March 14 2014

“Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches” Building of Kenya Continues to Stand

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 Old PC's Office, built in 1913 Nairobi, Kenya

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.

Standard Bank building (1911) lies near 2 World War memorials Nairobi, Kenya

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.

City Hall: Another historic building at the heart of Nairobi, Kenya

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.

Constant Cap

Constant Cap is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He holds an undergraduate degree from the same university. He regularly writes about urban planning issues online and in local dailies. Constant was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and is passionate about the planning issues facing African Cities. He has a deep interest in sustainable transportation and the application of ‘new urbanism’ in Africa. He intends to work as a planner on the African continent and assist in bringing about modern sustainable urbanism. He currently works at the Advancement Office at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 14th, 2014 at 9:42 am and is filed under Architecture, Constant Cap, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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5 Responses to ““Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches” Building of Kenya Continues to Stand”

  1. Emmanuel M'M Says:

    I have lived in Nairobi for the better part of my life and only last year did I go to the National Archives.

    It was inspiring walking through Kenya’s history, which I can now appreciate because I am older.

    That is the importance; the opportunity to reminisce and take a walk through someone else’s reality

  2. Felix Kipkoech Says:

    I wish to point out that Joseph Murumbi was the second Vice President of Kenya after Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

    Kindly correct the mistake made. He was Kenya’s first Foreign Minister.

    Otherwise the article is informative.

  3. Thang'wa Macharia Says:

    Nairobi’s historical buildings are the city’s timeline. They take us through story of the architectural and urban design changes in our city

  4. Faith Mugure Says:

    Historical buildings are integral to our identity as Kenyans and remain significant in understanding how far we have come. We can however reap economic benefits from them by converting them into museums for example where historical information can be shared with both local and international tourists.

  5. Wilson Billawer Says:

    This is a good article and keeps one updated on the evolution of our places. I propose that a list of all historical buildings be drawn up and gazetted as such. What happened in Windhoek is that all historical buildings have been categorized according to their age and importance, and thereafter they were inserted into the Town Planning Scheme as part of the tables dealing with land use control. That means whoever wants to do activities in those buildings, will have to get planning permission from the City. Even upgrades will have to go through the Architectural Association before any changes can be brought onto such building, and it seems to be working well as the public do agree thaat such buildings need to be preserved.

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