German architecture in Rwanda

Roland Dieterle: the architect who designed the Kigali Convention Complex

The Kigali Convention Complex is intended to attract guests from all over the world to the Rwandan capital.  After having been delayed several times, its opening is currently planned for May 2016.

The facility was designed by the German architect Professor Roland Dieterle. What brought him to Rwanda?

Johanna Wild

The dome and the five-star hotel of the Kigali Convention complex in Rwanda
The Kigali Convention Complex in Rwanda. @spacial solutions

‘After more than ten years of work, I have of course put a lot of passion into the project’, recounts Dieterle.

He is sitting in the meeting room of his architectural firm, which offers a view over the roofs of Munich.

‘Apart from our office in Munich, we also maintained an office in Kigali and managed a team in Beijing. It was a really complex project’, he notes.

Dieterle’s work on the convention centre began in 2004. Before his affiliation with the project, he would have – like many other Europeans – had difficulties locating the small East African country on a map.

A German architect, chosen by Rwanda

Dieterle did not choose Rwanda himself. The situation was quite the contrary: the country approached him.

While working as a chief architect for the Siemens firm, he attended an event in Dubai. A Rwandan participant he met there expressed interest in Dieterle’s architectural work.

Shortly thereafter, the Rwandan embassy in Germany put a flight ticket into his hands and asked him to visit the country to develop some concrete ideas for several construction projects.

During the course of his trip, he was also invited to meet with the Rwandan president.

A convention centre for up to 2600 visitors

Professor Roland, as he is called in Rwanda, suggested blueprints for several projects, including the construction of two hotels on Lake Kivu.

The Rwandan president appreciated Dieterle’s concept for the Kigali Convention Complex straightaway, and Dieterle, who was in the midst of launching his own architectural firm Spacial Solutions, was able to commence work on the project immediately.

The Kigali Convention Complex is designed to hold up to 2600 visitors and has an adjoining five-star hotel.

The event venues are situated under a transparent dome that was inspired by traditional Rwandan hut construction.

The original plans also envisaged office space and a museum.

Both a building and infrastructure project

Designing and implementing a blueprint in another country was nothing new for Dieterle; he had already worked in different regions of the world.

He cites the surrounding infrastructure as the main difference building projects abroad and in Germany:

‘When you are constructing in Germany, there is a wastewater pipe and a power supply line in each street. And if there isn’t, the next one is not far away.’

‘This is not yet the case in Rwanda. That’s why our building project turned into an infrastructure project, too.’

The objective was to construct the facility as sustainably as possible.

For example, there were plans to integrate a biological wastewater plant that would have been able to use 95 per cent of all wastewater for flushing toilets or watering plants.

An independent power supply system was also supposed to feed surplus electricity back into the power grid.

‘Out of the necessity of power cuts that sometimes occur, we made a virtue and planned this independent and therefore sustainable power supply’, recalls Dieterle.

Convention centre opening currently scheduled for May 2016

The Kigali convention centre's spiral-formed arena is designed for up to 2600 visitors.
The arena of the Kigali Convention dome @Daniel Wolf/spacial solutions

In 2009, a Chinese construction firm was entrusted to implement the German-designed blueprint.

Dieterle particularly appreciates the quality of work they achieved while constructing the dome:

‘The Kigali Convention Complex is a quite sophisticated project and many aspects of Chinese construction standards are different from German ones.’

‘But paradoxically, it was the most difficult component of the building that the Chinese did most perfectly.’

Due to construction delays, the opening – which was initially scheduled for 2011 – had to be postponed several times.

The resulting discrepancies between the Rwandan building contractor and the Chinese construction firm led to the assignment being re-allocated, with a Turkish firm winning the new contract.

The opening of the centre is currently scheduled for May 2016.

A model for sustainable urban development in Africa?

Even though Dieterle is no longer traveling to Rwanda, he is pleased to see that the convention centre will be able to start operating soon.

Critics from Germany and other European countries had accused the German architect of constructing a luxurious building for the rich in a country where some people are still starving and struggling to access good health care and higher education.

‘In practice it is not realistic for a country to develop itself from the grassroots level to the high-tech level’, Dieterle counters.

‘It needs landmark projects that demonstrate Rwanda’s success in order to reach an international level, as well as to show highly educated Rwandans that they can be optimistic about finding perspectives in their own country.’

According to Dieterle, the Kigali Convention Complex also has the potential to serve as a model for sustainable urban development in Africa.

He feels it will act as a counter-concept to all of the newly built shimmering glass buildings in the region that – in contrast to Dieterle’s own concept – fall short of demonstrating a good energy balance.

Click here to see more pictures and to read more about the centre’s architectural design.

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