Did German architect Ernst May invent the “Muzigo”?

Ernst May was a German architect and urban designer credited for his contribution towards easing Frankfurt’s housing shortage in the 1920’s and 30’s. So, how is it possible that one credited for fundamental work in one of the worlds greatest cities could have created the symbol of poor housing in Kampala?

Muzigo – name given to single room tennement often found in low-income settlements 

One roomed muzigo - Mbuya  Source: Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro (2013)
One roomed muzigo – Mbuya
Source: Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro (2013)

In order to understand the connection between May and the “Muzigo,” one has to consider how housing policies in Uganda have impacted stakeholders involved in housing supply. Housing policy in Uganda can be broken down into three phases, pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. Before colonialism, the area that currently makes up Uganda was composed of a rural based population of hunter-gatherers and farmers. With exception of the “Kibuga,” – the traditional centre of the Buganda Kingdom, there were no notable urban areas. Housing was the responsibility of individual households. The family head, often helped by neighbours in the construction process, was responsible for housing provision (Sanya in Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro, 2013). With the advent of colonialism in 1893, Uganda was declared a protectorate and Entebbe was declared the Capital of the new protectorate. In 1903 the Uganda ordinance was passed; this ordinance gave the Governor the powers to define the boundary of Kampala. This was followed in 1912 by Kampala’s first plan. The plan was intended to control and direct development, however it must be mentioned that it gave priority to upper and middle-class white and/or Asian populations and was therefore focused on Nakasero and old Kampala (UN-Habitat, 2007.)

The indigenous population was largely ignored with the assumption that they would be migrant in nature, commuting from their rural based abodes to work in the urban areas. In 1930 Ernst May generated the first comprehensive plan for Kampala that included settlements for middle and low-income housing for Asian and African populations (Nnaggenda-Musana & Vestbro, 2013.) These settlements were located in Nakawa and Naguru, on the outskirts of the main industrial and commercial areas. The low-income dwellings were intended to provide accommodation for male labourers who it was still assumed would remain migrant in nature.

This is supported by the fact that the spatial nature of the dwellings did not afford living spaces able to house a family. Spatially, the housing provided for a sleeping area and a kitchenette. The units were arranged around a quadrangle where other living activities could take places. Shared bathrooms and toilets were housed in a block off the enclosing units.

Low-income housing unit nakawa Source: Author
Low-income housing unit nakawa
Source: Author

 

Layout of low-income housing unit - Nakawa Source: Author
Layout of low-income housing unit – Nakawa
Source: Author

May’s low income housing, I theorise, gave rise to the modern day one roomed tenement commonly referred to as “Muzigo.”

References

UN-Habitat. (2007) Housing for all: The challenge of affordability accessibility and sustainability. Nairobi: UN-Habitat. Nnaggenda-Musana, A., Vestbro, D. U. (2013) Upgrading with densification. Global Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. Vol.2, no.1, pp. 27-72.

Nnaggenda-Musana, A., Vestbro, D. U. (2013) Upgrading with densification. Global Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology. Vol.2, no.1, pp. 27-72.

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