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AJ Buildings Library: Brick and stone

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Kampala’s British High Commission makes inventive use of a traditional local material, writes Tom Ravenscroft

In Kampala, a city like many in Africa where concrete and blue glass have become the building materials of choice, Kilburn Nightingale Architects chose to build the British High Commission from a more traditional local material: brick. This was an unusual choice for a building of this scale, but by interpreting local construction techniques in a variety of inventive ways, the architect has elevated this everyday material to create a governmental building with an impressive artisanal quality.

The building’s contractor owns a local brickworks, which fired the two million non-standard bricks used to construct the High Commission - a situation the architect took full advantage of. Before and during the build, the practice experimented with extruding various sizes and shapes to develop the bricks that would eventually form the building’s walls, floors, lintels and window surrounds.

Terracotta is also integral to the building’s shading strategy. Unlike many fully enclosed modern structures in Kampala, this is a largely naturally ventilated building, requiring brise soleils to prevent overheating. The architect originally envisaged using steel louvres, but through a process of experimentation and on-site prototypes, it developed terracotta versions.

Some of the building’s security measures have also been softened through the use brick. By placing small bricks on the Foreign Office-approved screens that divide the visa department fromq the main offices, the architect has enlivened this security device, creating playful shadows and impressing a sense of enclosure.

Kilburn Nightingale may have chosen brick for its availability and appropriateness to the climate, but the result is an inventive building that demonstrates the full potential of this simple material.

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