What If Nairobi – The Urban Farm

What If Nairobi – The Urban Farm


By Karuga Koinange

Is truly innovative architecture only possible with big money and high-tech ability? Or is it the opposite? Maybe it is the lack of these that creates an empty space in which new ideas can be born? If so, the revolution can start anywhere. These are the questions and realizations which led to the concept of ‘What If, Nairobi’.

‘What If’ is a self-initiated architecture and design campaign that explores and communicates contemporary and visionary ideas for the built environment that affect our daily lives.

The campaign showcases great design ideas seeking to inspire everyone from fundis, architects, designers, developers, investors down to the average mwananchi (public). The campaign aims to celebrate and stir up debate within the city of Nairobi in an attempt to offer viable solutions to many of the city’s current and pressing issues.

The project concentrates primarily on the cityscape, investigating critical urban challenges (water, energy, transport etc.) and proposing a set of alternative solutions. Each project focuses on a particular aspect of Nairobi’s built environment ranging from cultural and retail centres to parks and bridges.

On the first of a series of these campaigns, the team behind the campaign, led by architect Karuga Koinange, has focused on the following projects which will be serialized on every issue of the BUILDesign magazine:-

  • Highway Bypass
  • Urban Farm
  • The Fuel Station
  • The Park
  • The Airport

Urban Farm

With the rising cost of urban living and as the city struggles to meet its housing, food and energy demands, more than half of Nairobi’s population are living in makeshift self built substandard housing in unacceptable conditions with no access to some of the most basic amenities. The sporadic mushrooming of unplanned settlements are undermining Nairobi as one of the world’s best examples of a mid century modern city.

A birds eye view of Jamuhuri estate in Nairobi, an example of a development that lacks in planning and control
A birds eye view of Jamuhuri estate in Nairobi, an example of a development that lacks in planning and control

Housing remains a major issue, the lack of, with not enough being done for the majority of residents living within the low and middle income bracket. Attempts by the municipal council during the 60’s and 70’s saw several low and middle income housing developments built.

Jamhuri Estate is the name given to one of such developments that is the subject of our design intervention. The middle income residential development commonly referred to as Jamhuri (Swahili word for republic), is one of the oldest residential developments in the country and is located 6km’s from the city centre.

Jamhuri is within proximity of the largest slum settlement in Nairobi known as Kibera, which has four times the density as the city centre on one to two storeys. Jamhuri started off as a double storey detached and semi detached maisonettes and has since amalgamated to include flats up to six storeys. The recent developments have brought down the value of the development with newer buildings having no relationship [in terms of planning] with the existing, and almost no green spaces.

Urban Farm 05

Through research of the current urban dynamics in Nairobi this concept has developed from the strong linkages between community social and economic development, infrastructure, and food and energy production to propose a minimized waste sustainable middle income residential development prototype that can be replicated elsewhere in the city.

Our proposition for Jamuhuri Estate observes a number of everyday issues by proposing solutions that drive the notion of self reliance, such as the provision of public green space, foot paths, cycle lanes and drainage.

We however focus on energy where we propose to harness solar for both hot water and electricity. We propose that electricity generated be split between internal use and public use i.e. street lighting.

Harnessing solar energy
Harnessing solar energy
Urban Farm 09
Harnessing solar energy

Next we move on to food production, ‘micro farming’ which takes place in either the back garden, on a balcony, roof top or an allotment. With limited space we employ new methods of farming such as hydroponics which requires no soil and minimal water. This reduces the distance we live from our food and ’reintroduces’ the practice farming into the cultural fabric of the cityscape. Other interesting food practices are Aquaponics, the symbiotic practice of agricultural and fresh water fish farming.

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In a nut shell we are proposing pragmatic yet feasible solutions that have the potential to reduce living /running costs, dependency on external supply and the communal carbon foot print of everyday life whilst working to ameliorate the quality of the urban built environment.

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