• Mtamu Kililo and the Brick by Brick Battle in the Savanna: Voi Community Library

Architects: Mtamu Kililo  
Location: Voi,  Kenya
Interior Décor: Mtamu Kililo
Project Year: 2014
Photographer: Mtamu Kililo

School: University of Nairobi

It’s viewed that most traditional buildings and especially in the African continent are sympathetic to the environment they are located in and uses low tech local available materials. However, due to globalization and high technological standards these buildings have been associated with primitivism and branded elementary. In Africa people have universal standards, technology and design that are more often than not oblivious of the aforementioned traditional designs. This has resulted, in some cases, in buildings that are not responsive to the climate they are built in and/or have little to no empathy to the culture they are being established. The understanding of these low tech structures and the principles of responsive designs can result in better designs irrespective of their origin and scale and this forms the benchmark for the community library in Voi. 

Environmental Concepts

As established in the research in the Savanna Climate following the project, the Library is oriented with the longer facades facing the North and South. These have the major openings and reduce heat gain from the unforgiving western sun and are properly shaded using local sourced wattle and sisal poles. Narrow plan ensure maximum ventilation and natural daylighting. Stabilized earth blocks, locally crafted, are used for both walls and as louver blocks by way of their arrangement and act as thermoregulatory measure for the entire design. Detailed with the local technology and materials, the project is both low cost, environmental friendly and shows empathy to the locals’ architecture. Indoor gardens enhance the environmental quality of the spaces and link the inside to the outside. They also provide informal reading areas with greenery but still inside the main library area.

The Library Ethos

The library as an idea was conceptualized as a living room for the community where people meet and learn from each other, relax and are also connected to the world. The latter is one of the strongest pillars of the library today which requires a library to be a hotspot for ease access of worldwide information. Being everything to everyone is always a tricky task, but the design layout is aimed at providing different kinds of study space for the various ways that difference users and academics like to work: Silent for those trying to concentrate; quiet for those wanting some small discussion; group for those needing to work together. An additional need has been identified, loosely a ‘buzz’ space – where people can relax, network, chat and have a coffee. It’s ideally an extension of the living room.


The library has its functions broadly divided into three categories: 

Community Database
This is the main anchor space of the entire project. It includes ICT center and management and the traditional library. It is intended to have a children section with audio visual media, storytelling area and informal reading areas. Most of the personal computers stations and fixed computer station are located in this area with full internet access. It also contains information on culture of the locals and family histories.


Community Development and Education
This forms the other major section of the library with both indoor and outdoor functions. Outdoor amphitheaters and outdoor meeting rooms will allow for both informal meetings and outdoor community performances like traditional dances and community gatherings. Small retail spaces and the restaurant can be let out to the community to earn proceeds for the library. As part of community development the project has both outdoor exhibition spaces and informal exhibition space within the library that can be used by the locals the exhibit their craft works. 

Professional Development

The project intends to accommodate a small auditorium that can be used for professional meetings and several breakout rooms that could still serve as meeting rooms for the community.

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