• February 6, 2019



1080 720 Triad Architects

A city is perceived architecturally based on type of architecture whether ancient/historic or modern, height of buildings which form the skyline, relationships between buildings and the streets which dictate their activities and so on. Therefore, cities are totally different in layout, type of architecture, skyline and building heights even though their activities may be similar.

Shrinking our view to heights of buildings which form the skyline, heights present uniqueness, strength and identity of a city. Skyscrapers are visible components and consequently become predominant landmarks in a city. But have you ever asked yourself what it takes to build them?

Triad Architects have in the past played a role in defining the skylines of cities in the region especially in Nairobi, Kenya. Triad have designed and built skyscrapers that have given the city a unique identity that everyone identifies with.

During a Build Talk Tour by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) to Britam Tower (award winning skyscraper recently completed by Triad), Director Charles Ndung’u made a presentation on The Making of a Skyscraper. We capture below his comments on this subject.

Question: How do office skyscrapers come about?

Arch. Charles: Mostly, they are built as commercial buildings by corporates or individuals to harness returns by letting out those spaces specially to Grade-A tenants. They are also done as head offices for organizations.

Question: What do clients look for in skyscrapers?

Arch. Charles: Clients want iconic buildings that embody the strength and stability that their brands represent. When you develop a skyscraper, you express your strength in reliability, identity and timelessness.

Question: Who builds skyscrapers?

Arch. Charles: Making a skyscraper takes great effort that can only be done by a team with all team members playing their role well. The team is comprised principally of consultants and contractors. The consultants include architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, interior designers, fire consultants, façade consultants, signage designers, environmental consultants among others. The contractors include excavation contractor, main contractor and services sub-contractors such a plumbing, electrical and lighting, ventilation, security, lifts and many others

Britam Tower in Upper Hill, Nairobi

UAP Tower in Upper Hill, Nairobi


Question: How long does a skyscraper take to build?

Arch. Charles: Depending on the scale of the project, a skyscraper can take up to five years in design and construction. There are various stages of design, regulations to observe and processes to follow which are mostly dependent on each other. Therefore, a delay in one may lead to delays in the project execution.

Question: You talked about the process having contractors and sub-contractors. Who is an excavation contractor and at what time in the building process do you engage him/her?

Arch. Charles: An excavation contractor is one who has specialized in ground excavation and preparation of construction sites for building works. From our experience, we have established that its best to engage them on a different contract from that of the main contractor for two reasons. First, they have the ability and resources to meet the requirements of the design independently. Second, when pressed for time, as they do the excavations, consultants can be finalizing on designing and tendering for the main construction works.

Question: What is a topping up ceremony?

Arch. Charles: This is a celebration held after the contractor pours the last concrete or after completing the structural work for tall buildings. It normally marks an important milestone in the project.

Question: What happens after the topping up ceremony?

Arch. Charles: After the completion of the building structure, other architectural works such as space creation, partitioning and application of finishes continue which take almost similar time to complete as the structure.

Avic Towers, Westland Nairobi

Times Tower, Nairobi


Question: How do you determine the efficiency of a skyscraper?

Arch. Charles: We determine this by calculating lettable area against gross plinth area in percentage form. The higher the value, the more efficient a building is. However, this efficiency reduce as the number of floors increases. This means that the taller the building the less efficiency in terms of percentage due to increase in structural member sizes and service ducts provisions.

Question: How do you determine the height of a skyscraper?

Arch. Charles: There two methods used to determine the heights of the building. The common method is by measuring from the bottom to the tip of the building top floor/level while the other measures to the top of the building structure including structures such as spires.

Question: What are the main challenges encountered when making skyscrapers?

Arch. Charles: During excavations, you are likely to encounter loose soils which make the edges weak and vulnerable. Loose soils may call for other expensive measures in order to minimize catastrophic happenings. In the convene you could encounter hard rock which is difficult to excavate. Others may include fixing external cladding on the building’s facades especially at higher levels and the sensitivity of safety measures during construction.

Question: What other features or services do you incorporate in skyscraper design?

Arch. Charles: There are quite many. But I will emphasize on facades. For a tall building to make its mark and remain functional, you want interesting facades that are eye catching. It is always good to engage façade consultants especially where specialized systems are implemented. Lifts numbers and speeds are also considerations to make. It is good to procure high speed lifts to reduce people’s waiting time with increasing floors with a recommended lift waiting time of no more than 30seconds.

Conner House, Nairobi

Barclays Plaza, Nairobi


Question: What teamwork characteristics make the building process innovative?

Arch. Charles: Having experienced consultants for the various design scope and challenging them allows for innovation. Each team member, with their vast understanding in their respective field should aim to provide lasting innovative solutions to challenges in the project. This is through thorough consultations and peer design reviews.

Question: What are the special features in skyscrapers that need special attention?

Arch. Charles: They include: foundations, structure, storage such as for water, building services such as water/ sewer treatment systems, plumbing, electrical fittings, car parking, service floors, rooftop special features, rain water collection, ventilation, natural lighting, fire strategy among others.

Question: Where is Triad placed when it comes to designing and building award winning skyscrapers?

Arch. Charles: Triad is well placed to meet the challenges of designing tall buildings as the cities in the region grow in the coming years due to the vast experience that Triad has in these types of buildings. This experience ranges from designing buildings such as Times Tower, Barclays Plaza among others in the past to being involved in the development of more recent tall buildings such as UAP Old Mutual Tower, Britam Tower, Avic Centre and Insurance Plaza in Kigali Rwanda. The resultant of this that design of skyscrapers is in our DNA.

Question: What can you say about building of skyscrapers looking into the future?

Arch. Charles: Skyscrapers will play an important role in the development of regional cities in future, primarily driven by the ever-rising populations and land prices in cities. We have also seen a lot of International developers and corporates start to focus on the region due to its relatively good returns and growing stability. This will drive more This will drive more growth and development in future and the number of tall buildings will increase exponentially in the next decade.