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Westlands takes lead in race to the skies

By Peter Theuri | February 11th 2021
Artistic impression of Global Trade Centre (GTC) Towers in Westlands, Nairobi.

Next to The Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel on Chiromo Road, Nairobi a 603-foot tower is coming up.

The Global Trade Centre (GTC) Towers will consist of a cluster of high-rise buildings that are set to redefine the Westlands’ skyline - the new hub for office and high-end hotel developers.

It will include a block of executive apartments, office tower (which is the tallest and nearing completion) a mall and the luxury JW Mariott Hotel.

Before Westlands, it was Upper Hill that challenged Nairobi’s central business district for architectural creativity, with some of the buildings getting critical acclaim.

In 2017, Emporis, a firm that awards skyscrapers for “excellence in both aesthetic and functional design” ranked Britam Towers tenth on their list for the year.

The building has since then been the tallest building in East and Central Africa after deposing UAP Old Mutual Towers, also in Upper Hill, whose construction was completed in 2016.

Now, the race to the skies seems to have shifted to Westlands. The area has always been seen as the quiet, expensive side of the city where the affluent live.

And unlike the CBD, it is remarkably neater, a town that empties into some of the poshest leafy suburbs.

It is also a stark contrast to Eastlands, which comprises of mostly low-cost residential estates.

Moses Okemwa, an architect, says the rise of Westlands is a good sign, a reminder that the country is primed to scale the skies even further.

Nairobi has always been seen as the region’s commercial hub, a metropolis whose architectural developments seek to emulate the world’s finest as the city’s profile and influence in the continent grows.

“It is definitely a positive campaign for a modern metropolis to boast a 21st century city skyline,” Mr Okemwa says.

“It also re-ignites the discussions on the city zoning regulations and the capacity of the available services to accommodate developments of such magnitude.”

One of the concerns that new constructions raise, according to the architect, is environmental management. This is always  major consideration when constructions of such magnitude are proposed.

“Hopefully, the concerned parties will act accordingly to ensure that such projects do not exert pressure on the already strained waste disposal and water supply services,” he says.

Dunhill Towers along Waiyaki Way Nairobi. [Courtesy] 

Okemwa feels that the GTC, alongside other high-rise buildings in Westlands such as Delta Towers, One Africa Place and Dunhill Towers will inspire other developers to join the race to the skies.

“It is setting precedence to both the developers and the practitioners in the building industry. We therefore expect the GTC to inspire and create confidence in the industry - that this magnitude of projects can be successfully undertaken,” he says.

“Already we have seen such huge undertakings, like the recently launched 50-storey G47 Ugatuzi Towers in Hurlingham, Nairobi.”

The city is not short of creativity. Architectural Association of Kenya President Mugure Njendu recently noted that high-rise buildings give the best return on investment owing to the high price of land in Nairobi.

And their beauty is a plus, with architects having to go an extra mile to achieve this.

“High-rise buildings offer more visibility, which puts more challenge on the designers to ensure they design buildings that stand out,” she said.

“Corporates who want an architectural landmark in various areas - whether Upper Hill or Westlands, will look into working in these buildings. Kenya has also become a regional ideal location for many global companies.”

Ms Njendu said many investors were looking outside their countries to invest in property, specifically in East Africa’s emerging market.

“Considering that East Africa’s urbanisation rate is highest in the world, and Kenya is its economic hub, many investors are injecting capital into buildings in the region,” she said.

The growth of Westlands was already coming, perhaps driven by the prospects of the Nairobi expressway that is now under construction.

The ease of movement is expected to bring a lot of business-related traffic to Westlands, and in the long term the area is likely to attract huge office and residential buildings that will compete on design.

Artistic impression of Britam Towers in Upper Hill. [Courtesy]

Westlands and Upper Hill have made notable strides in attracting skyscrapers, why are the other areas in and around town lagging behind?

George Arabbu, vice-chairman of the architects’ chapter of the Architectural Association of Kenya, says precedence plays a great role in determination of the buildings that come up in an area.

“You can see developers moving out into Westlands because they want to be near other companies that have taken their headquarters there. In essence, it becomes like a complete business area,” he says.

“The CBD has also become pretty inaccessible in recent times, with traffic gridlocks making entry and exit a struggle.”

Mr Arabbu says “aesthetics and bravado” also play a part in construction development. 

“The race for the skies is still young in Africa. So you will see people erect buildings, competing to have the tallest and most appealing all the time.”

Not to mean that other parts of Nairobi will not be scaling the skies, but it will need a combination of factors, such as a company venturing into, say, Thika Road and attracting like-minded corporates.

The GTC, by hosting global franchise JW Marriott hotel, brings competition right at the door of Kempinski, an equally recognised luxury brand.

“This brings about a healthy competition to the hospitality industry - with the GTC commanding the best views to the city-scape because of its sheer height,” says Okemwa.

“Kempinski and the surrounding Nairobi hotels must therefore identify their niche, come up with unique hotel specific architectural attributes and other hospitality products in order to stay afloat.”

The GTC tower will be the tallest in East Africa, equipped with 11 high-speed lifts.

“Its six security systems, 360 degree natural lighting, 1,037 parking spaces, 153 exclusive parking spaces for VICs, Sky private club and abundant retail amenities all contribute to an ultimate business operation experience in East Africa,” the GTC official website says.

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