Project by
Gereon Rolvering
Master Track
Wouter Vanstiphout and Leo van den Burg
Date of graduation

Becoming Nairobi

Drawing back on my experience of living in Nairobi, this thesis explores the city’s dynamic system of public space and tries to improve its legibility by establishing a framework for its use and design. Exploring Nairobi as a city of arrival, my personal process in the development of this project was quite similar to that of coming to Nairobi as a migrant, continuously learning to understand, use and finally appropriate the city.As a colonial foundation closed off to the native population, Nairobi, the urban epicentre for East Africa, has always been a city of constant coming and going rather than a point of identification for the Kenyan population. By consequence, Nairobi’s metropolitan system in general and its public space in particular is optimized to flexibly absorb the masses of migrants that make up its population.

However, the lack of codification of public space, its dynamics and use side-lines minorities and arrivals and inhibits the ‘becoming’ of Nairobians, disenfranchising them with their own city.This research will therefore commence by trying to get an understanding of how Nairobi has developed into a city of comings and goings over the past 100 years since its foundation. Exploring the historical development of the city and its residents, I will argue that the notion of public realm in Nairobi is radically different from the ideals of public space discussed in traditional planning practice, mostly reflecting the European city. I will in a second step systematically analyse the spatial dimension of the public realm in Nairobi coming to the conclusion that in spite of its illegibility to arrivals, the city works by a set of clear spatial rules.

Based on this research, I will try to establish how digitalisation and the mobile economy will codify the dynamics of public space and life in Nairobi. Trying to mediate between the city’s duality between integration and identity, this project will then propose a framework of soft and hard public spaces based on existing structural and spatial typologies found along Nairobi’s Ngong Road. Using a set of site specific indicators, these elements will be synthesised in designs for key sections of Ngong Road and its vicinity.