20 classic buildings in Nairobi that remain entrenched in Kenya’s history

Norfolk Hotel

Nairobi is considered a melting pot of many cultures and diversity. Foreigners have made their way to Kenya tracing back to the 18th century bringing with them iconic architectural designs from their homelands that have stood the test of time . Today we look at some of these familiar buildings in Nairobi that remain sentimental to our nation’s history.

  1. 1904Norfolk Hotel remains sturdy in spite of the time. It is still one of the most prestigious hotels in the city. It has gone through renovations but has maintained its vintage look.

    Norfolk Hotel
    Norfolk Hotel – Image Credits
  2. 1907GPO is still a landmark on Kenyatta Avenue and has since been adopted to be a one of the city’s Huduma Centre.

    GPO Nairobi - Image Credit
    GPO Nairobi – Image Credit
  3. 1912Cameo Cinema Theatre. It is one of the earliest verandah bars in Nairobi. In 1961 it was closed down and later had a grand re-opening that featured The Beatles. Today it houses a casino, coffee shop and a subway outlet among other businesses.

    Cameo Casino today
    Cameo Casino today  – Image Credit
  4. 1913 – Old PC’s House (The Nairobi Gallery) is at the junction of Uhuru highway and Kenyatta Avenue. It was the old PC’s office and was fondly referred to as ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ because of the births, marriages and deaths that were recorded there. Today it is a National monument that holds temporary exhibitions.

    Nairobi Gallery
    Nairobi Gallery – Image Credit 
  5. 1913 – Opposite GPO is Kipande House that hosts KCB (Kenya Commercial Bank ) and once boasted of the tallest clock tower in town before City Hall Clock (1957). Architect Gurdit Singh used blue stone in the construction. This is where Kenyans were required to register and acquire ID cards.

    Kipande House - Image Credit
    Kipande House – Image Credit
  6. 1917 – (completed in1952) – Right across Serena Hotel (Processional Way) is All saints cathedral that was done by Temple Moore one of the most astounding architects of the time and AJ Davis a famous stained glass designer from Britain. It was known as the Cathedral of Highlands.
    All Saints Cathedral bacl then - Image Credit
    All Saints Cathedral bacl then – Image Credit

    All Saints Cathedral - Image Credits
    All Saints Cathedral – Image Credits
  7. 1920 – Did you know the Stanbic house was first to install an elevator in Nairobi’s CBD? Hard to believe it now that we have elevators that ‘talk’ to us. It was built as Torr’s Hotel by Major Grogan a British explorer, entrepreneur and pioneer settler. He was also the first person to walk the length of Africa from Cape to Cairo, to impress his wife Gertrude after whom the Gertrude’s hospital is named.

    CFC Stanbic - Image Credit
    CFC Stanbic – Image Credit
  8. 1922Khoja ‘JamatKhana’ Mosque is one of those buildings on Moi Avenue that you walk past oblivious of its beauty. Khoja means prayer house or mosque. The building is credited to have catalyzed business around the area which gave way to the bazaar street later named Biashara Street. It is also a symbol of the permanent settlement of the Ismaili community in Kenya during the colonial era.
    Khoja Mosque - Image Credit
    Khoja Mosque – Image Credit

    Khoja Mosque back in the day
    Mosque back in the day
  9. 1925Jamia Mosque was made in the classic Arab Muslim architectural style with extensive use of marble and inscriptions from the Quaran. Though not open to those who do not profess the Islam religion, you can catch a glimpse of its magnificence from the outside.
    Jamia Mosque 1960 - Image Credits
    Jamia Mosque 1960 – Image Credits
    Jamia Mosque now
    Jamia Mosque now – Image Credit 

    10. 1920s (late) – Next to Jamia Mosque is McMillan Library along Banda Street. It was built by Lady Lucy McMillan in memory of her late husband Sir William Northrup Mc Millan (1872 – 1925) who was a hunter, philanthropist and traveler. It is made of blue stone finished with plaster. The lion sculptures were made to show his huntsmanship.

    McMillan Library - Image Credit
    McMillan Library – Image Credit
    One of the lions at the entrance - Image Credit
    One of the lion sculptures  at the entrance – Image Credit

    11. 1927Nairobi  Railway Headquarters was built by Sir Herbert John Baker an architect who used a Neo-classical architectural style. He is the same designer who together with assistant Jan Hoogterp designed State House, Law Courts and Nairobi school (Previous Prince of Wales Schools).

    Kenya Railways station - Image Credit
    Nairobi Railways station – Image Credit

    12. 1930sOld Mutual bank has maintained its look since its construction with only few touches added to it. Rooted on Kimathi Street, it continues to stand out even as new buildings come up. It was expanded in the 1940s & 50’s and is recognized as a monument in 2000.

    Old Mutual – Image Credit

    13. 1930sStandard Chartered Bank on Kenyatta Avenue was built for Standard Bank of South Africa. It must be the large hewn stones used to build it that have ensured its longevity as an architectural icon.

    Standard Chartered Bank - Image Credit
    Standard Chartered Bank – Image Credit

    14. 1950sParliament House. This is where the lower house seats since we adopted the county government system. It is well known for its English style clock tower and the Mausoleum that houses the body of the founder and the first prime minister of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta . It is modeled after the Westminster system of government in the UK.

    Parliamentary Buildings - Image Credit
    Parliamentary Buildings – Image Credit

    15. 1952Sarakasi Dome (Old Shan Cinema) I like to call it the arts hub. This is one space where dancers, acrobats, musicians, circus performers can be fully express themselves artistically. At the top the dome, especially at night, you can catch the panoramic view of the city.

    Sarakasi Dome - Image Credit
    Sarakasi Dome – Image Credit
  1. 1960sHoly Family Basilica. Designed by Dorothy Hughes of Hughes & Polkinghorne Architects, the church has a seating capacity of four thousand people. It has one main altar, two side altars, eight chapels, two halls, and notable icons of the Holy Family of Nazareth, St Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as a grotto.
    Holy Family Basilica in the golden days – Image Credit

    17. 1967Kenyatta National Hospital – Main Block. The oldest hospital in Kenya was first built with a 40 bed capacity and back then was named Native Civil Hospital and later named after King George IV in 1952. After we gained our independence it was named it changed to Kenyatta Hospital.

    Kenya National Hospital before renovations - Image Credit
    Kenya National Hospital before renovations – Image Credit

    18. 1969Hilton hotel. This is another of top tier hotels in town. It sits on what was initially a bus station. It was designed by the Zevet Kenya Architects and Engineers.

    Hilton Hotel - Image Credit
    Hilton Hotel – Image Credit

    19. 1973KICC (Kenya International Convention Center) is built along Harambee Avenue. Was the tallest building in town before Times Towers came in 2000. It still remains as the ideal place for local and international conferences. The structure that has ‘fins’ was made to allow for it to be an airy space.

    KICC - Image Credit
    KICC – Image Credit

    20. 1982The Co-operative house is usually associated with the infamous 1998 bombing, at a time when it hosted the American Embassy. Again the Zevet Kenya Architects and Engineers designed the building that for a long time referred to as the ‘Bell Bottom House’ because of the flare at the bottom that resembles the pants that were trendy in 70’s.

    Co-operative House - Image Credit
    Co-operative House – Image Credit


Author: Medrine Nyambura

Copywriter, Kijiji Agency

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