Young architects changing the face of Kenyan homes


Young architects changing the face of Kenyan homes


Renders by Vincent Okanga, an architect, who took up the entrepreneurial journey and set up his own construction company, Yaxen Construction, in 2018. PHOTO | POOL

For years, it was very easy to imagine what your neighbour’s house would look like even from the construction stage. Be it a maisonette or a bungalow.

That was until new generation architects pushed the design envelope.

Younger architects have come up with new designs, steering away from contemporary homes.

Among these is Vincent Okanga who took up the entrepreneurial journey and set up his own construction company, Yaxen Construction, in 2018.

“I design eco-friendly house designs that match with the surrounding environment,” he says.

He says he did training on the emerging trends in the field of architecture, and now he had to put the theory into practice.

“With the ongoing climate change debate, eco-friendly construction and the economic aspect of it is what is leading to the development of contemporary homes in Kenya,” he says.

The idea of contemporary homes emerged from the concept of Arabic homes and the need to build more eco-friendly homes.

“However, we are not doing away with the traditional architecture entirely; we must incorporate it,” says the 29-year-old architect and civil engineer.


Vincent Okanga, an architect and founder of Yaxen Construction as pictured on July 11, 2023, in Kikuyu, Kiambu County. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

After meeting a client and hearing about the kind of home they want, he says the introduction of software has also made it easy to come up with more creative preliminary designs, develop floor plans and do the 3D rendering.

Wycliffe Waburiri, the chair of the Architectural Association of Kenya, Architects Chapter says young people are experimenting with unconventional materials and technology.

“Gone are the days when brick and mortar was the only way to build. Today, there are many new ways to design necessitating alternative building materials like rammed earth, glulam, steel and aluminium among others. Smart buildings are beginning to emerge with special features like automatic lighting and biometrics,” he says.

Mr Okanga also notes that architects are pushing engineering limits and are willing to defy the laws of physics.

Architects are working with large unsupported spans or cantilevers — building on water and even on steep slopes and or canyons.

Architects today are more ready to try out unconventional designs, which push the limits to even greater heights.

Are these homes costlier?

The cost of homes depends on the design of the house but Mr Okanga says modern homes generally tend to be cheaper than traditional homes.

“For instance, a hidden roof is concealed so it helps to save on the roofing cost as compared to the traditional homes with visible roofs. With a hidden roof, you will not go for luxurious roofing material making it cheaper.”


Renders by Vincent Okanga, an architect, who took up the entrepreneurial journey and set up his own construction company, Yaxen Construction, in 2018. PHOTO | POOL

Mr Okanga says a modern three-bedroom bungalow costs about Sh4.4 million while a traditional one goes for Sh4.8 million.

Kelvin Laichena, an architect and the proprietor of Space Consult Architectural Visualisation acknowledges that modern homes are cheaper than traditional ones.

Nowadays, with the intervention of architects and professionals, we are looking at more efficient construction technologies. Houses can be built faster and completed within a short time. With technology, we can simplify buildings, reducing the number of labourers.

The only time the materials will be expensive is if you import them in a case where you are looking for more luxurious homes.


Kelvin Laichena is an architect and the proprietor of Space Consult Architectural Visualisation. PHOTO | POOL

Are they cosier?

“With modern homes, you can do a ceiling height of 3.6 metres while for the traditional homes, you can only do a three metres high home so that it is in line with the roofing.

If you do a very high wall you’ll also be required to do a very high roof pitch to achieve the balance. This may make the house less aesthetic. With contemporary homes, you can get high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and enough ventilation in the houses,” he says.

Are they taking up more space?

Mr Okanga says: “Modern homes make use of having wide and open spaces. This does not necessarily result in needing more space as it is possible to use the vertical space. They take up less space because of the open area in the house and the use of the roof as a penthouse.”

Emerging trends

New technology, he adds, plays a key role in the development of contemporary homes.

“There are ready-to-assemble walls and slabs called panel walls and slabs. With ready-to-assemble walls, we can construct the shell of a house in one or two weeks, making it easy to finish homes. For now, these are expensive because of the monopoly in the market.”


Renders by Kelvin Laichena, an architect, who took up the entrepreneurial journey and set up Space Consult Architectural Visualisation. PHOTO | POOL

However, Mr Okanga says, the price will drop with time when there are more manufacturers in the industry. There is also automation in lighting, curtains and swimming pools.

Homes are also becoming more than just mere shelters and are now becoming everything to a homeowner.

“We are now incorporating office spaces, entertainment homes within our homes. People now want their homes to look like museums,” says the 26-year-old architect.

Hidden drainage systems

Also, people no longer use the old drainage systems. “With modern architecture people prefer concealed drainage systems. There is simplicity in regards to what you see and what you don’t see,” Mr Laichena tells BDLife. Hidden drainage systems are a simple way in which the water collection systems camouflage in the landscape and go unnoticed.


There are more than 30 different types of staircases. However, in Kenya, for the longest time, we have used L-shaped staircases.

Now with artistic architecture, we are embracing curved, spiral and round staircases.

“These are more aesthetically appealing and they give you easy flight. They are also beneficial to old age as compared to the L-shaped staircases. They give you a longer flight but with minimum risers making them suitable for older people as well,” Mr Okanga says.

For the bedrooms, housebuilders are embracing bigger windows and walk-in closets. People are opting for gypsum designs as they are more economical and longer lasting.

What holds people back?

There is a fear of change so most people opt to maintain the traditional homes. “There is also the fear among people that modern homes are more expensive. Hence clients are afraid to be the first to embrace an emerging trend,” says Mr Laichena.

Adds Mr Okanga: “The older clients prefer the traditional homes.”

He says the majority of his clients seeking modern homes are below 40 years. “These new money clients prefer stylish and more trendy homes. It is difficult to convince older clients to embrace the new homes. They prefer a simple and functional space. Nothing complicated.”

Mr Laichena adds that clients are trying out new approaches to home designs. “People nowadays want more experiential homes. This results in interior design architecture and landscape architecture being incorporated as one component. This allows us to open our walls to the exterior space to allow us to experience the outside while inside. That is why more people are opting for bigger windows and sliding doors or walls,” says Mr Laichena.

Mr Okanga says people are yet to fully embrace experts and work with architects until the end of the project.


Renders by Kelvin Laichena, an architect, who took up the entrepreneurial journey and set up Space Consult Architectural Visualisation. PHOTO | POOL

“In a month I can issue so many designs but not very many want to work with us to the end. About 60 percent of my clients only take the design and do not ask for any supervisory or consultancy duties,” he says.

“There are clients who’d want you to design and build as the contractor. Another client would like for you to just design and supervise only. Another client would only want you to design.”

“Engaging a professional has cost implications but it is worth it.”

Vincent notes that working without an architect you may not get value for your money. Your house may lack the aesthetic view and you’ll also be risking in terms of how the house will be built. That risks the lives of the occupants on the off chance that the building collapses.

How much does an architect cost?

Mr Laichena tells BDLife: “The Architects and Quantity Surveyors Act requires architects in Kenya to charge a minimum of six percent of the total construction costs plus value-added tax.

To renovate an existing building the law recommends that we charge at least 10 percent of the cumulative costs of the renovation works.”


Construction workers on site as pictured on July 11, 2023, in Kikuyu, Kiambu County. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Mr Okanga adds: “This should not discourage you from getting an architect as there are more flexible architects who’ll consider your rates and budget.”

An architect can charge between Sh50,000 and Sh80,000 for the architectural drawing and renders for a bungalow.

For a mansionette, a client would have to part with between Sh90,000 and Sh140,000. If an architect stays through the construction period the architect would be paid around Sh15,000 per visit.

An architect can do more than 20 house visits before the house is completed and handed over to the owner.

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