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Columnists

Reward creativity but not mediocrity

Some of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe were built during the medieval period that was characterised by the Gothic architecture.

It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture between the 12th and 16th centuries.

During these periods, Europe was not as sophisticated as it is today. Our economies today are in better shape than Europe then, but our contribution to the history of architectural creativity is yet to be felt.

According to Wikipedia, Gothic architecture is most familiar as the architecture of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys and churches of Europe. It is also the architecture of many castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and to a less prominent extent, private dwellings.

It is in the great churches and cathedrals and in a number of civic buildings that the Gothic style was expressed most powerfully, its characteristics lending themselves to appeals to the emotions, whether springing from faith or from civic pride.

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A great number of ecclesiastical buildings remain from this period, of which even the smallest are often structures of architectural distinction while many of the larger churches are considered priceless works of art and are listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Here at home, European architecture stands out. Whether it is St. Austin Church at St. Mary’s School or Kipande House, the architectural style has a strong message that pulls the eye of even a casual observer.

The designs of All Saints Cathedral, St. Andrews Church and most of the early church buildings are priceless works of art.

The common denominator in all these buildings is the attention to detail and deliberate attempt to pass a message to the viewer through the aesthetic beauty. Simpler designs of residential houses had character too.

Unfortunately, modern day architect in Africa is a shadow of past creative works, especially in Europe and now in Asia and Middle East. Yet there are more qualified architects than there were at the beginning of the 19th century when Europe invaded Africa.

Even without the underlays, colonial houses never leaked including the ones that still stand. Patterns of tiling, both on the roofs and floors were done with precision using geometrical instruments.

Artisans took time to learn their trade and understudied someone before they could be allowed to do the work by themselves. These rules applied to all other trades. The government then created village polytechnics and national polytechnics to train blue collar workers to anchor economic development.

Rhetorically, most Kenyans ask, what really went wrong? At some point majority of Kenyans eschewed blue-collar jobs discouraging friends and relatives from considering artisanal work that was considered blue collar.

This mentality got into successive governments that began to destroy mid-level colleges in favour of universities. Whilst unemployment and underemployment continue to undermine the economy, we have thousands of graduates who cannot feed themselves yet there is a severe shortage of artisans.

This is happening when we are all aware that in Germany it is compulsory for pupils in secondary school to go through some vocational training that feeds into the country’s blue-collar labour market that supports its solid economy.

In many homes and institutions I see clumsy work. Unaligned doors, tiles that are shapeless, haphazard architectural designs, leaking roofs, leaky plumbing, as well as ugly interior design themes.

The cost of our building structures in Kenya today is more expensive and wasteful than it is in other parts of the world where aesthetic beauty is considered part and parcel of history.

If we have to live in this world with a purpose, then we must start with a comprehensive review of our educational system. Encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Change our attitudes towards respecting the roles played by every citizen in whatever position they are in.

Refuse to accept mediocrity and reward creativity. Like in Gothic styles of architect, we must strive to leave landmarks that those living in 2113 and beyond will make reference in awe to what we shall have done today.

If there is reincarnation or life after death, then it will be a boring life with embarrassment if we do not do something today to pride ourselves with in death.

Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.

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