materials.
- Architect – K & M Archplans
- Quantity Surveyor – Ooro Sanya & Associates
- Civil/Structural Engineer – Gath Consulting Engineers
- Electrical & Multimedia Consultants – Feradon
- Mechanical Consultants – Geomax Consulting Engineers
- Artist – Kahare Miano
- Main Contractor – EPCO Builders