Nairobi Railway Station By Atkins

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Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
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The once desolate land mass of 425 acres at the heart of Nairobi, Kenya, will finally be the capital city’s latest attraction – The Railway City. To historians, the proposed upgrade is a realization that has come full circle. This is because Nairobi was reportedly founded in 1899 as a rail depot by the British colonial government at the very location where the new railway station is to be built. Flash forward to 120 years later, the design of Railway City has been done by, coincidentally, British architects under the world-renown design firm – Atkins.

Image Source: Atkins

The design approach is quite simple. It seeks to renovate the existing train station by adding grand, circular, undulating canopies on both sides of the track. This was inspired by the African homestead, the boma. Chris Crombie, the Atkins Design Director, refers to it as a “big roof, small station” concept. Its high ceiling roof overhang allows volumes of people to experience an airy, vibrant transit terminal that is an iconic destination too. Chances are, only a minor portion of the expected numbers will come to the station for transportation. The majority will revel in the retail shops, restaurants and generous public spaces, completely altering the city’s perception of an indoor-outdoor park.

Image Source: Atkins

Delving further into the details, one would ask: how exactly would the concept of an African ‘boma’, which is traditionally a private abode for family members, be perceived as a public square? Perhaps as a concept, it would resonate more with a traditional African open air market.

Giving credit where it is due, keen effort has been placed on passive design, landscape design, rain water collection and low-embodied energy materials. However, the extensive use of timber on the undulating roof raises the question of whether it has been sustainably sourced in Kenya.

Image Source: Atkins

This proposed mega project will not only comprise of the Central Train Station but also administration offices, a park, schools, housing and other amenities. For urban designers, the main question is whether the proposed railway station will integrate with other mass transit modes – the proposed Nairobi Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail Transit. Will the railway upgrade decongest the central business district as expected? It most certainly appears as if it will encourage more people to move their businesses closer to the CBD because of easier transit. Heck, some may make extra trips to the city just to hang out at the station for the sake of content for social media!

Image Source: Atkins

How much is all this going to cost? A whooping USD 240 Million. The timeline for implementation is expected to take 20 years, enough to spread out the cost. The first phase is scheduled for completion before 2030, with less than 7 years to go. Since the ground-breaking ceremony was held in December 2022, the Railway City of Nairobi may just start to come alive this year 2023!

Image Source: Atkins

On the down side, the commissioning of British architects for this project did rile up reactions from local building professionals. Recent influx of foreign firms doing mega projects in Kenya has been a major point of resistance from professional associations. Conversly, it does present a conundrum for those who admire the works of Atkins. With an expansive portfolio of iconic pieces such as Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, wouldn’t it be beneficial for the city to have a landmark by Atkins? This will, however, be at the cost of a local design team missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Either way, the end goal is to improve Nairobi’s city scape and the Railway City is a leap in the right direction.

Image Source: Atkins

Intrigued by Nairobi’s modern architectural achievements? Discover the brilliance behind the construction of Deluxe Complex, Nairobi, Kenya in our engaging and informative write-up.

Project Details

Architect: Atkins
Project director: Phil Dowrick
Design director: Chris Crombie
Project team: Anastasia Gravani, Abhi Bagade, Lucy Wren, Abhi Bagade, Emily Cowles, David Heal, Darren Gill, Maina Gachoya, Jacinta Mbilo, Godwin Ochieng
Client: Kenya Railways Corporation
Structural engineer: Atkins, David Holmes, Ed Newman Saunders
Building services engineer: Atkins, Neda Rezaei, Josh Flowers, Ian Munro
Landscape architect: Atkins, Neil Manthorpe, Chris Massey, Malgorzata Mikos, Zeyu Li
Cost consultant: Faithful and Gould, Penny Grainger

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About the author

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
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