Magazine article New African

Building a Climate-Friendly City

Magazine article New African

Building a Climate-Friendly City

Article excerpt

Rwanda's capital, Kigali, is turning to architects for sustainable urbanisation. David Thomas asks whether this can be a solution to Africa's urban sprawl

In 2010, the world reached an important milestone, with the number of people living in urban spaces exceeding the global rural population for the first time. Cities, which cover less than 2% of the earth's surface, consume almost 80% of energy worldwide, and account for more than 50% of emissions.

In the fight against climate change, the urban space constitutes a key battleground. Nowhere is the need for sustainable urban development more acute than sub-Saharan Africa--one of the world's most rapidly urbanising regions. Despite accounting for less than 10% of global emissions, the continent looks set to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change.

With cities across Africa already struggling to accommodate the continent's fast-growing urban population, some are turning to innovative architecture for solutions.

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is one such city. In its suburbs, imagine four-storey apartment blocks rising up amid tree-lined boulevards, spacious courtyards and well-tended allotments. Across town, earthwork steps provide spectators with a view of a cricket oval hosting some of the world's best teams.

This depiction of the city may seem more like a vision of utopian living than a bustling East African capital. But as Rwanda grapples with the highest rates of urbanisation in the continent, foreign and local architects are being enlisted to work on ambitious projects that could provide a model of sustainable living in Africa.

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The need for such a trailblazer cannot be overstated. According to a new report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, 22m people are being added to African cities every year. As a result, planners and architects will play a key role in building cities--which account for the bulk of emissions and energy use globally--that avoid the pitfalls of slum expansion, decrepit infrastructure and climate-altering pollution.

"The ongoing issues that cities like Lagos and Nairobi currently face are the results of early plans that took no account for an urban African future, as well as decades of planning regimes incapable of managing rapid urban growth," says Kelly Doran, manager of East African programmes at US architects MASS Design Group.

"The incredible opportunity facing Kigali and other smaller emerging urban centres is to plan and develop in totally novel ways."

That opportunity is being seized by architects attracted to the Rwandan government's ambitious green agenda, concrete urban plans and reputation for strong policy execution.

The Boston-based MASS Design Group was founded in 2008 during the design process for Butaro Hospital in Burera District, and has since branched out into primary schools, doctors' housing and neonatal units. Light Earth Designs, a firm with British and South African roots, has been in the country for over five years and is behind the green housing and Rwanda Cricket Stadium plans.

What the practices have in common, aside from their Kigali outposts, is a growing expertise in drafting sustainable solutions to Africa's rapidly growing urban spaces. In particular, both firms stress the importance of using local construction materials to reduce landlocked Rwanda's dependence on environmentally costly imports. …

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