The BOMA Nairobi

The BOMA Nairobi

Class and Elegance for Charity

  • Architects – Morphosis Ltd
  • Quantity Surveyor – Northwind Consulting Ltd
  • M & E – Serv Consult
  • C & S – Metrix Consultants

Boma Nairobi NightviewSince 1965, when the Kenya Red Cross Society Act of 1965, Cap 256 of the Laws of Kenya legally transformed the Kenyan branch of the British Red Cross into the Kenya Red Cross Society, the organization has remained the biggest player in humanitarian activities in Kenya. Mandated with the responsibility of assisting the government with humanitarian relief work in times of peace, conflict and during natural disasters such as drought, famine and floods, KRCS has continually carried its invaluable work in a country that has truly seen more than its fair share of all manner of such incidences.

KRCS has always relied, one hundred percent, on charitable contributions. However, in 2008, the organization sought to acquire new and sustainable source of income hence opening the Red Court Hotel. The venture was a success providing KRC with an extra source of revenue.

Around the same time, political conflicts had ensued in the country, causing extreme disaster and hence the organization faced a huge financial challenge in conducting its activities. Immediately, KRCS thought it could leverage its assets, including networks for profit activities that would efficiently meet its organizational objectives. And soon, plans evolved to expand their business establishment. The result was development of Boma Hotels.

Strategically located half way between Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport, Boma Hotel sits beside KRCS head office along Red Cross road off Popo and Mombasa roads in South C. The project was commissioned to Morphosis Ltd as a winning entry at the tail end of the Post Election Violence in early 2008. The client (KRCS) wanted a 150 room five star hotel with modern facilities. With such a generic brief, the architect was left with a good problem to explore the details and create a masterpiece of its kind.


The design of Boma hotel is lathed in a multiplicity of meanings. On one part, it is a representation of the political differences in the country at the time. On another side, it is a mimic of the coastal theme also representing a clash of elements in coastal regions – water, rocks, sand, vegetation, cultures, colors and birth of civilization. All eating areas (with the exception of the bistro) are open to sky – the two atria and main restaurant. This is the concept behind the name ‘Boma’ which means an African homestead where people sat and ate together in the open around a fire place.

Ground Floor Layout
Ground Floor Layout

This design is a combination of architectural acumen and a humane expression that brought several factors into consideration, among them two major; first the architect had to put into account the timing, which was towards the end of post election violence and second was the client, Kenya Red Cross Society, which was arguably the only or among the few trusted organizations in public service at the time. This project would never have taken the form it did without this particular mix of client and timing.

The building has three main wings, each with two sides and all the sides are different with an atrium at the intersection of the different forms. This is symbolic to the different political affiliations, ideologies, parties and preferred leaders that caused a tribal clash among different communities hence the country itself in a storm. The Red Cross was then the one single unit that had a sense of stability offering relief and peace interventions to the people. This concept is well expressed in the various forms of the Boma hotel such that, when in one wing, your views are directed to another wing within the building and through that, you see a beautiful reflection of the wing you are in from the facing facade. In this case, the beauty of the other wing would mean the other community, ideology, belief system hence the deeper you focus on the other, the more you see a reflection of yourself. Of note is that Kenya needed to do lots of self introspection. We needed to focus within ourselves, looking at other Kenyans who, much as we may think of them as different than us, are the best reflection of ourselves.

Hotel Room Layout
Hotel Room Layout

The atrium at the intersection of all these forms is the eye of the storm, in this case the Red Cross, which was the one organization accepted and trusted by all during the PEV experience. It was idealized in the circle. It has a transparent roof to bathe in ‘heavenly’ light, and it’s where all other forms meet in perfect harmony. The symbolism here is that we all as Kenyans must maintain our unique individuality but can come together harmoniously inspired by one philosophy and unity of purpose and a sense of nationhood. This individuality and uniqueness is clearly expressed in the different forms hence maintained deliberately.

The Coastal theme was pushed further in the following ways. The wing close to the road is designed like a ship. It is surrounded by ‘rivers’ which drain their water in the two ‘oceans’ one at the entry and the other near the restaurant. One ‘ocean’ is loud blue and crisp, with the water fall designed as a sheet of glass, the other ‘ocean’ is calm, rustic and quiet.  The colors of the building are ocean blue for the glass and pale creamy for the marble which is the color of beach sand. The main restaurant mimics a coconut plantation complete with young and mature palms formed by the columns. The ‘Makuti’ is symbolized by the roof structure. The art in stained glass reinforces this.

Boma Nairobi Dining ViewPlanning of this building was very complex because it had to respond to various site factors. The building was on a flat site with no interesting highlights but the architect intended for the spatial experience to be rich in levels, internal views, scale, textures, light intensities and meaning. He achieved this by use of interesting design features to create wide internal views and levels that stimulate introspection and adventure. Also from the rooms, one can have a pleasant over view of Wilson Airport and the Ngong Hills at a distance. Another factor was heights of the different wings; despite their different forms, all the wings had to create a balanced tone in height as well as give a similar appearance to that of the luring buildings in the neighborhood. Technology was another factor and the biggest challenge. It was not a simple form (as the art of peace making is never quite as simple as it may seem). The team of consultants made several computer simulations and physical models on specific details of the building in trying to understand its practicality and functionality. For instance, the steel contractor made a model of the dome for the great atrium, large enough for 7 people to stand inside. But construction methods are still not fully computerized which made it a bit challenging but it was actualized.

Sustainability was the other factor; the architect applied north south orientation to cut off direct sunlight into the building during the day. The building also maximizes on natural lighting on all the open places e.g. restaurants. The large glass windows also ensure that the rooms are well aerated all through.

Boma Nairobi Garden View 02The complete project has a capacity of 148 rooms with a presidential suite on the top floor. The contemporary deluxe facility also has a fully fledged Spa, a gym and a dedicated aerobics studio, a pool, two main restaurants, two bars, a coffee lounge and an executive club lounge. There are two executive meetings rooms are available and a main conference centre.

Construction of this project was completed in the year 2012 and the hotel officially inaugurated in January 2013. The estimated cost was 1.6B.

Though the names Red Cross, business and hotels are not always considered compatible in the same sentence, the Red Cross Society of Kenya has changed that and all profits from the hotel operations are dedicated to the organization’s humanitarian and emergency services programmes. Evidently, the hospitality industry proves to be a perfect complementary to KRCS humanitarian work.


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