I love every minute of the warm sunshine filtering through the tall glass-domed roof of the Boma Hotel. It is a nouveau and unusual piece of architectural design that has given Nairobi a signature skyline.
The wing by the main road looks like a ship surrounded by “rivers” which drain their water into the two “oceans”, one at the entry and the other near the restaurant.
Warmed in the atrium with the last burst of the evening sun and a cup of coffee, I crane my neck to take in the full length of the dome, which stretches to the eighth floor, the topmost floor. Then I wander into the elevator that is shaped like a glass time capsule and shoot up to the top floor, where my room overlooks the vast plains of the Nairobi National Park. I am quite certain that if I had a pair of strong binoculars I would be able to see a rhino, buffalo, or giraffe.
Boma in Kiswahili means homestead and is the brainchild of Abbas Gullet, the CEO of the Kenya Red Cross Society, a humanitarian organisation. The high-end hotel is an income-generating investment meant to steer the Kenya Red Cross Society from dependency on donors. Created by an Act of Parliament in 1965, the society is the largest humanitarian organisation in Kenya responding to national disasters, famine, floods, and was very much the cross that everyone looked out for during the 2007/8 post election violence.
I am chatting with Wariko Waita, the society’s director of external relations and resource mobilisation, by the state-of-the-art health club overlooking the garden with its life-size metal-wired giraffe and I can clearly see the visionary side of the respected man at the helm of the organisation.
The Kenya Red Cross Society boasts the largest and best equipped ambulance service in the country — a result of the time a society employee was involved in an accident on Thika Road and needed emergency ambulance service.
“At that time we were covered by an external health care provider and we were under the impression that it was operational round-the-clock.” It was not and this spurred Gullet into starting the best fleet of ambulances in the country — five to begin with in 2011 to 47 at present. When it came to the hotel, Gullet chose the design of three local architects who were starting their business. I catch up with one of the architects, Leonard Mcharo of Morphisis Ltd.
“The Boma was designed at the tail end of the post-election violence in early 2008 to represent the different communities and ideologies. These differences caused the storm that was the PEV,” explains Mcharo.
That would not have crossed my mind standing by the Swahili dhow marooned in its own “ocean” with water sprinkling from the mast.
“We pushed the coastal theme further in the eating areas,” continues the architect, a graduate of the University of Nairobi.
“The main restaurant mimics a coconut plantation complete with young and mature palms formed by the columns. The makuti is symbolised by the roof structure. All the eating areas (with the exception of the bistro) are open to the sky, the two atria and main restaurant, Johari. This signifies how Africans ate — outside around a fire.”
“The building was on a flat site with no interesting features,” adds Mcharo. The surrounding South C used to be a middle-income estate with beautiful houses and gardens with predominantly Indian architecture — a relic of the pre-independence days when areas where aligned according to colour. In recent years, however, the beautiful architecture has been replaced by some of the ugliest structures with gardens ripped away to give room for concrete structures. That is why it is impressive that these young architects indulged in a design bordering on surreal and functional.
The atrium, in which I meet a friend for coffee. is the “eye” of the “storm”. It is circular and brings in heavenly light where all other forms meet in harmony.
My friend recalls, “During the PEV, we watched a policeman on TV telling people that we are all Kenyans. That we are all one.” And where no one else would dare venture, it was the Kenya Red Cross Society that was accepted everywhere.
ULTRA-MODERN AND WITHIN EASY REACH
The Boma Hotel is an ultra-modern hotel with stunning rooms, including a presidential and deluxe suites. It has a dedicated area for corporate business and an art gallery with contemporary African art. The hotel is within easy reach of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the central business district. If you wish, you may sign up with the Kenya Red Cross Society for excellent medical care in well-equipped ambulances when you need it.