Kateregga’s architectural works surround us in the city and yet he keeps away from the spotlight. He let Joseph Batte into his work and life.
Kings College Budo is known for having rolled out many eminent professionals and leaders of high calibre over the years. Every year, the school gives awards on Founder’s Day to recognise former students and staff ‘with impeccable character who have rendered distinguished service to the public and to the school, so I was informed by Bakka Male, the current headmaster.
On March 24, 2013 the school recognised several professionals with Medals of Achievement, among them a reclusive but iconic architect, Joel Kateregga.
So what is so special about Joel Kateregga to deserve the accolade? And where on earth has he been? To complicate matters for me, on May 4, 2013, hardly two months later, Mengo Senior School bestowed on him another award.
I decided to find out why this architect flies under the radar. Firstly, he is such a good architect and has been at it for a very long time, since some of us were still wetting our beds!
In Uganda, architects like Kateregga, have one trait in common — nonymity. An architect’s work arguably has a great effect on us in the long term, though many might forget their contribution. The buildings they design shelter and protect us throughout our lives for home, work and play.
I am at the door of his Eco-Shelter and Environmental Consultants office at Amber House. I hear the familiar soft shuffle of shoes upon a solid floor and soon the door swings open to reveal a tall middle-aged man with a moon-round face and a big, beautiful smile.
Kateregga is a contemplative, humble character who speaks in soft tones and carries himself with the dignity of a well-bred person. The tables at his desk are stacked with huge piles of papers. In the drawing room next door, his staff, made up of young university graduates, huddles over the tables working on some project.
This is clearly a man who embodies so much of what makes people successful — hard work and that dogged determination to succeed at all odds.
He was born on May 14, 1944, in Nankonge, Wakiso district, to Zephania Kayondo and Alice Mary Nantaba. Both parents were hardworking peasant farmers whose family never ran short of food.
“By village standards at the time, we were better off. My father owned a bicycle and we lived in a corrugated iron-roofed house. He also knew how to read and write and was well respected for it. I think that is why he insisted on taking us to school. The villagers considered us rich.
My childhood was privileged because we never lacked what to eat at home. At the age of 14 he bought me a bicycle,” Kateregga recalls.
He credits his parents for shaping his personality. As a child, he used to go to the garden to dig with them and saw his father riding to sell some of their produce in the market. He was cycling all the way to Nakasero Market for better prices because in the village, there was nobody buying the food.
“For my father, studying meant learning what you have been taught. You were in serious trouble with him if you could not recount what the teacher taught you,” Kateregga remembers.
From then on, Kateregga never allowed himself to perform below the first grade because that was what pleased his father. Yet he had no grand career plans of becoming a doctor, engineer or pilot as was, and still is, the case with many students.
“At the time we knew very little about which careers were available. A child who excelled got a scholarship to join Kings College Budo and that became my dream,” he narrates.
He sat the Primary Leaving Certificate exams at Najungo Church of Uganda Primary School and got the admission to Budo. Unfortunately his father could not afford Budo’s sh650 school fees. He opted for Mengo Junior which was a pocket friendly sh240.
President Yoweri Museveni congratulating Kateregga during the official opening of Workers' House
Kateregga says architecture was an obsession, sparked in childhood, when he went to Mulago hospital to be treated for mumps in 1960. He wondered how the builders knew that the hospital walls in one end would match those in the other end?
“Someone told me they had a building plan which they followed. I asked who makes those plans and was told they are called architects. I said that is what I want to be in life too — an architect.”
At Mengo, Kateregga often scored 100% in exams and tests. Rev. Sempa advised him to seek re-entry to Kings College Budo. On hearing that Kateregga could not afford the fees, the reverend told him to pick up bursary forms at Mengo government and apply for a scholarship. He got it and joined Buddo in 1962.
He passed the A’ level exams in 1967 and earned a scholarship to study banking in New Zealand, but turned down the offer.
“I had already made up my mind. I wanted to be an architect. But there were no architectural studies at Makerere University at the time. So I went to Nairobi University in 1967," Kateregga says.
“My parents were a bit disappointed because at the time, a child was expected to go to Makerere to study medicine and become a doctor or a lawyer. When I told them about the course, they asked: ‘What is that? Why haven’t you studied medicine?’” Kateregga recounts.
The dream comes true
Well, he got his Bachelors of Architecture degree in 1971 and joined the now defunct East African Posts and Telecommunications as a regional architect. He was charged with preparing contract documents, process bids, tenders, managing, supervising and monitoring the construction of several of buildings under those programmes.
The first building he designed was the Postel building, which currently houses the Office of the Prime Minister. Later on as business grew, he also designed the main Post Office building and added on three floors. Other designs include the telecommunications exchange buildings at Mbuya, Mengo and Nsambya.
“My first salary was sh1,640. That was a lot of money at the time. I remember the exchange rate at the time was at par in all the three East African countries. The dollar was equivalent to sh7.4,” Kateregga explains.
He adds; “I was never a party boy so I did not blow it on drink. The first time I attempted to smoke a Kali cigarette my head swam and I swore never to touch a stick again.”
“Upon receiving my first salary, I did three things: opened an account with Barclays bank, insured myself and paid schools fees for my younger brothers.”
As soon as Kateregga got the job, he was given a loan to buy a car. He drove it to Kayunga to say ‘thank you’ and show it off to his brother who used to give him some pocket money during his school days.
“My brother was unhappy with me. He wondered why I decided to buy a car instead of a piece of land for constructing a house. He even said I would ram the car into a tree in three months! I never did. And I have never stopped driving.”
Thrown in the deep end
In 1975, Kateregga passed the professional exams and was made regional chief architect in charge of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, replacing an Englishman called David Blackhurst who had a nasty reputation ripping into every black employee from the managing director right down to the junior staff.
“The moment I was appointed Chief Architect, David Blackhurst advised the two expatriate regional architects to also resign, meaning I had to take charge of four offices, including the chief architect’s.
That is the hardest I have ever worked in all my life. I would spend a week in each country, but I was determined to succeed and not let down the people who appointed me," he says.
“After stabilising I recommended the appointments of regional architect for each country. When I look back, I think it’s that experience which turned me into a workaholic,” he adds.
Kateregga was Chief Architect until the collapse of the East African Community in 1977. Since that time it has been an upward climb for him.
One thing is for certain, Kateregga’s experience is vast, from church buildings to administrative structures to complex renovation works. He was the UNDP/ UN-Habitat CTA/Team Leader for the Rural Housing Programme in Malawi from 1985 to 1990 and consulted for UNDP/UN-Habitat in Sierra Leone from 1992 to 1996. In 2000-2002 prepared framework and process for preparing the National Housing policy for Eritrea.
He oversaw the completion of NSSF headquarters — Workers House and the refurbishment of Social Security House on Jinja Road. In 2007 he was Project Architect and team leader for Buganda government’s Muganzi-Lwazza complex in Katwe. He is the architect/ planner for several urban centers under the ministry of local government.
He also prepared the concept and project scheme designs for the redevelopment of Nakawa-Naguru Housing estate, including condominium house/flat types. In 2011 he worked on designs for several buildings on Busitema University campus.
He was appointed to design the master plan for the first cross - border market between Uganda and Southern Sudan. He is technical advisor to Namirembe Cathedral’s Tegula Project which is reroofing and rehabilitating the cathedral, and also prepared the concept and designs for expansion and redevelopment of All Saints Cathedral Nakasero.
The list of his achievements is long! But like his old school’s motto says; Gakyali Mabaga. The party has just begun for Architect Kateregga.
Birth: Kateregga was born May 14, 1944 to Zephania Kayondo and Alice Mary Nantaba
Education: He joined Nairobi University and graduated in 1971 with a degree in architecture
Career: Kateregga first decided to be an architect after observing the walls of Mulago Hospital
Work: He once headed the Institute of research at the University of Nairobi