How do you motivate yourself to create when you think no one is watching or that society doesn’t value your work? Ugandan artists have often asked themselves this question – until now. In 2018, 32º East Ugandan Arts Trust will commence the construction of their permanent home – the first purpose-built arts center in Uganda. “This type of building doesn’t exist in Kampala, so, with insights from the 32º East community, we’re co-inventing the new space,” says Daniel Rea, co-founder of Periscope UK.
I recently sat down with architect James Hampton and chartered landscape architect Daniel Rea, co-founders of the London-based firm Periscope UK, who will be constructing 32º East’s new home. Teesa Bahana, 32º East’s director, also joined the conversation. It covers the architectural plans for the ambitious project, and how the design will take the Ugandan arts scene to the next level.
Jonah Batambuze: In February this year, you both took your first trip to Uganda. What were your initial impressions?
James Hampton: When we first arrived in Entebbe, I remember asking our guide, “Is it going to be easy to accomplish things?”His response was, “Anything is possible in Uganda.” The comment sounded a bit unreal, but this feeling of optimism existed everywhere we went. Meeting Teesa Bahana and seeing how the 32º East community operates on a daily basis was also invaluable to understanding what nuances to incorporate into the design.
Daniel Rea:Kampala is a place unlike anywhere else in the world; it’s crazy, chaotic, brilliant, and multi-colored, with an amazing energy. My initial thoughts were that this is a great project for Periscope, in the sense of being able to do architecture and landscape together. You don’t have the environmental controls for doors and windows like in Northern Europe, which allows for more spatial fluidity in terms of design.
JB: The design for 32º East’s new home sets a precedent in Kampala. What does this mean conceptually?
JH:The arts center is designed to utilize local construction techniques and handmade bricks. Moreover, the proposed project will be made up of a campus of pavilions that integrate the landscape into the center’s activities. Each pavilion has an individual form that responds to the activity that will take place within the structure, with tapered rectangular towers acting as funnels for natural daylight to avoid glare. The bricks that make up the center will be arranged in a ‘hit and miss’ pattern to create dappled shade and screening from the elements.
DR:The pavilions will be arranged across a terraced landscape and will each serve different functions, such as artist studio spaces, artist residences, a technology cluster, and an indoor and outdoor gallery space. Nestled within the contours of the site, the arts center is designed around retained landscape features such as trees, rock outcrops, and the natural slopes of the site. This is a signature approach of Periscope, because we believe that architecture and landscape should blend seamlessly into one another in all built projects.
There are a range of spatial enclosures ranging from landscaped outside rooms and courtyards to fully enclosed and weathered internal spaces. This variation gives the artists the opportunity to work in different climatic environments, and also to choose whether to be secluded or work in more public parts of the campus.
Architectural sketch for 32º East Ugandan Arts Trust. Periscope UK, 2017. Courtesy of Periscope
JB: How will 32º East’s programs change due to the new design?
Teesa Bahana: One of the things that excite us most about the new space is the growth of an artist’s ecosystem. Currently, our space only allows us to host short-term residencies, and with additional studios, we’ll try and create an environment promoting collaboration and mentoring by renting long-term space to established artists.
JB: What will become of the existing facilities? Will you reuse anything from the site, such as the containers?
JH: The current plan is for the four containers to move with 32º East, where they will continue to house the library and will serve as additional office space. We’re going to surround the containers with gabion walls, which will help camouflage and cool them.
DR: We’ll also punch several small openings in the container roofs to let in light and make the roofs accessible to thespace.
JB: What are you hopes for the project when it’s completed?
JH: We hope that the new arts center will enhance 32° East’s ability to follow its mission: to promote and support artists from East Africa. The center will become a place which acts as a beacon for artists, members, and locals, and will help to reach new audiences through combined functions such as conference facilities and events.
DR:We think what 32° East does is really important, and we want the new arts center to amplify this. If we can take everything they already have, but make it more, then it will be a success. This architectural project and process wouldn’t be possible without the input and engagement from Brian Muggaga and the 32º East community.
Work will commence on 32° East in the first quarter of 2018 and shall last for circa one year. 32º East is currently fundraising to collect monies for the construction. You can support them here.
Jonah Batambuze is a freelance culture and travel writer based outside of London. In 2016, Batambuze co-founded Color Wheel Media to amplify the voices of organizations and individuals underrepresented in the media.