From humble beginnings at a corner of a lounge in a shared apartment in Kileleshwa to the space under the staircase of another apartment in Milimani, in which one of the partners stayed with his family, Morphosis Ltd now boasts of a small but tastefully furnished office where they operate from.
Their modest staff team; four architects – three of whom are the partners, two interior designers, two architectural assistants, IT specialist and an administrator are no match for their biggest achievement of having won all design competitions they have participated in.
The script is all the same, they are invited to participate, they submit their proposal, and they win. “How do you do it?” I asked Yasir, one of the partners at the firm. “In all competitions, we keep I mind our core value which is to remain true to architecture.”
Morphosis Ltd was registered in May 2005 by the founder partners, Leonard Mcharo and Yasir Brek who had a long history dating back to their student years at the University of Nairobi.
They were in the same class, both were passionate about architecture, shared a studio bay and at some point, they were both elected architecture student representatives.
Their third partner, Adnan Mwakulomba, who the other two say he was their mentor, joined them later in 2008. “He used to come in every time we had a project to work on and needed a third opinion,” Says Mcharo, the other partner. He continues, “Sometimes in 2008, we asked him to join us and fully become part of the team, he agreed.”
The beginning was not all rosy, with a start up firm that had no projects, bills to pay every end month and young architects straight from employment without a clear direction on how to venture into architectural practice, a sense of confusion and lack of focus could be noted from the projects the undertook then.
This saw the partners engage in all manner of projects as architects and contractors. Yasir notes that this was a major challenge, “It was very difficult to balance between an architect’s desire for quality and a contractor’s urge to make a profit. The meeting point was nonexistent.” It was towards the end of 2006 when they realized that this was not what they wanted to engage in. They made a decision to practice architecture.
Their big break came in 2007 when the Jamia Mosque committee invited them for a competition to develop a 5 acre piece of land located at the Globe Cinema roundabout. The client was high profile and the site prime. As expected, all the ‘big boys’ in the industry showed interest in taking part in the competition. It therefore came as a surprise when Morphosis Ltd emerged winners.
While they were issued with a notification letter and paid the prize money for the winner, Morphosis Ltd were declared ‘too small’ and the job awarded to the first runners up, who was one of the more established firms.
The experience was both demoralizing while at the same time encouraging, that after putting in effort and emerging winners, they still could not get the job. However, having beaten some of the biggest and most established firms in Kenya, they got all the assurance that they required that they too cannot be ignored.
What followed thereafter was a positive stint in practice that saw them win all the other competitions that they participated in.
Notable among these was the proposal to develop a 4 acre plot of land for Red Cross in South C. The firm’s radical proposal had a cost estimate that was more than double that of other participants. They however stood out with their unique design and a financial proposal of how the developers would break even despite the huge investment required.
The result is what will be the five star Red Court Hotel which is bound to change hotel accommodation within the South of Nairobi.
The most recent competition they won was for developing a commercial office building for First Community bank along Lenana Road.
Their key strategy for the future, the partners say, is to grow the firm and increase its capacity. They say that they will always remain true to architecture.