Firm behind KU’s master plan spreads wings across region

Mr Chris Osore and Mr Jeff Fenimore of the
Mr Chris Osore and Mr Jeff Fenimore of the US-based DLR Group of architects. Margaretta wa Gacheru 

US-based DLR Group of architects and engineers came to Kenya in early 2014 at the invitation of Olive Mugenda, the former Kenyatta University (KU) Vice Chancellor.

But since then, the group has successfully completed several projects, including an impressive 50-year master plan for the university.

“The DLR Group operates on four continents; in Asia, the Middle East, North America and now in Africa,” Jeffery Fenimore, the managing director of DLR Africa regional operations, told the Business Daily.

He was in Kenya two weeks ago, visiting their various projects including the recently opened Africa regional headquarters in Westlands.

“Currently, we are operating in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia, but Kenya is where we chose to open an office,” said Mr Fenimore, who has been instrumental in opening the new headquarters and hiring a team of Kenyans, including Munene Mathenge as General Manager. It was another Kenyan, Christopher Osore, who established the initial connection between Kenya and DLR in late 2013. Like Mr Fenimore and Prof Mugenda, Osore graduated from Iowa State University (ISU) in the US. And like the DLR Africa executive, he trained in architecture and has been working with DLR for nearly a decade.

The US-born Kenyan (he is still based in the States) had been attending an awards ceremony at ISU honoring Dr Mugenda for her services in education.

Their chance meeting led to her declaring she wanted to ensure KU maps out a “world class” master plan for the future since she knew her tenure as Vice Chancellor would be ending soon.

Prof Mugenda had a vision to make the university one of the finest, not just in Africa but in the world. Her hope was that the master plan would ensure her vision would be fulfilled after she exited.

Mr Osore introduced Prof Mugenda to Mr Fenimore in 2014 and, together, they created a plan so impressive that several other Kenyan universities have enlisted DLR to help them devise one too.

“Because we are both an architectural and engineering firm, our goal with KU was to integrate the present structures with the aspirational features that Dr Mugenda envisioned, such as a professional sports stadium adjoined by a recreational and health centre,” said Mr Fenimore, who is also DLR’s director of its Global Higher Education Programme.

Leadership training

DLR has also been involved in President Barack Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (Yali) which the US Head of State launched before he left Kenya in 2015.

“Yali is very much involved in leadership training and its regional training centre is based at KU,” said Mr Osore who, with his DLR staff, designed and built the training centre in less than four months.

“Already there have been five six-week training sessions at the centre since it opened right after President Obama left town. That first batch of Africans were from 16 countries, and that kind of outreach has been maintained ever since.”

The sixth session of leadership training is underway, with funding from USAid. “Yali was President Obama’s signature gift to Kenya and Africa, and Kenya has definitely benefited from it,” Mr Osore said.

Mr Fenimore, whose focus is especially on architecture and education, is enthusiastic about the trends opening up in the region.

In Kenya alone, DRL is involved in designing university student hostels at the Coast and working with schools whose owners prefer to remain anonymous.

He added that DLR had designed universities worldwide — including in China, the US and Qatar. “We also work in other sectors such as hospitality, retail, medicine and justice,” he said.

So while education is a major sector of DLR’s work, it also designs hospitals, hotels, and shopping malls like the Mall of the Emirates destined to become the biggest in the world.

DLR was started a little more than 50 years ago by two architects and one engineer. Two key factors in the group’s success, said Mr Fenimore, is its attention to creating sustainable and integrated designs and its appreciation of architecture as a combination of art and science, the two equally balanced so that beauty and functionality operate in harmony.