The University Centre project at the Aga Khan University, Nairobi, stands as a model for sustainable high-rise development while providing a human-centric experience for students, faculty, and staff. Facing increasing market pressure for higher density in the Parklands District, the building is fundamentally urban and urbane while resisting the temptation to maximize real estate by simply going vertical with a singular building footprint. Instead, the building is pulled apart and opened up, with a 7-story North Tower that affirms the importance of the urban street wall along Third Parklands Avenue, and a 12-story South Tower that bends away from the street to form a central courtyard while also aligning to the most favourable solar exposure angles. Building form, landscape architecture, and environmental sustainability come together in a holistic composition to form a mini- campus on the 0.75-hectare site.
The experience of the building starts with the landscape, which ranges from formal plazas to lush gardens. The busy street life of Third Parklands is quickly forgotten as one enters a serene arrival plaza anchored by a central cassia tree. Pergolas and canopies around the perimeter of the plaza provide shade and shelter, bringing people to the main entrance, which leads to the atrium lobby, an open-air but covered space that connects the two towers on each floor. A staircase passes in front of and behind a seven-story timber mashrabiyya screen extending the full height of the atrium, and the bridges at each floor of the atrium are lined with planters, creating a vertical garden at the heart of the building.
Much of the experience of being in the building is exterior and open-air, with verandas that serve as the primary corridors on each floor, and the atrium that connects the two towers both horizontally and vertically. This circulatory armature is entirely open-air but covered so that people are protected from the sun and the rain. And the building is very porous, allowing the prevailing breezes to ventilate the interior and exterior spaces. The central courtyard, planted with Meru oak trees, serves as a “town square” and connects various activities on the ground floor, including a generous breezeway that serves as the lobby for the auditorium and leads to an amphitheatre and garden space at the rear of the building. On the second floor, a similar breezeway connector through the open-air student cantina leads to the Kiva Terrace, which overlooks the amphitheatre. And the library has a terrace overlooking the front yard and the hospital campus beyond, across Third Parklands Avenue. These outdoor spaces – atrium, courtyard, terraces, amphitheatre, and verandas – take advantage of the lovely Nairobi climate and serve as an extension of the building’s space program. In other words, these spaces support campus life – individual and group study as well as socializing – which in turn reduces pressure on the use of interior spaces.
Most of the building, with its narrow floor plates and extensive windows, is designed to be naturally ventilated, reducing energy consumption from conventional HVAC systems. Natural ventilation is coupled with passive cooling, where the thermal mass of the building’s structural concrete is exposed in many of the interior spaces. During the day, the heat from the room is absorbed by the concrete, and at night, when the temperature drops, the concrete cools, allowing it to serve as a heat sink again the next day.
The building was initially designed in 2012-2014 but was put on hold until 2017, at which time it underwent some re-design to add floors and accommodate additional academic programs that were not part of the original design. Central to the re-design was incorporating facilities that would enable the university to be granted its charter from the Kenyan government. Design was completed in 2018, and the project was constructed 2019-2021 and was formally opened by His Excellency Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya on June 11, 2021, which marks the date that the Aga Khan University was granted its charter in Kenya. This unique “inside-out” building, which creates an urban experience in miniature within a small, constrained site, shows how architecture, landscape, urban design, and sustainability can be woven together into a coherent composition, creating a highly functional academic building with a distinctive campus life experience.
The Aga Khan University Centre has received Final EDGE Advanced Certification from SGS-Sintali.
Reduced Window to Wall Ratio
Low-E Coated Glass
Natural Ventilation for Classrooms
Air Conditioning with Air Cooled Chiller
Variable Speed Drives in AHUs
Variable Speed Drive Pumps
Energy Saving Light Bulbs for Internal Spaces
Energy Saving Light Bulbs for External Areas
Occupancy Sensors in Bathrooms
Solar Hot Water Collectors
Other Renewable Energy for Electricity Generation
Smart Energy Meters for Electrical Energy
Efficient Flush for Water Closets in All Bathrooms
Water-Efficient Faucets for Kitchen Sinks
Rainwater Harvesting System
Floor Slabs – Concrete Filler Slab
Roof Construction – Micro Concrete Tiles on Timber Rafters
Roof Construction – In-Situ Reinforced Concrete Slab
External Walls – In-Situ Reinforced Wall
External Walls – Stone Blocks – Machine Cut Unpolished
Internal Walls – Plasterboards on Metal Studs with Insulation
Internal Walls – Stone Blocks – Machine Cut Unpolished
The Aga Khan University Centre 3rd Parklands Nairobi, Nairobi 30270-00100 Kenya
Final EDGE Advanced Certificate
May 1, 2022
Floor Space (m2)
Total CO2 Savings (annually)