Design of commercial buildings in Kenya requires a keen understanding regarding the needs of the different users of a commercial space. Successful commercial spaces have particular ways in which they function, and buildings that have supportive environments for ease of doing business will always have a good level of interest from the real estate market. Architects in Kenya should always seek to achieve this.
A look at various commercial developments in the area reveal certain common factors that make them attractive to tenants, hence guaranteeing good returns for their developer. Some of the factors may be within the developer’s control, while others are not, though with persistence and good publicity effort, a developer can gain success.
Here are some main factors you must integrate in the development of a successful commercial building
Location, Location Location
Location, location, location. The location of a property plays a huge role in the level of interest that your plot garners in the real estate market. I have witnessed certain properties which may not be extremely impressive in their appearance and overall quality, but due to their location have managed to garner reliable clientele and commandeer sufficient customer traffic volumes. The value here is the land. With such a location being favored by issues such as ease of access, good services and amenities, secure environment and overall good comfort levels, clients may forgive matters of appearance and quality as being subsidiary to the need to tap into the business that can be found in such an area.
While such commercial building locations have an obvious head start from other buildings in other areas, a developer is well advised to beware that these advantages are not perpetual, and clientele derived from a single location may not always be loyal to you just because of where you are. With the changes in the city regulations and new commercial zones opening up, competition is only increasing. Within a short time, it is easy for your location to lose its appeal due to matters such as congestion and familiarity to emerging business locations.
Case in point, the Nairobi’s CBD for a long time was the place to do business. Having a CBD address was a major advantage for a business. However with passage of time, changes in zoning of new commercial centres such as Westlands, Kiilimani and Mombasa Road gave opportunity for the development of new business centres that attracted prime clientele wanting to move away from the congestion of the city centre. Newer commercial centres developing in satellite areas from the city in Karen, along Thika Road, Athi River, et al will again steal thunder from these areas as they open up and attract businesses closer to residential areas. Devolution is a big boost to this push too.
The point is, you cannot sit on your laurels regarding your location. A developer must invest in the creation of ‘place’ for their commercial buildings that will ensure loyal clientele frequent their locations. Get a good scheme from your architect that will withstand the test of time.
Parking Is a make or break in commercial buildings in Kenya
I am a big proponent of the need for high capacity efficient public transport. I admire the way large cities in the developed world have invested in their high capacity public transport to a level that is decent and very dependable, so much so that it does not make sense to spend fuel and time sitting in traffic jams when you can get on the ‘tube’ and find your way to whichever suburb of the city you need to do business in. However, until the day that this becomes the reality in our East African/Kenyan context, the car is king as the main means of transport. Hence you have to make provision for a lot of cars at your commercial building as you think about tenants being planned for for a commercial building to even make sense.
Prime tenants have prime cars, many of them. They will not want to hire space in your building and leave their prized possessions on the street front at the mercy of City Council officials, they will want a good secured parking (preferably out of the harsh Nairobi sunshine) in an accessible area close to the building where they work.
Naturally, the basement and ground level provide immediate options for parking vehicles on a site. Additional options are roof top parking for low rise buildings provided that you can create access for the vehicles and space allows. The whole idea is to find the balance between sufficient parking provision compared to the cost of developing it. The revenue of the space being occupied by parking even when let out (say about 5000 – 8000/- per month) is less than the revenue from space that has been occupied for offices and other commercial concerns. However the commercial space cannot exist without provision of parking.
Statutory regulations currently demand 1 parking per 100 square meters. However, it makes better business sense to develop a building with a higher ratio, say 2- 3 cars per 100m2 such that you can have better parking provisions within the building and attract more clients. People will not come when they do not have a place to park their vehicles.
The structural system of commercial buildings
I love what globalization is doing to the Kenyan real estate sector. With every new developer entering the real estate market, there are new trends and methods that are infused into the way of doing things on the construction site, and realizing new developments. Previously, we built big buildings in reinforced concrete only. For the most part, the concrete was poured insitu as the construction proceeded. This still happens to most buiildings coming up in the area, but with greater sophistication as contractors receive better equipment and plant to do higher quality works.
Cement manufacturers have also taken it a notch higher with better design mixes of concrete, allowing for higher strength concrete to be mixed at the factory and transported for pouring at the construction site. This means plenty for the engineer of today, as leaner more efficient building structures can be achieved. We have less of the problems of building concrete in the past, i.e. better concrete compression, cleaner concrete finishes, higher concrete compressive strength and bearing capacity and larger spans are possible.
Where we previously were limited to the 6 meter clear grid spans, we now regularly engage the 9 and 12meter spans in construction of commercial spaces, meaning that the resultant spaces are cleaner, more spacious and easier to organize.
New materials are also changing the face of commercial buildings in Kenya
Advancement in the steel industry in Kenya too is heralding more structures being constructed in steel as opposed to the traditional concrete framed structures. Looking at new commercial spaces being built with the requirement for quicker erection times, its easy to see how building in steel can offer advantages in reduction of building times and resulting in lower financial costs during construction. Even where steel costs are higher than cost of building in concrete here in the East African region due to prohibitive steel prices, a developer is well advised to factor in the time effect should one use steel structures compared to conventional concrete construction.
Perhaps it may mean doing a mix of the two, creating a hybrid concrete frame with concrete columns and foundations and creation of floor decks with steel joists and girders may be the way to go that will save time and money.
The main issue though is to create spaces that will be suitable for a tenant to use at the end of the day. Current usage favors more open spaces with fewer intervening columns. This allows for more open work spaces catering for more people in modern open planned interiors. Shop spaces too favor wider spaces that allow for multiple furniture and display space arrangements which will have greater flexibility. Thus the 9 and 12 meter wide grids can be preferable to the traditional 6meter grids. However they do require wise structural planning and strict enforcement during construction lest there be a catastrophe on site.
Commercial Buildings in Kenya must have Integrated Services
Buildings are getting smarter. We must have buildings of the 21st century that have evolved with people’s needs such that they are responsive to the commercial functions of today. The level of sophistication of your building will assist to reduce headaches in terms of securing your internal spaces and define the ease with which your tenants can get what they need in terms of a modern serviced commercial space.
The type of electronic infrastructure for information technology and communication should be such that it allows for ease of connectivity. Internal and external connectivity should be anticipated and built into the building. The building should lend itself to ease of monitoring and security controls such that owners can rest in the peace of mind that they can grow and communicate from the spaces they have within your commercial space.
A developer can no longer take structured cabling and internet provision, CCTV and access control, central aerial and intercom systems, fire suppression and safety systems for granted. You must have these systems in your building for it to be considered basically fitted for commercial activity.
To start to move ahead of the pack however, integrating more sophisticated Building Management Systems that control energy usage within the building, allow for greater internal human comfort in terms of better lighting levels, good clean air and natural ventilation, smart water usage, and comfortable thermal conditions defined by limited air conditioning and maximizing on natural air flows will create a distinction for your building as a smart green and sustainable commercial building.
The age of starachitecture may be on the wane in some cities of the developed world, but not for a while here in the East African region. As buildings begin to get taller and more sophisticated, their outlook is similarly shaping up on the aesthetic side of things. Developers need to provide spaces that are functional, but they need to provide them within a beautiful context. Their buildings must have meaning and be interesting to look at.
Commercial buildings in Kenya must capture aesthetic appeal in their finishes, as well as their general outlook. They should be iconic, as this gives them a name in the cityscape as a desired address. This is where you need your architect to earn their worth. Once a commercial building has been built using these characteristics, its commercial usage is likely to be successful and revenue flows from it will be strong.
So are you looking at developing a commercial building in Kenya? Do you need guidance in creating a building that has these factors integrated within them? We are here to assist you, do get in touch with us.