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Mutua Mutuku: Sketching a bold dream

Mutua Mutuku, managing director and architect
Mutua Mutuku, managing director and architect at Symbion Consulting Group. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi has a unique dusky pink colour. Symbion Consulting Group designed it.

The architects also designed the funky new section of Nairobi Serena, the Trademark Hotel, the Australian High Commission, a quaint unassuming boutique hotel on Nairobi’s James Gichuru Road called the Social House, the BAT regional office, Airtel head office, MultiChoice head office, and many other properties in East Africa.

Mutua Mutuku runs this 40-year-old architectural firm as managing director. Previously, he was in Botswana for five years, giving structures a soul. He met JACKSON BIKO at Nairobi Serena for tea.

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What are you most passionate about?

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Executing things correctly. I like to follow order and to follow things to the end.

How is it coming from Eastleigh High School and rising to where you are; what kind of character do you need to have?

I came from a very humble beginning. My dad was an unskilled labourer, my mom a stay-at-home mom. My dad’s dream and my dream was that after primary school, I’ll be admitted to Starehe Boys’ Centre — mostly because one didn’t have to pay fees there. I was a bright student, top in my school, but I didn’t join Starehe because I was in a school in Nairobi. The conversation then was that I repeat in a school in my village to get a better chance to get into Starehe.

They wanted me to go back to Class 7. It was not an option for me. So Eastleigh High School it was. If you don’t get into Starehe what do you do? You befriend a guy who’s in Starehe. I’d photocopy his school notes every end of term and read hard. I used to call it ‘Operation Life Determinant.’ The outcome of my Form Four exams would determine what I’ll be in life. I joined university and guys would be shocked to learn that I schooled in Eastleigh. (Laughs)

As you rise the ladder of architecture, I suppose you start drawing less, do you miss it?

Yeah! You feel you want to do it. But of course, you also find joy in managing and seeing the product come out through. However, some older architects still draw. But then it means you don’t rise in the corporate world because if you’re doing everything, then you’re constrained.

But as an architect, drawing is not something that you can avoid. You still add details and as you brief somebody, you sketch.

What drew you to the house you currently live in and what’s your favourite room in that house?

I live in an apartment. It’s quite spacious and not congested. On half an acre of land, we are just 25 of us. So there’s a lot of outdoor space for the children to play.

There is natural lighting and good ventilation. I live on the ground floor but I can open all my doors and windows without feeling infringement on privacy.

My favourite space in that room is the dining room. (Laughs) I converted it to my study.

My two boys and my wife use the study room. I felt we’re sort of pulling and tagging for space. So I left it to them. So for me, you’ll find me most of the time at home, in the dining room.

When I get home I set my laptop there, we have our meals there, guys go to sleep and they live me there. They’ll wake up in the morning, they’ll find me there. It’s also a very quiet space. And also being a dining room that’s connected to the living room, it is airy and spacious.

What are you most conscious about raising boys?

They’re growing up too fast. [A 10 and five-year-old]. I’m conscious about how I relate with them and the values that I teach them. Being a dad, I model fatherhood to them. That’s also very important, trying to be home as much as possible, playing with them... I am not a big football fan, but my first son has got a liking for football. He’s a Liverpool fan. So I’ve got to get myself to that space so that we have some conversations. I’ve had to know the players and all that.

Do you think boys are in a crisis?

I’ve heard it and we’ve discussed it as well. I’m in a group of couples that we meet every so often to discuss family, marriage issues. The issue about boys has come up.

But my boys are quite strong so actually, it’s just how to temper them.

I think if they have the right values, they should be able to weather any storm. A lot will depend on what values you have as a family.

Do you subscribe to the quality or quantity of time when it comes to spending time with children?

Quality time because the quantity is often really not possible given my schedule. As a family what we’ve agreed to have dinners together as much as we can.

So I’m home every day at 8pm to have dinner. We do Bible devotion together, we talk about our day together. I take them to school in the morning so that’s also a good chance to bond when there’s nobody else, just me and them. On Fridays, we always watch a movie. On Saturdays, we play board games.

I take it you’re still born again from high school?

Yes, I am.

At what point did you have the most conflict of faith?

The journey has been long (Pause) Maybe after university, and at work now. As one grows older, you question a lot of things. Is this it? What’s this life about? I’m saved, I’m created by God but what else is this about? Is it just about living and dying?

I’ve had serious questions and debates about faith.

Of the Ten Commandments, which one do you struggle with the most?

(Laughs out loud) Really?

I know, that this an unfair question. But still on faith. As a businessman, sometimes big-ticket projects require kickbacks. How have you navigated your faith and doing business?

We try to deal with individuals, businessmen in the private sector who care about integrity. There’s less corruption. We also tend to steer clear of areas that we think are potential minefields. But still, those challenges do arise. We also never charge less to undercut the competition. We tell potential clients, ‘this is our fee, we’re selling to your value, you take it or not.’ We’ve lost a lot of jobs because of that.

What are you most proud of now as a man at this age?

I’m 46. (Pause) I’ve used my blessings to bless others. I’ve made a big impact in my extended family, God has used me as a stabilising factor.

We’re a family of five and God has brought me here because of a reason even though we all grew up in the same environment. Getting here from where I came from has been the wildest dream and it’s a privilege and a source of pride and inspiration to my family.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an architect?

Pharmacy. I like the sciences. But now as I am, I have developed a very keen interest in law. So if you ask what else I’ll do, maybe I’ll tell you I’ll do law.

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