A community art center in Kampala born from circular economy

A new centre for artists in the capital of Uganda aims to draft a manifesto of faith in the future, based on values of radically local, sustainable and community-based architecture.

From the stranglehold of colonization, to independence in 1962, to democratization undermined and assaulted by coups, dictatorships and massacres, Uganda's history tells of a country still struggling to find a balance; but within which all this has not eliminated the ability to look to the future with confidence. Proof of this lies in the fact that, in a context with problems that are not easy to solve – from infrastructure to education to health – a living epicenter for art and culture continues to exist and act, as if to stubbornly confirm that – as Dostoevsky's Idiot said – “beauty will save the world”.
This is the direction for 32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust, an independent organization that has been promoting contemporary art in Uganda for years, for which the London-based studio New Makers Bureau, which has been working with the priorities of environmental sustainability and circular economy for years, is realizing pro bono new headquarters, in collaboration with the local association Localworks: replacing the four containers previously used as 32° East's operational headquarters, the project also becomes Kampala's first community art space.

32° East Arts Centre, Kampala, Uganda 2023

The centre located in Kabalagala, a central district of the capital, aims to be a hub for meetings, exchanges and artistic production of the East African creative communities: as Teesa Bahana, director of 32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust, says, it is a place where “to dream freely, create without limitations and imagine new possibilities for living and working together".

The centre consists of two single-storey buildings, arranged in a quadrilateral layout around a central courtyard serving as the main meeting space and open-air exhibition area. The first building, recently opened, houses four artists' studios, a library (the only one specialised in art in Uganda), toilets and a multi-purpose café that functions as a gallery and temporary work space while awaiting the next phase of the works. The second building, scheduled for completion in 2024, will house a mezzanine gallery, four artists' lodgings, two artists' studios, offices, kiosks and an enclosed garden. The presence of income-generating spaces planned for the second phase – including the café, kiosks and rented studios – entails the economic-financial sustainability of the operation over time. 

32° East Arts Centre, Kampala, Uganda 2023

The project is inspired by the principles of circular economy and environmental sustainability and is a passionate homage to the local tectonic culture and its consolidated craftsmanship, capable of circumventing economic restrictions. The building is made entirely of local materials, recognizable in the clear stratification of the elevations: on the sandstone base there are superimposed layers of rammed-earth masonry and bricks composed of the site's rich red earth. Cement lintels, cast on corrugated sheet metal commonly used in the area as a building material, emphasise the horizontal progression of the façades and separate the lower part from the upper part with screens and lively textural patterns. All waste materials have been carefully recycled: the eucalyptus wood formwork of the masonry has been reused for the roofs; the remains of construction processing have been reused for fills or as aggregates.

32° East Arts Centre, Kampala, Uganda 2023

The main objective of the project was to ensure the wellbeing of users in a tropical climate, while minimising the operating and maintenance costs of the facilities. Instead of mechanised solutions, passive techniques were adopted to minimise solar gain and encourage cross-ventilation flows and natural lighting. The articulated geometry of the roofs with generous overhangs favours shading of the fronts and protects the masonry from heavy rain.The screens made of rammed-earth blocks and positioned ad hoc encourage cross-ventilation flows and natural lighting.The glass panes are replaced by wooden shading panels to counteract the heat input. Thin polycarbonate skylights in the roof allow controlled light to filter into the rooms. The presence of trees in the open spaces favours environmental thermoregulation, providing valuable shade for resting and socialising.

32° East Arts Centre
Project leader:
James Hampton
Project team:
James Hampton, Laura Keay
Local architect, structural engineer, cost consultant, M&E engineer:
Felix Holland, Localworks
Main contractor:
32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust

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