Friday,December 04,2020 16:48 PM

What makes Makerere's Main Building iconic?

By Charles Etukuri

Added 23rd September 2020 09:36 AM

The main building has a unique 20th-century British architecture

What makes Makerere's Main Building iconic?

The main building has a unique 20th-century British architecture

The Makerere University Main Building, which was extensively destroyed by fire in the wee hours of Sunday morning, is one of the university's oldest buildings, completed in 1941 during the stewardship of the Principal of Makerere College George C Turner.

The morning fire burnt the rooftop and floors housing the departments of human resource, accounts, finance, and public relations affected.

The burnt building holds the office of the university's vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor in charge of finance and administration, the university secretary, university bursar, and also holds student records, while the basement has an archive containing the history of the institution.

Makerere University vice-chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe, while addressing the media, said the destruction of the building just before the university was about to celebrate its 100 years of existence was sad.

"It is a very dark morning for Makerere University. Our iconic main administration building caught fire and the destruction is unbelievable," he said, adding that the university was determined to restore the building in the shortest time possible.

Makerere was established in 1922 as a technical school and has grown into a widely respected university.

Education ministry's permanent secretary Alex Kakooza was among those who visited the university on Sunday and conveyed the ministry's deepest sympathy.

Why it is iconic

Forum for Democratic Change president Eng. Patrick Amuriat Oboi, an alumnus of the university, said: "The building is the face of Makerere University, with a lot of attachment to whoever has gone through or heard about Makerere the world over. It was also gazetted by UNESCO as one of the international heritage sites."

According to the information provided by the Makerere University Library, the main building has a unique 20th-century British architecture and was the most recognisable symbol constructed with funds from the Colonial Development bourse.

On November 3, 1938, the Duke of Gloucester, representing His Majesty King George VI had cut the first stone for the construction of the building.

Construction was delayed by the scarcity of resources to purchase materials. The building was completed in 1941 under the leadership of George C. Turner, the principal of Makerere College (1939-46).

Turner then focused on turning Makerere into a university college and establishing buildings.

As a result, both St Francis and St Augustine chapels were completed in the same year, 1941 and by 1944, plans for the establishment of a School of Civil Engineering at Makerere were already being discussed by the British House of Commons.


The building floor plan is in T-shape, with a large imposing tower to denote its main entrance. The top-most part is bare stone, with a large bell in it and has four arches, one on each side, to allow the sound of the bell spread far, known as the Ivory Tower.

In his dissertation about Makerere University's potential as a heritage site, published in October 2019, Stanley Sempeswa cited the Main Building as the number one attraction heritage site at the university.

"In this study, 78.8% of the respondents pointed out the main building as one of the tourist attractions that influence visitors to Makerere University. The unique magnificent building due to its old architectural design similar to that of the University of London gives the Ivory Tower a visual appeal that attracts visitors to the campus," Sempeswa said.

"Designed by Newton, the building was likened to the Ivory Tower because it was literally cut off from communication and the world outside its immediate environment due to the great difficulty to reach Makerere by telephone in the 1950s (McPherson, 1964).

"The first Main Building was constructed in 1923 at the current Department of Science and Technical Education in the School of Education."

Heritage site

"The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) officers admired the Main Building and inscribed in the list of tentative properties to be conserved as World Heritage Sites (McPherson, 1964). And according to Mubatsi (2009), the structure has a unique appearance and exclusive architecture that cannot be found anywhere else in East Africa.

"Furthermore, the crest of the University of Oxford, which hangs over on the left side of the wall at the entrance of this four-storey building has significant value. It shows a special academic relationship that Makerere University College had with the University of Oxford in the 1950s. The University of Oxford was to offer planning assistance to Makerere in the 1940s to independence time," he says.

Sempeswa said other heritage sites at Makerere include the Main Library, the Art Gallery, the halls of residence, and Religious monuments.

The building also had a massive 1930s Gents of Leicester clock wall mounted at the entrance of the Main Hall, with a custom-built wheeled base, with a height of 135cm, width 135cm, and depth of 23cm. This clock has been functioning since 1941 when the Main Building was officially opened.

Gents of Leicester was established in Leicester, England, in 1872 by John Thomas Gent. For over a century, the company was a well-known manufacturer of electrical equipment, in particular electric clocks, which were used in public buildings and railway stations the world over.

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