To understand the Architectural history of Kenya, one must appreciate the Kenyan people’s society, culture, and setting during various phases of history, which have had a parallel influence on the varying styles of architecture. The beauty of Kenyan architecture is in its diversity which ranges from the vernacular architecture of the Massai, Nilotic, and Bantu communities to the colonial architecture in Nairobi. Before colonisation, architecture in Kenya was vernacular. Different styles were determined based on climatic factors and materials available for each community. Architecture in Kenya has only so recently been defined by its style after the independence of Kenya from the British in 1963. 

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City Hall, Nairobi_©[online] Available at: City Hall announces vacancies for chief officer positions (

Traditional Architecture of Kenya

The traditional Massai architecture of Kenya is characterised by the use of dung as building material which was a response to the harsh climate of tropical savannah plains. Similarly, Nilotic, Kukuyu and Bantu communities are known for using sticks plastered with mud and cow dung in their built forms. The use of coral and lime became prominent at the coastal periphery due to abundant material. All of these traditional styles emerged as a direct response of people towards the tropical climate of Kenya.

After the takeover of the British in 1895, the traditional architecture of Kenya stayed as a relic and saw no further development. The use of clay roof tiles, wooden windows, and hand-carved masonry walling characterised this phase of Kenyan architecture. One such structure is the Kipande House building along Kenyatta Avenue, built in the early 1920s, marking the shift in the architectural style of Kenya as the locals shifted from mud and grass architecture to stone-walled, pitched roof-built forms.

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A traditional hut of Kukuyu People_©Alexander Leisser

Imperial Mimicry

A neoclassical style in the built forms defined the 60s. The architecture of this era has an added tinge of revolt and authority over the British. The single-story traditional housing was discarded for massive-scale buildings with multiple forms. The parliament building of Kenya was also built during this period. The parliament building distinctly stands out in the history of Kenya, representing the change of authority and power. The standing clock tower, a feature of the structure, poetically chimes the victory over British suppression as it ticks today. The involvement of foreign architects such as Amyas Connell and David Mutiso accelerated urban architecture in Kenya. Similarly, a city hall building was built.

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Old provincial Commissioner’s Office_©[online] Available at:
This era was also marked by commercial-scale architecture. With the Hilton Hotel being built, the scale of commercial architecture took a turn. Several high rises would be built later, which would help turn Kenya into a tourist destination. The 60s in Kenya had an economic boom over the capitalisation of real estate and the establishment of Housing estates such as Jericho and Jerusalem.

After the 60s

Following the neoclassical era, a modern style became prominent in Kenyan architecture. Multistoried buildings made of concrete and glass started to become more prevalent. The involvement of Triad Architects, a firm founded by Amyas Connell, helped define the modernism movement in Kenya. Other influential figures such as Ernst May helped set a foundation for design in the capital city of Nairobi by initiating The Garden city movement, where residential housing was decorated with an alluring garden landscape

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Kenya International Convention Center_©I Lucy Wanjiru

Asian infuences in architecture also marked this period. The ground floor of the buildings housed commercial activities, and the upper floors housed residences. This system can be seen in typical bazaars of Thailand, Myanmar, and East Asia. Religious buildings such as the Singh Sabha Sikh temple were built. The ease of such functionality influenced architects to adapt the system to other structures like Sheria House.

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Singh Sabha Temple_ ©[online] Available at:

Contemporary Architecture of Kenya

As people became comfortable with concrete and glass, the architecture scaled into an urban dimension. High-rise buildings started to become more common, even outside the capital. Nyayo House tower, built in 1979, commenced the beginning of contemporary architecture. The architecture changed from a matchbox form to a creative contemporary style. Similarly, the city hall annexe building was completed in 1982. The reduction of interest rates from the bank enabled business people to take larger capital and commission flexible designs in a higher number. 

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Hilton Hotel_©ICE Portal

Change of Century

During the 90s, the pace of infrastructure in Kenya was slowed down due to the financial crisis. Very few high-rises and residential buildings were built. A noticeable trend was seen in the construction of residential buildings, which started adapting double-story floors. The globalisation trend set Kenya as an economic hub in Africa, thus adapting to better trade-based architecture designs such as shopping centres, commercial plazas, and marketplaces. ‘I am M building’ is one of the famous buildings constructed during this period. The later part of the 2010s was marked by varying construction technology methods with internet access. Concrete, glass, and steel were adopted alongside bricks and terracotta on the outskirts of the capital city. The rural areas rejuvenated the spirit of traditional architecture and have thus embraced it.

I and M tower_©SE9 London

Lessons we can learn

Architecture in Kenya has variations incorporated by each community. The earlier history is of accommodation to the harsh climate in the tropical region via material comfortability. Although the British suppression hindered the growth of traditional architecture, the Kenyans lived up to the revolution and revamped the form and style of the suppressor into their own. With time people became comfortable with foreign materials and embraced the change to serve the growing need for urbanisation. Today, Kenya is one of the wealthiest nations in Africa, with a GDP of 110.3 billion USD, which is 130 times more than it was in the ’60s. This success stems from the consistency of people to drive for growth. Present Kenya is an urban hub with high-rise buildings and adequate residences. The Kenyans have a soft heart and appreciation for the surrounding architecture. Such reasons only make up for appreciating 50 years of architecture in Kenya even more.


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Maganga, M. (2023, March 11). The Architectural Identity of the State House. ArchDaily. [online] Available at:

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A passionate writer and an aspiring architect, Bibek Khanal is an architecture student from Nepal who finds comfort in making illustrations and writing poems. His heart is set on appreciating arts and architecture relics. Being a part of the architecture and the people around is a riveting experience for him.