top of page


According to Ensie (2011), Culture is that which man creates and is opposed to nature, that which has arisen spontaneously and without human intervention. It includes the habits and customs that people have in their own country or that they bring from their country of origin. Culture includes the set of norms and values, eating habits, clothing, religion, music and dance but also, maybe the most important one for architecture students, building culture. The research question that is being adressed in this research is: 

" In what way does culture influence the built environment of Bomani ? "

Research has been done at different scales, from large to small. Starting with the history of Kenya in general, followed by an inventory of the cultures of the south-east coast (Mijikenda and Swahili), and then how these cultures affect the built environment of Bomani.


Over the years, many explorers and migrants have settled in Kenya, all of whom in turn have had an impact on the development of the country. This timeline highlights the most influential periods in Kenya’s history.


Rift Valley, which runs through Kenya, is the ‘cradle of humanity’, according to palaeontologists. Fossils indicate that there were humanlike creatures 2.5 million years ago.


Later, due to fertile soil, Kenya became a migratory country. The first migrants were nomadic Kushite people from Ethiopia. Climate change forced the herdsman communities southwards to the highlands. This population is assumed to have been responsible for megaliths, stone fences, irrigation systems and related prehistoric cultural remains found in East Africa.


Bantu ancestors began to move into the Central African rainforest. Lake Victoria became a secondary centre from which they spread over Africa in the first centuries. Proto-Bantu had learned the craft of preparing and smithing iron. In East Africa the Bantu took over cattle breeding, which would play a major role in the Bantu economy of East and Southeast Africa


From the 8th century Muslims came to the coastal region. They settled permanently and blended in with the African population, which created a series of coastal cities.


In 1498 the Portuguese arrived and gained control over the Indian Ocean whilst battling Ottoman Turks to keep control. Fort Jesus was built, making Mombasa the most important Portuguese outpost.


Portugal was too small to keep in charge so the Arabs chased them away.


The Oman settled along the coast and tried to get control over important cities, at the time ruled by the Mazrui. They called on the British, who sent two warships, and won easily. In the 19th century the Arabs ruled the coast and had a slave trade for a while. In 1822 this trade was ended.


The British had a lot of influence in Kenyan history. Arriving in the 19th century immediate action was taken by putting an end to slavery. Later they even built the first railroad. During the construction a camp was formed, which ended up growing into the capital of Kenya, Nairobi.


After a change in agricultural policy it became more realistic and profitable, produing coffee, tea, tobacco, fruit and flowers.


Politically-wise Kenya became independent after rebellions against British rules, the Mau Mau rebellion. On 12 December 1963 Kenya became an independent monarchy with British Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and Jomo Kenyatta as prime minister.


China’s influence on Kenya happened and still happens with money. Kenya lend a lot of money and pays it off with raw materials such as oil and copper. African leaders are happy to see this money coming as China doesn’t interfere internal or political affairs.


The money mostly goes to small investments like the new train, The Madaraka Express. Kenya makes money of it, but also gets a sky high debt on the long term. This way if Kenya doesn’t pay their debt China simply stops financing the train and Kenya loses even more money.


The amount of influence of China is yet to be seen.


Swahili means ‘people of the coast’ and is derived from the Arabic language, suggesting the different groups of people got their name when the Arabs started trading. They are an ethnic group in the Great Lakes region of eastern Africa. Swahili culture mainly arose from trade and has evolved through various influences. 


Mijikenda literally means “the nine tribes”. They are a group of nine related Bantu ethnic groups who inhabit Kenya’s coast. The Mijikenda people originated in Shungwaya and were pushed south by the Galla after which they reached Kenya around the 16th century.


In Swahili the most influential Muslim family was in charge. The power remained in the family because the governor appointed his successor. This created a division; the ruling class, slaves and not permanently settled people. Naturally they built their homes around a mosque, called a “Mitaa”.


In the Mijikenda tribes there was an age and sex hierarchy. Old men had authority over young men and both men had authority over women. They all lived together in a “Kaya” which was divided by age and lineage. Even though there was no direct slave trade, they bought and sold people for their work and therefor classified as resources of a clan.


As mentioned the Swahili built around a mosque, it functions as central point. Residents identify themselves with the Mitaa from their neighbourhood. The buildings are built close together and the neighbourhood is formed naturally. As a result, cities often have a very narrow and organic street pattern.

The Mijikenda community lived in a Kaya, surrounded by a palisade and two heavily guarded gates. A cluster of homes, belonging to various clans, were arranged in a circle, with in the middle a Moro. The kaya-elders come together in the Moro to pray and make decisions. The clans were descendants, with the daughter or son becoming a member of the father's descendant group. Each sub-clan was called a homestead, with an average of three generations.


Swahili houses tend to be rectangular structures consisting of 1 story. The long narrow and symmetrical rooms play a part in keeping the home cool. There are few windows, but the walls facing the patio have large openings. The entrance towards the patio faces a blank wall to keep the private rooms separated for visitors. The private spaces are at the back of the house.

Mijikenda homes have three distinct areas; the entrance and entertainment area, the cooking and storage area and the sleeping area. There is only one opening to keep the inside cool. The openings are aimed at the middle of the clan.


Swahili people show off their wealth. This is for example done in the richly decorated front door. Influenced by the Arabians there are lots of arches to be found, inside and outside, which also shows a lot of detail. At the front of the house is a baraza, literally translated counsel, a solid bench, used by the village chief to make decisions and solve problems.

The Mijikenda is known for their traditional methods. It mainly concerns housing. The houses are mostly oval shaped and made of grass and wood. They are relatively closed to the outside world, partly to keep the heat out.


Researching the built environment around Bomani gives an insight to the different cultural influences from the history and which are still visible and used this day.


In the streets of Bomani there are characteristics visible form Swahili and Mijikenda styles. Sometimes they merge together or use more modern building materials.


The modern homestead is not the same as it was done in the traditional Mijikenda way. There is a mix in Swahili and Mijikenda styled houses. The left house uses coral stones instead of mud of plaster. Also the use of corrugated sheets is used on the roof. In the façade are several openings including shutters.


The houses on the right still uses mud and wood so they have a more traditional style. Some houses use steel sheets but other houses still use makuti as a roof.


The built environment at the B8 road shows a lot of differences in buildings. There are mainly houses built around the road, but also shops, restaurants and hotels.


There is no clear placement of houses along the road. They are randomly placed at different times, but there seems to be some clusters of the same types. Mijikenda styled houses are close together and are very few. More houses have Swahili style and sometimes are combined with characteristics from Mijikenda, like thatch roofs


The first building is a hotel which uses different styles. The dormer and the veranda keep the light out and the rooms cool. The façade is coloured plaster and has a decorative steel fence.

The apartment complex can be recognised from the large volume, as the other buildings mainly use 1 floor. Swahili characteristics can be found in balconies, covered verandas and canopies which keep the light out and the decorated balustrades. The more modern buildings use lots of colour instead of white.


The house on the right is a bit more traditional with its white-grey colour.



The mix in religions causes some changes in the urban structure, no particular religion is dominant in Bomani. The result is that there is no clear distinction as was visible before.


Architecturally there is much visible from the Swahili and Mijikenda culture. There is a lot of use of balconies, verandas, arches, balustrades with decoration, plastered facades and makuti roofs. But there are also modern changes such as corrugated steel, steel ridge tiles on top of makuti roofs and the use of colour.

In contrast to the exterior, the interior is not so much changed. The layout is still very similar and based on traditional norms and values. It can be concluded that traditional features are gradually fading away, but the underlaying norms and values remain.


A building actually being build depends on various topics, in which the main topic is the building code. People want to show off their status and wealth but don’t have the knowledge to build themselves. Fancy materials are more expensive for various reasons such as availability, transport, durability and craftmanship.


An architect has the knowledge, but by hiring an architect the house must comply with the building code. Without an architect the building is simply built, needs a lot of maintenance and thus will not last long.


Therefore, making the decision between expensive and cheap can be divided be into a permanent building and a semi-permanent building.


This design guide shows the most important elements and characteristics from the two cultures Swahili and Mijikenda, the largest cultures along the Southeast coast of Kenya. This is summed up in the layout of the house, the type of household, the social hierarchy and the most important characteristics. With these starting points one can keep the norms and values alive in their own design.

bottom of page