As a student of architecture at the University of Nairobi, one of the marvels of architecture that we studied was a small house in rural Pennsylvania USA, that had come to be known as the Fallingwater House. The house was designed in 1935 by the world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as a weekend home for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann of the then prestigious Kaufmann’s Department Store.
The Kaufmann’s had this piece of land cut in the middle by a river gorge and a steep waterfall. Not sure how to use it, they contracted Frank Lloyd Wright for a design. Wright came up with an extremely creative house built across the gorge and partly over the waterfall. It became an immediate architectural masterpiece and is a tourist attraction to this day. In 1966, it was designated a National Historic Landmark and is now listed among Smithsonian’s “Life List of 28 places to visit before you die.” The American Institute of Architects later declared it the “best all-time work of American architecture” and in 2007 ranked it 29th on the list of America’s Favourite Architecture.
What came to mind is that if Kenya riparian laws were to be applied in Pennsylvania, the Fallingwater House would either never have been built, or would be on its way down. Yet, it is not that Americans have less value for waters resources than we do. Rather, it is about creative management. The Fallingwater House was thus designed in such a way that it preserved the river and the waterfall even as it provided a unique weekend home for the Kaufmann’s.
In many other nations and cities, water courses have been utilised creatively to preserve them as well as provide tourist revenue for the government. In France, the Seine River runs through Paris, much like the Nairobi River runs through our city. The Seine River, however, is a major tourist attraction with 37 bridges within Paris alone. One of the bridges at the Pont des Arts attracts thousands of loved-up couples from all over the world who come to tie a “love lock” on to the rails before throwing the key into the river below, ostensibly to “lock” their love forever. The Seine River also offers boat rides and dinner cruises that are some of the most memorable experiences in Paris. In contrast, the Nairobi River is a polluted den of robbers that even Nairobians do not want to visit.
In South Africa, a visit to Cape Town is not complete without a tour of the Waterfront – a port harbour with shopping malls, eateries, boat and ship cruises, and most of all, an undersea aquarium to view sharks and other sea creatures live and in their habitat. In contrast, Mombasa harbour is a no go exclusive business zone. Thus, a majority of Mombasa residents, may never have seen a ship at close quarters let alone experienced one.
In Kampala, Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort is one of the leading five-star hotels in Uganda with the best luxurious accommodation and conference facilities. Munyonyo is set on the banks of Lake Victoria with expansive and immaculately landscaped grounds that go right to the edge of the lake. Dinner on these lawns is stress relieving but comes at a price. Of course, on our side of the lake, we boast of “Lwang’ni Hotel” which is a contraption of black plastic covered food kiosks – but with great fish, I must say.
Space does not allow us to mention Dubai’s world class water facilities, Amsterdam waterways or Panama City’s canal. I have therefore wondered why we choke up our water resources with garbage. What would happen if instead of chasing investors away from the watercourses, we employed some creativity and made better use of them. Suppose, for example, we challenged some of our best environmentalists, engineers, building and landscape architects to come up with a world class shopping and recreation complex on Nairobi River comprising: gardens, walkways, shops, waterworks, aquarium, cruise boats, Maasai market and a Nairobi history museum.
And suppose we created a dam on the river to receive the flood waters that drown us and made a channel to JKIA for those who want cruises to and from the airport. These would generate resources to preserve and maintain the river. For sure, our President, like Pharaoh of old, has a dream. What he needs are not magicians trying this and the other, but wise interpreters of dreams like Joseph who can come up with creative solutions to save our nation and build our economy.
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]