In Search of a Rwandese Regionalism; ‘Learnt in Translation’ lecture by Peter Rich, Kigali, Rwanda 2011, by Killian Doherty

An article from archinect on a lecture that highlights the plight of most african Architecture and its resultant urbanism – made from “pieces of left over” from late modernism which all developing countries aspire to emulate despite the overwhelming evidence that they are unsustainable, unsatisfactory to live in and plain ugly …. 

Kigali context and Image of Kigali Masterplan model, Courtesy of Killian Doherty

Kigali context and Image of Kigali Masterplan model, Courtesy of Killian Doherty

 ‘The reality I have known no longer exists’ laments the narrator at the loss of the Paris of his youth. This extract from Marcel Proust’s ‘A la recherché du temps perdu’ (In Search of Lost Time), is referred to in Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre’s seminal essay ‘Why Critical Regionalism today?’ in an attempt to poetically capture the concept of the loss of a place and its identity. A loss synonymous with modern architecture, particularly in relation to contemporary global development , in this essay they argue for a ‘Regionalist Architecture’ , an architecture of place making which preserves the fibres of ‘collective social structures and the collective representations’(i)that are etched within community and place ; things that cannot be recaptured if lost.

Kigali is undergoing a radical transformation in implementing its 2020 vision for the city, and in doing so is experiencing a rapid disintegration of identity and culture. Traces of Rwanda’s rich vernacular, which utilise local materials (such as earthwork construction and roof thatch; more details), have been vehemently outlawed, with generic, mono-functional high rise buildings, constructed of concrete, clad with a ubiquitous curtain walling opted for as the preferred aesthetic choice for a modern Rwanda.  These incongruous visual/architectural doctrines bare no contextual relevance to the semi-pastoral setting of Kigali, yet are being ruthlessly implemented and constructed, in most cases by Chinese contractors (more details). The traditional methods of construction which are almost forbidden , mean that within a country which is landlocked the building industry has become heavily dependent upon importing materials, carrying with it escalating material costs and increased embodied energy; this is the dichotomy that defines architectural progress in Rwanda.

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Peter Rich Architects

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Peter Rich Architects

Therefore it has never been timelier for the South African architect, and teacher, Peter Rich (more about Peter Rich Architects) whose very work draws heavily from its context’s, serving to bolster local communities it resides within, to now re-visit Rwanda to conduct a workshop and a lecture on his work with the Kigali Institute of Technology (KIST) , also in conjunction with theUniversity of Arkansas School of Architecture. Peter Rich’s work has established an architecture which is uniquely African. Influenced directly by an understanding of spatial hierarchies and aesthetic qualities of African tribal settlements, he works directly within the community, sustaining the cultures and traditions re-emerging in his buildings. His methods are not only due to his empathy for marginalised communities, but are methods which are a forceful architectural response to the new problems posed by contemporary global development, where a disintegration of identity, culture and community is characterized by homogeneity of place.  Continue reading