Kenya Incremental Housing Studies

Mike Everts

David Fortin

This is an ongoing interdisciplinary project initiated in 2009 by Nairobi architect and consultant Ronald Omyonga in discussion with the School of Architecture. Omyonga’s original business plan, proposing a more holistic approach to improving Nairobi’s housing crisis through an integrated system of interventions and strategies based on incremental housing and economic mobility, has guided a series of field trips, studios, and seminars that examine how low-middle-income sustainable housing can also offer training to individuals in various trades and building industries, thereby generating equity while strengthening existing and future communities. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to pull dwellers out of the proliferating slums through improved affordable housing options and socioeconomic mobility.

Through this initiative we have formed a collaboration with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with students from Nairobi contributing research to studio projects. Students and faculty have also met with UN-Habitat in Nairobi and attended the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2010, where our Kenya studies were exhibited in an installation titled “the city is shrinking,” a critical response to the theme of the forum – The Right to the City.
Studios have included the following: a series of existing housing typological studies and schematic strategies for housing developments along Mombasa Road (Fall 2009), factories specifically designed to manufacture housing components while acting as positive catalysts through skills training and new community centers (Fall 2010), and an exploration of high-rise residential opportunities to increase economic mobility and sustainability (Fall 2011).

Graduate seminars (2009-11) have examined informal communities through both Marxist and capitalist lenses, interrogated the notion of home related to commodity-driven development, the essential role of politics, the significance of urban-rural linkages, and the social capacities for systemic design to make positive change in our rapidly urbanizing world. The project has also included student independent studies, seminar talks by colleagues in the History and Philosophy department, senior industrial engineering students who employed one of the community factory designs for a cap stone project in socially oriented facilities design, and has reached out to members of our professional community to contribute to our goal of building a housing prototype in Nairobi.