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African green: Studio FH Architects, Uganda

Encompassing Ugandan schools and safari lodges, the work of Studio FH merges idealism with pragmatism

Studio FH has been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018

Attempting to push the boundaries of architecture in Uganda requires, says Studio FH founder Felix Holland, a bit of a ‘cowboy mentality’, a willingness to improvise in the face of little regulation, professional ambiguity and a lack of infrastructure. 

Originally from Germany, Holland has carved a niche for his studio in Kampala, working with a team of eight architects to design buildings based on passive design principles, something that is still relatively rare. Earlier this year the studio featured in an article in the Guardian looking at Uganda’s huge shortage of architects –striking considering its rapid urbanisation. In this, Studio FH architect Emmanuel Mugisha described how big projects in Uganda were ‘modelled on the blue glass towers of Dubai rather than planned with Uganda’s equatorial climate in mind’.

The team all share Holland’s ‘idealism that architecture can make a difference’, and it was this desire to deal with ‘real issues’ that led him to establish the studio in the first place. Half of the studio’s work is for NGOs, and 60 per cent is in the educational sector. Currently, Studio FH are working on a series of schools for the African Wildlife Foundation near Kidepo Valley National Park, which Holland calls ‘exemplary’ for their approach to climate-responsive architecture in a rural setting.

Studio fh drawings 1

Studio fh drawings 1

Click to download

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Kidepo Valley primary Studio fH

Source: Valerie Rubombora

The colours that feature in sliding louvre panels and in the end-wall construction for the two Kidepo Valley primary schools are inspired by the traditional jewellery of the local Karamojong people

Although this is something of a signature ‘location-sensitive’ approach, there is no signature style, with materials and indeed the workforce sourced from around the site. Here experimentation is vital – at Kidepo Valley this involved rubble foundations and rammed-earth blocks, but previously, such as at the Ross Langdon Health Education Centre (AR May 2017), it involved bottles filled with water and bleach being used as light-refractors, known as ‘litres of light’.

The studio also operate a pro bono service to groups who would otherwise be unable to benefit from professional design knowledge. A recent recipient of this was the Gahinga Batwa Village, built for a group left in poverty since eviction from a nearby forest following its National Park status. Materials were donated by Volcanoes Safaris, and using these Studio FH designed 18 small houses, based on a structure built by the community from branches and grass, along with latrines and a community centre. Here too there are some unique twists, such as the use of recycled engine oil to treat structural eucalyptus poles, and papyrus serving as a roof covering.

Studio fh drawings 2

Studio fh drawings 2

Click to download

Gahinga Batwa village Studio FH

Gahinga Batwa village Studio FH

The Gahinga Batwa village is based on a structure built by the community from branches and grass, supplied with a DIY assembly guide

Aiding in the supply of materials for the Gahinga Batwa project were the guests of the Volcanoes Safaris Lodges, representing the other end of the spectrum in Studio FH’s work. These four lodges, designed for safari tourists, have seen the firm turn their hand to health spas and more high-end residences. The responses produced by this huge difference in budgets and materials are surprisingly multifarious – at the 2016 House in Buziga, for example, we even see shades of Modernism, a demonstration of a certain interest in form and style that for Studio FH would usually seem absent.

‘We would like to firmly establish ourselves as East Africa’s premium firm for bespoke ecological building design and delivery’, says Holland, and thus far the seemingly paradoxical merging of idealism and pragmatism is producing inspiring results.

Architect: Studio FH Architects

Photographs: Will Boase, unless otherwise stated

This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today

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