Doreen Adengo, Ugandan architect and trailblazer, passed away on July the 22nd of this year, after battling a long-term illness. She founded Adengo Architecture, a studio based out of her home city of Kampala. A designer who studied in the United States, worked in firms in New York, Washington, and London, and was teaching at Uganda Martyrs University – her legacy is nothing short of extraordinary. It is a legacy that spans disciplines and geographies – but a legacy, too, that is deeply rooted in the context of Africa, Uganda, and Kampala.
As an architectural firm, Adengo Architecture is relatively young, having been founded in 2015. Despite this youth, their ethos is clear, Adengo stating in an interview last year that they are “focused on communicating the value of design in African cities.” How this has been translated into architecture is through a diversity of architectural explorations, ranging from repurposing a shipping container in a truck into a mobile medical clinic to housing projects that have sought to take full advantage of their site’s topography.
The mixed-use “L-Building,” with its design initiated in 2018, directly references its immediate context. Its location in close proximity to the Uganda Clays Factory means that clay bricks can be locally soured. Another housing project – “Affordable Housing II” – creates a low-rise apartment complex, with perforated screens and permeable paving responding to Kampala’s tropical rainforest climate.
But where Doreen Adengo’s legacy arguably shines brightest is in the work that she did adjacent to designing buildings. Doreen Adengo, as lecturer, facilitator, and curator, constructed numerous workshops that analyzed and deconstructed Kampala’s urban character and architectural heritage.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adengo facilitated a workshop as part of the Global Urbanism Studio 2020 that focused on Nakasero Market, one of the biggest in Kampala’s central business district. Students from Uganda Martyrs University and Washington University in St. Louis observed and documented Nakasero Market’s response to government guidelines as a result of the pandemic, and experimented with approaches that would see market vendors being able to conduct their business in a more flexible manner.
As conservation architect for the Ernst May-designed Uganda Museum, Adengo convened a workshop that brought together various practitioners to discuss the importance of conservation. In addition to young architects and museum professionals, this workshop also saw an audience of officials from both the Kampala Capital City Authority and the Ministry of Tourism. Far from practicing in a bubble, Adengo looked to cultivate cross-disciplinary conversations on architectural heritage, and establish connections between young practitioners who have grown up and live in a rapidly-changing Kampala, and the city authority professionals that have the institutional power to enact lasting change.
Another workshop – in collaboration with Manuel Herz who wrote African Modernism – The Architecture of Independence – used Kampala as a photography site, with participants photographing Kampala’s Modernist architecture while examining their contemporary context. Photographers like Timothy Latim documented Modernist structures such as the dormitory halls of Makerere University, one of which would be the focus of Doreen Adengo’s research project as part of an initiative on centering postcolonial perspectives on architecture.
This research demonstrated Adengo’s strengths as a practitioner comfortably cognizant of how the architecture of the past evolves into its present context. Narrowing in on the Brutalist Mary Stuart Hall of Makerere University, Adengo charted the material history of a dormitory hall that fell into difficult times during the 1970s, and which in present day is a site of informal adaptive reuse, where formerly social spaces have become converted into lecture and study rooms.
On the home page of the Adengo Architecture website, clicking on the “studio” tab results in a drop-down list of options, including podcasts, videos, and articles. One of those options is fairly uncommon on the site of an architectural firm – “walking tours”. This is where the studio team offers tours of Kampala’s Central Business District, Makerere University, and Kampala’s Industrial Area.
And that is the embodiment of Doreen Adengo’s legacy – constantly in conversation with people about architecture, where architecture goes beyond building into advocacy and public programming, where Kampala’s dynamic built environment takes center stage.