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Why Makuti roof is a lasting feature in Coast hotel designs

By Philip Mwakio | July 30th 2020

The ‘makuti’ thatch continues to be a symbol of prestige and cultural attraction in most Coastal beach hotels.

Makuti is derived from dried palm leaves and is a common roofing material in the region.

Building expert David Jomeli says makuti is popular because its design combines traditional and contemporary aspects.

“Hotels, restaurants, private homes and villas with makuti look to add to a mix of name and luxury,” he said.

He said the thatch roofing is used in temperate regions since it is readily available and inexpensive to assemble.

Reef Group of Hotels Managing Director Ranjit Sondhi told Home & Away that traditionally, the makuti thatch is “a unique and natural finish that you don’t get in Europe”.

“This is a big attraction,” he said.

At the Reef Hotel, one of Mombasa’s iconic holiday resorts, the entire roofing is made of makuti.

“We are firm with use of makuti, replacement with any other roofing material is not a decision we would take at the moment. The entire design is based on the tropical concept... and is our signature attraction here,” Mr Sondhi said.

Expert, however, caution that care needs to be taken to reduce fire risks.

Eng Jomeli, who also the technical director of Kenya Federation of Master Builders, said makuti is highly combustible and poses a risk particularly because a lot of the material is used to ensure a firm roofing.

“Layers of dried makuti have to be stacked one over the other until a sufficient thickness is attained, about a foot being suitable to make the roof impervious to water and also provide insulation from elements of weather,”  he said.

In temperate countries, houses with thatched roofing are more vulnerable to fire risks than those covered with other materials.

Signature look

Jomeli said hotel owners have been known to prefer makuti thatch roofing as a signature look for  their unique structures.

At the JackyJoka Apartments in upmarket Nyali, Mombasa County, the facility used makuti thatch on its restaurant and bar.

“The thatch itself helps in aeration,” said Operations Manager Cyrus Chamia.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Coast branch Executive officer Sam Ikwaye says the use of makuti supports local economy.

“Makuti weaving is an art that is done locally. It enhances positive linkages for empowering the locals who plant the palm trees,” he told Home & Away.

“The thatch gives good natural aesthetics to a facility, which enhances the natural appeal of our tourist establishments.’’ 

Dr Ikwaye said makuti can also be customised and, with modern technology, be designed to provide different tastes and colours.

The lifespan for makuti roofing largely depends on the craftsmanship of the thatcher.  

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