Contextualism in resort architecture; a search of Swahili cultural context

Introductory Background Study

 

Any site, location or a place includes number of natural features that characterize it and create the context of this place. In architectural design, all these features should be determined, analysed as well as considered in the design process in order to integrate the building into its context.

The Kenyan coastline boasts of Swahili architecture. A style of building that is essentially of Arabic or Persian style origin. Its Architectural elements included arches, courtyards, the mihrab, towers, and decorative elements on the buildings themselves.1

Climatic conditions often coupled with cultural and technological influences plays a major role in forming this type of architecture. The Swahili architecture is a good example of this type of architecture that was as a result of the three factors stated above.2

The Arabs have had a strong influence in setting Islam as the prevailing religion as well as the resulting architecture. However, other communities like the Indians and Europeans plus today’s contemporary architecture have also had an influence in the Swahili architecture. For instance the coral stone buildings of the old Mombasa urban core, built on the south eastern part of the island, contrast sharply with the multi-story housing which encircles the city on its central and northern flank.3

The cultural context plays an important role in influencing contemporary architecture in resort design. The influence of this tradition has evolved since the beginning and also has influenced the thinking of many contemporary architects. A form that comes from a culture has been an icon and has influence the contemporary architectural forms. For example, an Egyptian pyramid form has become a popular form across the world and has been imitated by many architects.

An immediate example is Louvre Pyramid in Paris designed by I.M. Pei. The building has been triggering controversy due to its form that very contra from the classical building at background. While some others stating that this building is a symbol of the success of the merger between the old and new concepts.

Yes merging between the new and the old! This is the biggest challenge for the beach resorts along the East African coastal region. Many of the contemporary beach resorts and spa seem to be out of context. This is majorly because of eclecticism; which has become the rule in tourism, a world where accepted styles are readily replaced by new ways of responding to customers’ expectations, or those that are perceived as such.4This has resulted to commonplace architectural solutions in these resorts which have contributed greatly to the current disregard of site, climatic and cultural forces that in themselves determine the resultant resort forms.

The Kenyan coastline climate is very hot and humid; hence there was scope for the use of Courtyards. Cool air descends through the courtyard and hot air rises. The streets of Mombasa old town are narrow and lie along the North-east and South east directions of Monsoon winds3. Hence wind is funneled through these streets, thereby cooling the pedestrians3.

Furthermore, windows and openings in the facades were placed in strategic positions to face the prevailing wind directions allowing for its penetration. All the external walls of the Buildings were about 300-600mm thick; this was done so as to reduce the transmission of heat into the interior by radiation3.

All the Internal walls are white washed increasing illumination of the interior by reflection. The high exterior walls provide shade for the courtyards keeping it cool3

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