The scramble for space in Upper Hill is likely to continue as Nairobi becomes increasingly attractive to foreign investors. This has increased demand for office space and social amenities. The availability of highly-competitive and highly skilled personnel, modern telecommunications technologies, transport infrastructure including high-speed Internet connection, good roads and a vibrant business environment in Nairobi are factors that make Upper Hill enticing.
Millicent Mwololo talked to architect Dr Edwin Oyaro Ondieki about the area’s rapid growth and what it means for its future.
Why is there a rush for Upper Hill among the elite businesses?
The fact that Upper Hill has no traffic or human congestion makes it a very prestigious address, especially with corporates, embassies, government agencies, international companies and multinationals who target the elite business class as it gives them the exclusivity they need.
The developers in Upper Hill have intentionally put away the whole thing of commercial activities. This further enhances exclusivity, making Upper Hill a gated centre as it has remained free of the street typology found in the town centre, where commercial buildings touch the streets.
The road networks in Upper Hill have been expanded in the last three years, opening up the district. This has led to an increase in land value. Once the small stretches on Lower Hill Road are expanded, it will be very good. Unlike before, public transport has also gone to Upper Hill.
With this rush not lead to congestion ?
Unlike the town centre, Upper Hill will rather be a congestion of towers, and exclusive clientèle as it will be thoroughly built-up with skyscrapers. It will not be the place for commoners, but the business elite. The developments are well-prepared for that as they have underground and above ground parking space.
Will the multi-billion developments give returns on investments?
Most of the developers in Upper Hill are corporate companies and multinationals that have established their headquarters there. They have subsidiaries all over Kenya, and for some, in the East African region. Others are embassies funded by their respective governments, and co-operatives that are well “oiled” with members’ remittances. In view of this, return on investments is not an issue. What such developers look at are location advantages such as security and exclusivity.
Do you foresee a situation where the rush for space in Upper Hill will subside?
Nairobi is already over-supplied with office space. Many office blocks are partially empty all over the city including the town centre, Westlands, Ngong Road and Kilimani. So, this will not be not unique to Upper Hill.
However, developers are expressing optimism that there will be continued demand for office space in Upper Hill. That is why you see the mixed-use development concept gaining popularity as developers are keen to offer a variety of facilities in one location to attract clientèle.
There will be a lot of this, especially among non-bank developers as they leverage on broad-spectrum space. It is a concept sweeping across the globe.
Later developers in Upper Hill have leveraged on previous establishments. For instance, having office blocks close to a hotel and self-contained apartments next to office blocks. That is why Radisson Blu, a leading global hotel chain, is such a notable addition to Upper Hill and gives it an edge. It is next to Coca-Cola, Shelter Afrique, the World Bank, and government agencies.
What is the overall impact of the high cost of property in Upper Hill on other urban areas on the outskirts of Nairobi?
In Africa, Nairobi is the third most expensive city in land value, second to Cape Town. Land values in Kenya are unreasonably high everywhere, not just in Nairobi. It could be due to our cultural perceptions and attitudes towards land. We attach a lot of value to land.
What would you say about the design of the skyscrapers?
What you are seeing in Upper Hill is post-modern architecture of placeless buildings replicated from other cities across Asia and the Arab world. You will find the same concepts in Dubai, China and Taiwan. Every Arab king is experimenting with architectural forms and looking for iconic office blocks.
Upper Hill is trying to copy that since placeless buildings can be put up anywhere as they have no respect for local climatic or environmental conditions. They use a lot of glass to project the image of post-modern architecture, but glass heats up a lot. For comfort, they use mechanical systems. This makes their maintenance costs extremely high.
That is why the Coca-Cola building stands out as the best since it is eco-friendly. All the others are just placed there since they are not meant for the Nairobi weather. However, their quality is good since most of them are being done by South African architects in accordance with Kenyan building standards.
Dr Edwin Oyaro Ondieki is an urbanism and design specialist