ETH Studio Basel - Contemporary City Institute
Prof. Jacques Herzog, Prof. Pierre de Meuron, Manuel Herz, Ligia Nobre, Shadi Rahbaran with/com University of Nairobi - Prof. Alfred Omenya and collaborators

Nairobi/ETH StudioBasel

Can we conceive of Nairobi as an ordinary city? Can we study Nairobi in terms of its basic human activities? Can we investigate how the city functions by looking at how people live and work or how people move through the city?

As the capital of Kenya, Nairobi – just over 100 years old – has developed into one of the most international cities in the world. As the third UN city after New York and Geneva, it is thoroughly tied into a global network of policymaking, diplomacy, and governance. Apart from the various UN bodies, the city has the largest presence of non-governmental organizations worldwide. Since Kenya is a rather stable country in political terms, and borders on countries such as Uganda, Sudan, or Somalia, which have experienced long-lasting conflicts, it has also been a host to large refugee communities since the 1970s. With a population of approximately three to four million inhabitants, it is the largest city in eastern Africa. Nairobi has experienced a large increase in population, mostly based on rural-urban migration, and its urban growth rate is one of the highest in the world. Nairobi is shaped by strong contrasts in terms of wealth and quality of infrastructure. While some of the most affluent neighborhoods can be found in the west of the city, along with beautiful gardens and vast golf courses, Nairobi is home to one of the biggest slums of the continent, Kibera. But this simple opposition of affluence vs. poverty and its developmental logic ignores the very interdependencies and intersections that tie the different parts of the city together.

It is these and other issues that the Studio Basel Nairobi Project was engaged with. Instead of understanding the city as a system composed of binary opposites, such as formal and informal parts, the study attempted to unfold the very complex simultaneity and dependencies of these parameters, by carefully tracing the basic human activities and their spaces that they unfold in.

Semester Organization

The study was coordinated with a complementary research carried out by students of architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) and in cooperation with the School of the Built Environment at the University of Nairobi, in close collaboration with experts ( from Nairobi.

The semester started with a series of small scale investigations, attempting to construct an initial ‘Nairobi Atlas’. As the second and main part of the research program, the students investigated a series of specific themes and agendas in chosen locations within the city of Nairobi. ETH students conducted the research in groups with local students. The results of the fieldwork in Nairobi and the project development comprised maps, diagrams, interviews, architectural portraits, urban biographies. The final presentation of the student’s works were in the form of a book and a slide presentation.

Download program from ETH Studio Basel website

Student Work link:

Nairobi Workshop
10-14 March 2008
ETH Studio Basel
in collaboration with Harvard GSD and the School Of The Built Environment, University of Nairobi

The Nairobi Workshop addresses the emerging and existing urgent issues of urbanization processes and the historical and political formations as revealed by the recent violent developments since the presidential elections in December 2007.

Participants: Mrs. Evalyne Wanyama, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi; Prof. David Anderson, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford;Mr. Davinder Lamba, Mazingira Institute, Nairobi; Prof. Alfred Omenya, School Of The Built Environment, University of Nairobi; Prof. Paul Syagga, Department of Real Estate and Construction Management, University of Nairobi; Prof. Dr. Till Förster, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel. Prof. Jacques Herzog, Prof. Pierre de Meuron, Manuel Herz,Shadi Rahbaran and Ligia Nobre, ETH Studio Basel: Contemporary City Institute. Harvard Graduate School of Design students: Chi-Yan Chan, Emily Farnham, Sondra Fein, Benny Ho, Mee Hae Kwon, Yusun Kwon. Students of ETH Studio Basel: Contemporary City Institute and of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Basel

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Public Panel Discussion
Post-election violence in Nairobi: An urbanistic perspective
12 March 2008, 6-8pm, Basler Afrika Bibliographien

The debate examines the recent instances of violence in Kenya and specifically in Nairobi from an urbanistic perspective. It will analyze aspects of land ownership, accessibility of space, and social disparities within the urban fabric and will question the viability of the ethnic dimension and historic developments in the formation of the capital city.

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Nairobi, Kenya: Migration Shaping the City
Manuel Herz, Shadi Rahbaran

Edited by ETH Studio Basel, Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron
Lars Muller Publishers
Basel, 2014

Nairobi, in its short history spanning just over one hundred years, has grown to be one of the most varied and international cities of our contemporary world. Migration has been shown as one of the key forces influencing the city. In the context of Nairobi’s complex colonial and postindependence political trajectory, migration has reinforced ethnic, spatial, and economic differences, leading to the formation of multiple power structures. This process is evident in the city’s radically different urban patterns. The book documents, along specific neighborhoods, how different cultures of urban life constitute the city today.

I. Kibera: Formalized Precariousness
II. The United Nations and NGOs in Nairobi
III. Eastleigh: Refugee Migration
IV. The Architecture of Independence in Nairobi


Debate: África Contemporânea
Lançamento do livro Nairobi: Migration Shaping the City de Shadi Rahbaran, Manuel Herz
X Bienal de Arquitetura de São Paulo - Modos de Colaborar, SESC Pompeia
28 Nov, 2013

O debate abordou o projeto das Cidades Aquáticas Africanas. Também discutiu o tema da influência dos imigrantes na formação da cidade de Nairóbi (Quênia), além da experiência dos campos de refugiados que se tornaram cidades na Argélia. Participantes: Kunlé Adeyemi – NLÉ studio (Lagos, Nigeria), Shadi Rahbaran, Manuel Herz (ETH Studio Basel – Nairóbi) e Ligia Nobre

Kibera: Nairobi on the Ground
Small Urban Refuge Community: Nairobi on the Ground

4th International Architecture Biennale: Rotterdam Open City: Designing Coexistence
Parallel Cases Curator Ralf Pasel - RDM Campus, 26 Set - 13 Dec. 2009
download pdf 4th IABR catalogue

Kibera as a City ETH Studio Basel, Nairobi Project, Kenya, 2007-2009
magazine Lotus International 143 - Favelas, Learning from (Milano, August, 2010)