SWAHILVETICA , COMPETITION FOR THE SWISS EMBASSY IN NAIROBI, KENIA
‘The embassy is a physical manifestation of the relationship between two countries.’
Wouldn’t it be beautiful to walk in and around the Swiss embassy that not only embody the Swiss spirit, but refers as well to the ancient Swahili architecture? This design respects and refers to both cultures and countries, Switzerland and Kenya!
The design is organized around a patio. The building is shaped by the roof that makes the water goes inside the patio, the cutting line of the ridge and the patio is emphasized. The building is lowered into the landscape . The façade that is closed at the outside and opens at the inside. The water in the courtyard with a waterfall to provide the building a cool atmosphere.
This design is all about a central patio connected superior with her surroundings. The court organizes the office. The corridors are connected with the patio and gives a convenient climate to the offices. The courtyard is possible to pumped dry to celebrate some yearly anniversaries like national day ,Christmas and new year’s eve with all employees families or maybe even local living Swiss citizens. During the day the building will be ventilated passively with air that is cooled down by the ‘impluvium’. The nice aspect of this design is that we use the thousands years old principles of the Romans as well of the Bantu people and combined it with the modernists techniques.
The city of Nairobi is situated at a high plateau and is situated almost at the equator. It’s a tropical but mild climate with monsoon rains in certain periods. The sun and the water are the ingredients to shape the building and her garden. The ancient Swahili architecture is well adapted to the climate, using patio’s and air to cool down their environment. Those ‘ingredients’ and sustainability is the guiding principal for this design.
The location of the embassy is in a low density residential area nearby other countries embassies, 10 km distance of the city center. The embassy follows with her shape of the roof and height the typology of the surrounded roofs from the residential neighborhood and fits therefore well in this neighborhood. The building is free standing placed in the south of the plot. It has a east-west orientation to warm the façade as short as possible. Parking places are nearby the entry. So the garden is kept as big as possible. The area is enclosed by a massive wall with lots of plants, so privacy and safety is ensured.
The security is positioned at the corner. This spot has the best overview at the road. From there, the guard controls the public and private parking and movement of the visitors and employees from the road to the doorman at the entry. There is a strict segregation at the entry dividing two kind of visitors. The embassy is divided in a public access for the visa, passports, the asylum procedure and consulate, and a semi public circuit of the diplomatic area. But from the public area, employees can enter directly to the semi public area through a security lock. The ambassador is reached along the doorman by a majestic stairs along a waterfall with a view to the garden. The supporting facilities of the embassy are in and near the garden. The spaces that don’t need daylight are positioned to the blind wall that supports the earth under the south façade with the entry. By entering the building at the first level, the most secure level is paradoxical the one that has the best connection with the garden!
The ancient Swahili architecture is characterized by local building materials (coral base). Ornaments and patterns were used to give accents at the façade of the buildings. The embassy is to be built using as many local materials, as possible and built by people in the community. The construction is made of concrete, the walls of the structure are made of locally made bricks from soil, water and cement. The facades give a solid impression although more than sufficient daylight penetrates the offices. The solar heat is kept out, cause of the special openings in the massive wall that refers to the Swahili architecture. The specific openings in the façade refers to the mountain landscapes of the two countries, where both countries are well known of. The outside facades are filled with bricks and plastered to give a solid charisma. Glass windows are placed behind the solid façade. The openings provide daylight and air for the offices. The people can open the windows during the day to get fresh air while maintaining a secure environment. At the ground floor the façade opens to the garden, the public domains are materialized with big glass windows positioned in the shadow. The embassy interior is materialized mainly with three materials; Nairobi bluestone, plaster and glass. The courtyard refers to the a typical Swiss canyon materialized with Nairobi bluestone floors and walls with water as main ingredient.
‘Swahilvetica’presents a a beautiful setting for a embassy with clever sustainable techniques, they are well adapted in her location. The design of the embassy is an integral process of the technique of installation and design. The building is designed to have a flexible floor plan so that future programmatic changes can be easily implemented. The building produce its own energy with photovoltaic panels. They are positioned to be naturally ventilated and day-lighted. For emergencies this design provide a freestanding diesel power plant to produce energy next to the entry. Not inside the embassy to keep out the noise and it’s easier way to fill it by trucks positioned on the public road.
Rain water is collected on site, (garden& roof) for drinking(closed system), irrigating and cooling. It’s pumped around to prevent mosquito’s and give a dramatically atmosphere in the courtyard! During the night the concrete building open the ventilation openings to cool off. This ensure a cool start during the morning!
Sustainability can be well together with efficiency and comfort. The raised floors offers lots of advantages like under-the-floor wiring, data cabling, sewerage and flexibility for the office. It’s offering the ability to reconfigure data and electrical systems on demand. Under-the-floor air distribution reduces installation and energy costs, improves the air quality of the indoor environment, enhancing personal productivity and comfort. The warmth of the server room is taken by the above positioned computer floor and bring immediately to the façade. With a heat exchanger, it is as well possible to bring heated air into air distribution to warm the place when necessary. The computer-floor in the middle of the building is used to push air through to all offices. The cool air is made by the temperature of the cool natural water source down in the earth of the garden. It is used when the employees need more cooling then the cool breeze is providing it. The employees can switch it on and off like their convenience, in combination with open or closing the doors and windows.
The garden is given shape to support the employees in her best way. Considering Nairobi’s all-year-round mild weather, the outdoor areas were designed to act as an extension of the offices – they provide additional, less formal working environments. One folie refers to the Masaï houses, the other to the Wallis’ chalet, both in an abstract way. With a secured wireless internet connection everywhere in the complex, work can be done and meetings held in the large garden. Paths made of Nairobi bluestone are placed around the manmade hills that were arise because of the movement of the earth by digging for the embassy. Secondary paths are made with gravel. Septic tanks are placed in the garde. Compost is used to fertilize the garden, and plants are grown that provide food, shade and beauty. On top of the small hills local flowers are used for decoration. Trees are not meant to move or cut. This garden uses native tropical vegetation as a structural element of the design.