'Swahili Gem Apartments' Mombasa, Kenya 2012 - 2017 by
'Swahili Gem Apartments' Mombasa, Kenya 2012 - 2017 by Urko Sanchez Architects

Urko Sanchez – grounded in Swahili Architecture

Urko Sanchez Architects is an award-winning boutique architectural firm based in Kenya and Spain. It’s founder, Urko Sanchez, started his architectural studies nearly thirty years ago and took several years to complete his coursework due to his love for travelling. Urko participated in various architectural projects during his studies, and his life as a traveler has inescapably shaped his designs. Here I look at Urko’s background and the work of his architectural firm.

Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Urko has always been embedded in an extreme passion for seeing the world. “From the time I was very young, I have always loved traveling”. Urko has visited more than forty countries, including Canada, Argentina, and India. Being exposed to a large variety of colours, art and cultures have informed his life and practice. All of the sights Urko has seen on his travels have helped him establish what he wanted to build for himself and for others.

During Urko’s studies, he began to partake in architectural endeavors with NGOs in Nicaragua and Spain. As time passed Urko continued to lend his expertise in conflict zones. Urko spent two years assisting in architectural projecs, the building of camps, clinics and schools within Angola, Bosnia and El Salvador. After going to an island off the coast of East Africa Urko’s thrust for a nomadic existence was quenched, and he decided to set his roots in Lamu after years of travel.

‘Swahili Gem Apartments’ Mombasa, Kenya by Urko Sanchez Architects 2012 – 2017

With his mind set on living in Lamu, he was faced with the challenge of finding work within the area. “I came up with the idea of Lamu House Hotel in 2001, and then got a group of friends together to buy the plot. We started working on the architectural planning and just when we were ready to begin building, September 11th happened. Everything stopped. So I went back to Spain for a year to work for a construction company. We did very special, up market projects like renovating the Real Madrid Stadium, interventions in the Cathedral of Salamanca and private houses.”

In 2003 when the world grew more stable, Urko headed back home to Lamu and started construction on the hotel. The first phase of this project took three years to complete. At this time, the architect started working on projects for other clients, resulting in the expansion of his specialty in his practice. Urko’s work started revolving around Swahili architecture that he has reshaped with a modernist touch.

‘African Union Headquarters Campus’ Nairobi, Kenya by Urko Sanchez Architects 2016

Urko Sanchez Architects has a passion for social improvement and contributes to projects that are aimed at assisting disadvantaged communities with innovative interventions. With each project that the firm takes on there is a keen focus on environmental stewardship, the cultural heritage of the structure, indigenous materials as well as the flow of the structure’s surroundings.

What differentiates Urko Sanchez and his studio? A modern kink on traditional architectural practice, as well as their implementation of a green aesthetic that is employed with the use of wind, solar power, and recycled water. The points that differentiate them continue to include the use of natural architecture to emphasize natural light as well as the framing of private gardens and open courtyards. Another important factor is the external specialists, TMA, that form a part of the team and address subjects such as the protection of wildlife, transport engineering, and energy efficiency.

Urko Sanchez’s architectural exploits were materialized through a rare symbiosis with travel that aided in the creation of a matchless design prowess leaking over into his firm with abundance. Using Swahili architecture as a departure point for his designs brought not only himself but his architecture studio to a stage where beautifully, intricate, modern twists are made on traditional Swahili architecture. With environmental considerations and cultural heritage of structures at the forefront of their design practice, it is no wonder that the boutique architectural firm is award winning and one of the leaders in innovative, spectacular design.

‘Lavington Villas’ Nairobi, Kenya by Urko Sanchez Architects 2016
‘Umma House’ Lamu Island, Kenya by Urko Sanchez Architects 2006

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