The Swahili Gem apartments by Urko Sanchez Architects in Tudor Creek, Mombasa was completed earlier this year.
The plot’s slope and its narrow shape guided our design to minimize the building’s impact. The steep drop towards the creek, on the lower part of the plot, was saved with three distinct and unique patio houses, stepping one into the other. On top of filtering light, the patios allow ventilation via permeable wood lattices facing the water. They are accessible via lateral stairs that descend towards the creek, passing by an integrated gym at the bottom, and arriving at an infinity pool. A measured distance from the neighbours and the road give the building a well-weighted impact, for it to be present but not overwhelming in the scenery. This way, the apartments block, enveloped with its protective skin, rises facing the road, overlooking the creek, and topped with a penthouse.
The building enveloped in a distinctive masharabiya structural shell offers a unique aesthetic to the facade while ensuring privacy and optimising natural ventilation and daylight. The mucharabiah skin was designed following a study of different traditional patterns. It serves for privacy in relation to the surroundings, and for the filtered, natural light we wanted for the houses. This skin wraps itself around the apartments block, leaving its Northern façade free, with balconies facing the sea and taking full advantage of the breathtaking scenery.
A novelty to Kenya, such structural skin was possible thanks to local and international engineers working hand by hand, and to the steelworkers on-site who managed, by dedication and care, flawless bar bending work without access to any technology.
In addition to white, plaster finishing, the project uses mtomo finish, a coral stone cladding technique original to Lamu that helps keep thermal capacity thanks to the porosity of the coral stone. The woodwork was realised entirely thanks to outstanding hand carving by local artisans from Mombasa and Lamu. Furthermore, artisans produced in situ terrazzo for the flooring of the patio houses.