There are just 178 registered architects in this rapidly urbanising country, where buildings frequently collapse. But more professionals may not

Rescue workers and onlookers at the scene of a building that collapsed in Kampala in 2009.
Rescue workers and onlookers at the scene of a building that collapsed in Kampala in 2009. © STR/EPA


Kampala’s city authority has made valiant attempts at the kind of urban design Oborn describes, but with limited success. Many blame political corruption and nepotism. “There are initiatives that have started, but they always hit a snag wherever it affects politicians or big developers,” says Emmanuel Mugisha, an architect at Studio FH, a firm focusing on environmentally conscious projects in east Africa. “The rules are always adjusted to suit whatever they are doing.”

Mugisha says buildings designed in Uganda today tend to prioritise a certain aesthetic over practicality or sustainability, being modelled on the blue glass towers of Dubai rather than planned with Uganda’s equatorial climate in mind. Mugisha and his boss, Studio FH’s German founder Felix Holland, talk animatedly about how well built Uganda’s “tropical modernist” buildings from the 60s and 70s were compared with today’s efforts.

“In the postcolonial era I think there was a lot of optimism,” says Mugisha, describing well-shaded and naturally ventilated buildings in the city centre such as the Bank of Uganda and the central post office. “But if you turn to the current market, a lot of architecture schools are focused on globalisation rather than thinking about our climate.”

Mugisha is a graduate of Uganda Martyrs University, where the architect and academic Mark Olweny challenges his students to look at architecture as “more than buildings”. 

“Architects are now collaborators, helping communities achieve their goals – not coming in as gods and being all-seeing experts,” Olweny says.


The architecture professionals who spoke to Guardian Cities said various factors would need to change before more registered architects could make an impact in Uganda. 

A good starting point would be a detailed, well designed and properly implemented masterplan from the city authority, suggest architects at Studio FH. “At the moment it’s up for interpretation,” says Mugisha. “You cannot explain why some things are the way they are in Kampala, because there is no valid basis for decision making. You just have to argue case by case.”

But first, attitudes need to shift across the board: from the belief that Kampala should aspire to be like Dubai to the idea that the well connected and rich are above the law. As long as it is the architect’s job to give the powerful what they want, would more of them make any difference?