Arch. Phillip Kungu

Arch. Phillip Kungu

Leadership by design.

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Arch. Phillip Kungu in his Nairobi office
Arch. Phillip Kungu in his Nairobi office

From the Common Wealth Association of Architects to the International Union of Architects, Architect Phillip Kungu has chaired numerous Boards, Juries and Associations within the built environment and beyond.  If you hang around him long enough, you’ll hear him fondly referred to as Mr. Chairman. It is a name that has commanded its innate growth due to his outstanding devotion to public service with dedication and total commitment. “I’ve dedicated my life to making a difference in the world and the places where I live. It is what propelled me into leadership from a very tender age.” He confirms. A trained Architect with over 30 years’ experience in the practice, Phillip has deep held values towards public service and the greater good in society. This is the story of Arch. Phillip Kungu.

Born and bred in Nairobi, the 60 year old Architect received all his education in the city. “I grew up in Nairobi. It is where I went to Primary and Secondary schools as well as University. It is also where I work from. I’ve lived in this city my entire life and this is why I’m very passionate about its welfare and development.” The current Nairobi City County Public Service Board Chair explains.

EDUCATION & CHILDHOOD

Phillip Kungu was born and brought up in Kenya’s Capital City, Nairobi in the late 50’s. He had a normal childhood and upbringing of peasant parents but who placed a high premium in education as the gateway to success in life. The family was privileged to live in Nairobi because his father worked for a European Hospital. His mother was allowed to live in the city courtesy of a ‘Kipande’ (pass) issued to her because her husband was employed by the colonialist. She would otherwise have never been allowed to live in the city.

Phillip was born at Pumwani Maternity Hospital, attended Mbagathi Road Primary (King George VIII) and Upper Hill (Delemare Boys) Schools before proceeding to Cardinal Otunga High School in Kisii. “My parents were very committed to our education given that theirs had been modest and therefore denied them many opportunities in life” he notes. From a very young age, Phillip was very clear about the things he wanted to do in life.  He was fascinated by aeroplanes in his childhood days and therefore harboured the dream of becoming a pilot. The fascination would later be replaced by ambitions to become a lawyer through the influence of his cousin, an outstanding legal scholar, the late Prof. H.W.O. Okoth-Ogendo. This has since been achieved through is daughter.  His journey into the Architectural profession began in earnest in high school. Highly gifted in arts as well as sciences, Phillip was quickly identified by one of his teachers in high school as a student with great potential for the Architectural profession and advised him to pursue it.

Upon passing his High School examinations, he was admitted to the University of Nairobi in 1977 to study Architecture. This was a great achievement in itself as it was one of the most competitive professional courses offered then.

“Although I had great interest in Law and other things, I chose to pursue Architecture and I have no regret in the choice I made” Kungu says.

“My education at the university largely influenced the person I am today. I was exposed to different people drawn from diverse backgrounds and cultures.  Most of the values I hold today were solidified during my college days in addition to my parents’ strong values and work ethic, inspite of their humble backgrounds. Phillip was to later pursue a Masters Degree in Architecture & Urban Design at the Helsinki University of Technology, Finland. Post Graduate studies in Architecture were rare and hard to come by in those days. The exposure to both local and international learning environments was very enriching.

“I received a very good education.” Phillip reminisces.

ENCOUNTER WITH ARCHITECTURE – THE EARLY DAYS

During his second year academic break at the University of Nairobi, Phillip had a chance of working with Buildings Department of the then Kenya Post and Telecommunications Corporations. “I thank Dr. Reuben Mutiso who was then the Chief Architect for the opportunity. He was instrumental in developing and mentoring many young architects, myself included.” he notes. An avid learner, Phillip involved himself with not only design but construction, planning and other aspects of the projects learning from anyone and everyone “You have to be humble and allow yourself to learn.” He advises.

Phillip also worked with Waweru & Associates during his 3rd year academic break and worked on the planning of Moi National Sports Complex at Kasarani. Upon graduating, he worked with several other practices as part of his apprenticeship including, AJ Odera & Associates, JD Nyaseme & Associates and the Architectural Department of the Ministry of Public Works. Around the same time, he was awarded a scholarship for a Masters Degree course at the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland.

The scholarship was rare and came with a difficult choice of either continuing with a career in Government service or resignation for greater opportunities and promise of the future. Phillip chose the latter and never looked back as his life was to prove later on.

A great scholar, Phillip was determined to pursue further studies not just for personal growth and development but so as to contribute to the academic world with the knowledge that he had acquired. Phillip returned to Kenya in 1986 and joined the Department of Architecture, University of Nairobi as a Lecturer. “Armed with my Masters knowledge and experience, I felt a deep desire to pass on what I had learnt to those who would come after me. It was a deliberate choice and the greatest motivating factor in this decision. Coming back to the university to teach and make my contribution was part of my plan all along.” Kungu asserts.

Most of the students Phillip taught are among the leading professionals in the industry and public life today. To name but a few; the Public Works PS, Arch. Mariamu El Maawy, NCA Executive Director, Arch. Daniel Manduku, NCA Chairperson, Arch. Steve Oundo and UoN Architecture Department Chair, Arch. Kimeu Musau, Arch. Erastus Abonyo among many others. “It’s humbling and very gratifying to see that most of the men and women who passed through my hands have made great achievements to this country and the profession. Some way better than myself and they still call me Mwalimu.” Phillip says with a chuckle.

You have to make society better than you found it and one way to do that is through education. Education, according to Phillip, has no value if it doesn’t improve one as a person, their character and perception of life.

Arch. Phillip Kungu during the interview with BuilDesign Magazine
Arch. Phillip Kungu during the interview with BuilDesign Magazine

PRACTICE

After 10 years of teaching at the University of Nairobi, Phillip together with his long term friend and colleague, Architect Nelson Otieno, decided to found their own practice, Otieno & Kungu Associates, in the year 1990. “I felt I had made my contribution to the academic world and it was time to move on to new challenges, all in line with the original plan. It was a difficult but necessary decision. I was leaving something I loved and enjoyed immensely but also was itching for the unchartered waters of professional practice to hopefully make a similar contribution.” He explains.

From a very humble beginning with a combined meagre capital of KES 10,000/- and borrowed furniture, Otieno and Kungu Associates was formed. Nelson and Phillip shared one vision of building a good Architectural practice that would give quality service and designs to a discerning clientele. The rest as they say, is history.

“Besides the fact that we’re both Architects, Nelson and I share very similar values and perspectives of life. We both lead fairly simple and uncomplicated lives by choice. To this day, we have never have had any major differences or a fall out. In fact, we’ve never had financial conflicts as is sometimes the case in some businesses.” Kungu notes. “It is also a complementary relationship that was painstakingly built over a long period of time. We bring different strengths to the partnership.” He adds. The many positions of leadership that he has held, Phillip is used to working in high pressure environments with strict delivery timelines. He is also very detailed, meticulous and pays great attention to details. This often requires quick thinking and decisiveness in one’s actions. Nelson on the other hand, is calm and very patient, an attribute that is difficult to find in this fast-moving world of today.

O & K Associates, as their firm is affectionately known, today boasts of many projects mostly in Kenya and a few more in neighbouring Tanzania and South Sudan.

Most of their firm’s projects include hotels, residential apartments, housing, offices and mixed-use developments for mostly private clients. They have also undertaken many interior design and Project Management jobs. Their most significant project to date is the new Tourism Fund Office Block along Valley Road in Nairobi. “It was clear from the beginning on the kind of firm that we intended to run. We wanted a medium office with great emphasis on the quality of service we offer our clients, and not a huge enterprise.” Phillip clarifies. “We’re happy to do what we love and offer our clients personalised attention. We have remained true to this objective and believe our clients have derived satisfaction from our service” He adds.

Their busy schedules outside the practice have also influenced this arrangement. “I travel a lot due to my Public Service duties; accreditation, study visits, conferences and workshops.” I am still on the CAA panel of experts who conduct validation Visits to Schools of Architecture in Africa” he explains. Phillip has visited many schools in West and South Africa on such missions over the last two decades.

Another important ingredient of the practice is apprenticeship and mentoring of young Architects whether during their studies or soon after graduation. This is a commitment that O & K that has carried out with unprecedented dedication since its founding. “Most of my students have worked in my office before setting out to pursue their own careers. We have a very good team of young employees who we mentor and work with. We let them figure and explore themselves which makes me very happy. Their success and personal achievements is a living testimony that we have not labored in vain. I applaud them. For me, that’s the greatest contribution that I have made to the profession – to see young people grow out of a very humble and small office to men and women of great service to the profession and nation.” He asserts.

PROFESSIONAL LIFE, DEVELOPMENT & LEADERSHIP

“I’m driven by the ambition to succeed, never the fear of failure.” Phillip shares, adding that good balance in life and strong positive values remain primary sources of his inspiration.

By virtue of mentorship and training, most of his university lecturers and early employers continue to inspire his work ethic to date; the late Prof. Kurula Varkey,  Architect Jim Archer, who instilled a strong will in him to pursue Architecture to the end no matter the odds, Prof. Eric Meffert and Bruce Krieger – his 5th year personal tutor are among his teachers whom he greatly admires.  The late Prof. Arne Nevalinna who made it possible for him to pursue his Masters in Finland. “I’m deeply indebted to Arch. Phillip Sika who held my hand when I joined the Ministry of Works as an Assistant Architect and taught me everything I learnt about project contracts administration and building construction.” Kungu adds. More closely, Phillip associates his strict work ethic and strong personal values with his father, who raised them to deeply value and appreciate discipline and education as the gateway to success in life.

Phillip is also inspired by other great personalities in history whose contributions have had lasting impact on his thinking and worldview. These include Mahtma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Malcom X among others.

One may be tempted to ask “where does he get the time to do all this?

 “I live a much fulfilled life; I go to church, I play golf and I spend time with my family. I’ve learnt that the only thing that stands between you and all these is time. I am a stickler for keeping time. I ensure that my time is very well planned in my daily routine. It has become a way of life for me so that there is a very good balance between my practice, public service office and my family.” An overly busy schedule has helped Phillip to adapt a very organized lifestyle. “To develop a great work ethic, you have to stay focused. I also tend to enjoy a little bit of everything bringing the necessary balance that everyone is looking for. Any failures I have encountered only reminds me that after all, I’m only human. ” He says.

Architect Kungu’s professional life has followed the normal script of many before him but what distinguishes it from the rest, is his unending desire to make a difference in everything that he does or people he meets. This has also been complimented by rare opportunities to fulfill this ambition. This can be explained by the old adage that” the teacher will appear when the student is ready”

In the Architectural Association of Kenya, Phillip took a keen and early interest in professional practice matters and served in many taskforces committees and boards of the Association. His exceptional organizational skills saw him host a very successful international conference for the Commonwealth Association of Architects in 1997 in Mombasa, Kenya. This event brought international speakers, academicians and professional Architects from all corners of the world. This would prove to be a turning point in his life as an Architect and involvement with CAA in particular.

As a Governing Council Member of the Architectural Association of Kenya, Phillip also spearheaded a taskforce to review the structure and membership of the Architectural Association of Kenya and how it could respond to the clamour for change and transformation without causing rifts and internal divisions among its members. The taskforce was fondly referred to as the ‘Kungu Commission’. Its report led to significant reforms that has seen unprecedented growth and development of AAK ,positioning it as an important voice and vehicle  for the professionals in engagement with  the authorities, building industry both locally and in the East African Region.

Architect Kungu’s talent, organizational ability and dedication to the profession saw him play many leading roles from being a Jury Member in many international and local Architectural Competitions, Validation Visits to many Schools of Architecture in the continent, Advisor to many Government Parastatals and Speaker at many conferences, workshops and seminars. This would later help him build a wide network of individuals and organisations, acquire necessary leadership skills that would see him rise to become the 13th President of the Commonwealth Association of Architects between 2000 – 2003 and only the second black man from Africa to do so.

This again, would prove to be very challenging as it was at the same time that the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and their counterparts in Australia (RAIA) were reviewing their continued membership of CAA in preference to their own internal interests. This was going to have far reaching implications on plans and programs and threatened to tear CAA apart. Architect Kungu with the support of other members mainly drawn from Africa and Asia were able to steer the ship through the troubled waters and both organisations remained as members and are still very active to date. “This was perhaps the most challenging moment in my life as a leader” Phillip recalls.

This and many similar undertakings would earn him great admiration and respect culminating in him being bestowed the great honour of Fellow of the Architectural Association of Kenya (FAAK) in 2000 amongst four other colleagues. This was in recognition of his outstanding service and contribution to the Architectural Profession in Kenya and “to date remains my most treasured achievement”. Architect Kungu was among the Founder Members of this new category of Membership in AAK. Several others have since been conferred with the same recognition.

Significantly, Phillip was also a recipient of the US Government International Visitor Program Award in the year 2000 courtesy of a nomination by the US Embassy Kenya. The award is given based on exemplary performance and significant contribution, as an opinion shaper and leadership influencer in their field of endeavour and his case it was  the Architectural profession. This included a 4-week tour of universities, State Departments, World Bank, American Institute of Architects (AIA) many professional organizations and business enterprises in the US.  Architect Kungu, with this award, became an international Alumni of previous recipients that included former President Daniel Arap Moi who received the same award during his time as the Vice- President of Kenya.

Phillip, despite many other commitments and busy schedules, is currently serving as a Trustee of the East African Institute of Architects and whose main objective is the furtherance and development of students of Architecture in the region by supporting them in many programmes and initiatives.

All the above experiences have greatly influence and shaped Phillip’s view and perception of not only his profession but of life and the world too. This explains the friendship, respect and huge network of friends and colleagues of his to be found literally in every corner of this globe until today

PUBLIC SERVICE AND LEADERSHIP

“The issue of leadership is important because even as a country, we can only grow and transform society through the right leadership and values.  Leadership cannot be seen in the narrow prism of only politics and business but the qualities of a better society. We need men and women of strong convictions and character and integrity that can change and transform society for the better. The ‘self’ in all of us needs to take a back seat in order to aspire for higher ideals. Leadership is a challenging journey with many twists and turns.” Kungu states. “Willingness and the ability to serve is what allows for leadership to grow in an individual.” He adds.

A born leader, Phillip has served in countless positions in his life. He has served as Chairman Muthaiga Golf Club, former acting Chair of the Interim Oversight Board for the Nairobi City Council from the year 2000 – 2003. He has also served as former Chair of the Practice Committee of the Commonwealth Association of Architects, and International Union of Architects (UIA) Council Member AAK, Competitions Jury member, former acting Chairman of the Department of Architecture at the University of Nairobi. He has also served as Secretary of a leading football club in addition to being Chairman and Committee member of many non-governmental and CBOs among many others.

The servant leader is currently the Chairperson of the Nairobi City County Public Service Board and also Chairman of the Forum that brings together all the 47 County Public Service Boards in Kenya. Phillip was appointed to the position in the year 2013 vide the new Constitution of Kenya 2010 that saw the creation of County Governments.  “Although my role as the Chair of the Board is to provide Strategic Leadership and Vision, I’ve applied myself to the task by learning about Human Resource Management through books, workshops and seminars.” Phillip explains. Highlights of his tenure so far, which ends in 2019, to include setting of systems and structures in place for a cohesive Human Resource function in Nairobi City County against a backdrop of over 40 years of neglect, weak or no systems at all.  This has been very challenging. “I’m glad that so far we’ve set the right foundation and by the time we leave we’ll have a fully streamlined system. As a board, we’re very committed to National Values and Principles as enshrined in our new Constitution which requires regional representation, fairness and justice, gender balance and the rights of the marginalized, minorities and handicapped persons in employment opportunities. I’m glad to have this opportunity to make a difference in Nairobi the city in which I was born and brought up.” He adds.

A great philanthropist, Phillip is a member of several charitable and community welfare organizations. On a personal level, he has supported special educational and medical projects for a number of deserving cases. “I have educated several orphans. “My God is rich and I am generous” he quips!

THE BUILDING INDUSTRY – WHERE IS IT HEADED?

“The profession has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of quality and standards; we have highly skilled local professionals both in the private and public sector as well as academics. The demand of Architectural services has also increased and diversified now that we have specialization. The Schools of Architecture have also grown in number producing more Architects than ever before. The industry has similarly experienced great growth and development. Changes in our government systems and relationships with development partners has seen entry of new players in the industry with amazing capacity and influence to take on jobs of unprecedented complexities and size.

As we celebrate 50 years of the Architectural Association of Kenya, it is important to note that growth should also be well managed in order to serve the purpose and objectives that we still hope to achieve in the future.

Moving forward, we need a more enabling business environment. We have to leverage technology to do business bigger, better and more efficiently. Our government should negotiate more favorable trading conditions with other countries for more efficient relationships with foreign consultants. The right constitutional and political framework must also exist so that people can pursue their dreams professionally. The right regulatory framework must also exist to encourage innovation and enable practices to thrive. It must also demand very high standards of practice and ethics so that there is no room for mediocrity or want in professional service delivery. We must not agree to be treated as junior partners in projects but assert ourselves through exemplary work and professionalism in our projects. We’re qualified consultants and our involvement in projects should not be a token but based on our ability and capacity to handle such work.

Despite all the political, economic and social challenges we face as a nation, we must raise our game in areas of good governance, integrity, and efficient service delivery to remain relevant in an ever increasingly competitive world. Everyone is competing everywhere with everybody for everything. That’s today’s world. The world of the future will be looking for multi-skilled persons performing multi-tasks. We must re-invent ourselves if we are to survive.” Phillip implores.

ON FUTURE PLANS AND ADVICE

“As for the firm, we hope that the name ‘Otieno & Kungu’ will outlast us. It is our hope that those who will inherit this partnership will still subscribe to the values as we hold.  On a personal level, when I leave the practice, I want to pursue things in life that I never had a chance to do. Things that are more fulfilling and will bring joy to the soul. The only thing that is left when you have forgotten everything you have learned in life is education. I’ll still serve in different levels, mostly by writing books to share my stories and life experiences. If everything else were to be taken from me, the only thing I would be left with would be the experience and wisdom I’ve acquired in life. I can assure you I will have plenty of that.” He summarizes.

We all live in pursuit of happiness and personal fulfilment. We search far and wide. It comes in many ways and forms as you go through life. True happiness and joy can only be achieved when the soul is at peace with itself and its Maker. “Whatever you do in life always seek the greater good. Be well grounded spiritually. A closer relationship with our Maker and fellow man is the ultimate fulfillment. Seek peace with God, fellow man and the world also. As a strong believer in the Christian faith, I have drawn great inspiration and strength in my leadership roles from the story of Prophet Moses in the Bible. I strongly believe that things don’t happen by chance, it is always for the Greater Good and purpose. We only have to find it in this wonderful journey called life.” Phillip concludes.

Phillip is a husband to a wife and father to a son who is a Public Policy Analyst and a daughter who is a Lawyer. He continues to live and work in Nairobi City where he was born, brought up and educated.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Am David KAGWI I was a student in Nairobi Institute of Technology which was founded by WAWERU associates and I would wish to meet Arch Kungu

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