A city may start as a few shops, a road junction or even a railway station. The City of Nairobi is no exception. Starting as a railway headquarters in a swampy area, it has grown to a huge cosmopolitan concrete jungle.
The historical growth and initial urban design of the city can be appreciated through some of the century-old buildings found in the Central Business District.
The “Old PC’s Office“ is a single story Victorian-style building made of natural stone, and is located at the heart of the city. Completed in 1913, the early settlers knew it as “Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches” as it was where records for births, marriages, and deaths were kept. It also served as a colonial courthouse where natives accused of entering Nairobi without a pass were tried and sentenced. The original entrance (now closed) leads to an octagonal hall that is known as the “Zero Point,” where all distances in Kenya were measured from.
The Provincial Administration used the Old PC’s Office until 1983, when they moved into the neighboring (then new) Nyayo House. The PC’s office was then used as the Nairobi branch headquarters of the then ruling political party KANU. Poorly maintained and almost on the verge of collapse, it was gazetted in April 1993 and declared a National Monument in 1998.
Its new lease of life came when it was handed over to the National Museums of Kenya in 2003. It was fenced, renovated and in January 2006 renamed to the “Nairobi Gallery.” It is now used mainly for temporary art exhibitions and currently hosts the Murumbi Collection, a display of African artifacts assembled by Joseph Murumbi, the second vice president of Kenya. It is said that he had originally envisioned the building becoming the “Kenya National Art Gallery” but was never able to get that plan passed in Parliament. The building is also the starting point of the city’s Historical Walking Tours.
A walking tour will take one through several other such buildings, some of which are still in good use. The Standard Bank Building, built in 1911, and McMillan Memorial Library are good examples. The City Hall building, the Nairobi City County Governor’s Office, stand as strong as it was when it was opened in the 1950s as the Municipal Hall. However, its clock tower has not worked in several years.
Over the years, some historic buildings have regrettably come down like the well-designed stone Nairobi House and Desai Memorial Hall & Library.
Historical architecture helps us appreciate the changes over different generations. It acts as a reservoir of human history and culture. By respecting previous generations and keeping their old historic buildings, we can bring more opportunity for the next generations to tangibly learn about their predecessors.
To what extent do you think historical buildings are essential for cities? What makes it important to preserve a historical building over the potential economic benefit that can be derived from the same space?
Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.