The Uganda Museum is a gem

By Samuel Sanya

Added 29th November 2019 10:36 AM

The Uganda Museum building is one of only 10 final recipients of the 2020 Getty Foundation $135,000 (about sh500m).

Ugmuseum0698 703x422

Students having a look at ethnological and natural-historical exhibitions at the Uganda Museum. Courtesy photo

The Uganda Museum building is one of only 10 final recipients of the 2020 Getty Foundation $135,000 (about sh500m).

Designed by German architect, Ernst May in the 1940s, the Uganda Museum building is one of only 10 final recipients of the 2020 Getty Foundation $135,000 (about sh500m) “keeping it modern” grant. 
Doreen Adengo, the principal architect at Adengo Architecture was selected by the Getty Foundation as the Conservation Architect. She spoke to the New Visions Samuel Sanya about the project, below is the conversation;
 oreen dengo the principal architect at dengo rchitecture he was selected by the etty oundation as the onservation rchitect ourtesy photo Doreen Adengo, the principal architect at Adengo Architecture. She was selected by the Getty Foundation as the Conservation Architect. Courtesy photo.


Tell us about the grant and why the Uganda museum was a deserving recipient

Getty Foundation’s ‘Keeping it Modern’ initiative is an international grant initiative that has a deep commitment to architectural conservation with a focus on important buildings of the twentieth century. This is the sixth year Getty Foundation has been offering these grants and 2020 will be their last year.  The Uganda Museum was selected among the 10 buildings to receive this grant in 2019. The museum is one of the first modernist buildings, with a cast-in-place concrete structure in Kampala. It set the example for other institutional buildings, including the Parliament and National Theatre, and it’s the last intact work of a pioneer of modern architecture, Ernst May who was commissioned by the British Government to plan for the fast-growing city of Kampala in 1947. In addition to the significance of the building, the museum has a valuable collection, which is of importance to our cultural heritage.
What will the work entail?
Keeping it Modern initiative is an opportunity to develop the conservation management plan of a building that has strong heritage value for the country. A multi-disciplinary team of Architects, Engineers and researchers are going to spend 18 months creating guidelines for preserving the museum and its collection. It’s important to understand that this is not a construction project. Instead, our aim is to fully understand what is unique about this building and how to best preserve it. This step will allow future construction interventions to be much more targeted and effective.
How did the modernist movement influence Ugandan architecture?
The Modern movement started in the 1920s in both Europe and America. When we use the word ‘Modern’, here we are referring to what was modern back then and not modern today—in other words, Modern does not equal contemporary in this case. During this period, engineers were experimenting with new forms of construction, mainly using concrete and steel that allowed them to break away from traditional methods.
This new form of architecture moved around the world over time and landed in Africa in the 1950s and 60s. This was a period when most African nations where becoming independent, and the buildings required for new nations—parliaments, theaters, banks, universities, and museums—were built in this style.
Kampala’s modernist buildings include The National Theater, The Parliament, Uganda House, most of Makerere University Buildings, Coffee Marketing Boards, Bugolobi Flats, and many others.  There are over 100 modernist structures in Kampala alone.
Have we moved on from modernist architecture in Uganda?
The newest public buildings are in the ‘Post-modernist’ style, for example, Acacia Mall and Village Mall. A more popular style is what I have come to call ‘dubaism’. This is an obsession with shiny aluminum panels and blue glass; emulating the towers in Dubai.  This way of building is not sensitive to our environment and hot climate; the materials tend to deteriorate quickly and the spaces inside rely heavily on air conditioning. Unfortunately, many of our modernist gems are being renovated and covered in aluminum panels, which destroys the very fabric of the modernist building. A good example is the Cham Towers.
We are yet to find a contemporary style that adapts to both our climate and culture.
What interests you about this project?
Modernist architecture is of great interest to me, and I am thrilled to have been selected by the Getty Foundation as the conservation architect for this project. 
I first visited the Uganda Museum on a school trip when I was 6 years old. I still have a very clear memory of that visit, as well as the many others I made with my school, which is right next to the museum. When I returned as an adult, I was glad to find things exactly as I remembered them. The museum has remained intact over time; however, it has experienced some maintenance challenges, especially with the roof. The museum collection is also at risk, as well as the original display cases and furniture. The right knowledge and expertise are needed to conserve the building and its collections.
This will be the first conservation management plan for a Modernist building in Uganda. It is my hope that this is only the beginning of a national movement to preserve our many Modernist gems.


More From The Author

Related articles