Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has grand plans. Donna Rubinoff, the city’s Director of Urban Planning, tells a story of how the Rwandan President visited Denver and on seeing a city panorama from the top of one of the city’s towers was inspired to recreate his own capital.
While in Denver, he met Carl Washington who produced the early masterplans for the Denver Tech Center development, and who is now an urban designer at Denver-based OZ Architecture who he hired to deliver a conceptual masterplan for Kigali, producing most of their work from maps created in the 1960s.
Surbana, the Singapore based firm, joined the team to produce more detailed work, which was on show at MIPIM 2011. The plans now seek to reposition Kigali as a regional centre, where international firms can service not just Rwanda, but the neighbouring markets of Uganda, DR Congo, Tanzania and Burundi. It is certainly central to that region and, says Rubinoff, more stable than its neighbours. When the international airport which is planned is complete, then certainly the geography and infrastructure will be in favour.
The Surbana/OZ masterplan seeks to almost treble the population of the city by creating new areas and densifying others. The main Central Business District builds on the Belgian colonial heritage, respecting the existing urban fabric while the new Nyuragange district, while respecting the tradition and history, moves forward to a more 21st century vernacular.
Throughout though, the masterplan is characterised by a desire to create walking neighbourhoods easily navigated on foot, with an impressive desire to produce a world-class public realm. This should help avoid creating a city dependent on the car, and assist in the building of a knowledge-based economy.
The unusual focus on public space is designed to attract international companies. “The focus and concentration on the urban sphere will make Kigali stand out”, says Rubinoff.
She recognises they can’t do this alone though. While there are many local designers, developers and investors, the purpose of the Kigali mission at MIPIM was to attract international money and expertise.
One such local developer is Habi, who are working on a commercial development in the retail district by the main roundabout designed by Paris-based O’Zone. This 30,000 sq m mixed use office/retail/residential building has reached the outline and massing stage. Habi are interested in working with international architects to develop this and other projects in Kigali.
Indeed, this influx of foreign talent provides a further opportunity, thinks Rubinoff: “We want a broad range of international architects to work in collaboration with Rwandans. This will provide us with a capacity-building opportunity, as locals learn from the rest of the World. We’ll welcome architects and urban design professionals who will teach our local designers to find their own way”.
“Kigali doesn’t have to look like Kenya”, she concludes.