Lilian Towers: Nairobi’s Most Creative Buildings

Lillian Towers, a building which displays graceful purity with conically-shaped exterior resembling a maize cob, Kenya’s staple food, stands on University Way opposite Nairobi University main campus. It houses the Nairobi Safari club, with about 140 all-suite apartments.

The building is owned by a prominent business tycoon and politician Mr. Stanley Githunguri. Here he explained some of the problems he encountered in the process and how he sought President Jomo Kenyatta’s intevernetion. When he bought the plot where Nairobi’s iconic Lilian Towers stands in Nairobi. It turned out that there was a 1954 council by-law that prohibited the construction of more than six floors in the vicinity of the Central Police Station.

“I came to know about this by-law when I took the drawing of my 16-floor hotel project to City Council offices. I was denied approval on the basis of the 1954 by-law. I tried to talk to everybody, including the mayor who was then Andrew Ngumba, to no avail.  I finally went to see Mzee Kenyatta in Gatundu (his rural home). I showed him my drawings and told him I could not proceed with the project because of a by-law passed by a white man before independence. He was not amused. He, in my presence, telephoned the mayor,” he says.

This is how Mr Githunguri recalls the conversation:

“Ngumba, if I wanted to build a house all the way to heaven, would you have a problem with it?”

“No, Mzee. I would have no problem with it.’’

“If that is so, why do you deny Githunguri approval to build his 16 storeys because of a 1954 by-law?” Pushed to a corner, Ngumba replied that he, similarly, would not have any problem with Githunguri’s project.

“Do you have his drawings there at City Hall?”

“Yes, Mzee. They are here.”

“Do you have a rubber stamp that says ‘approved’? Kenyatta asked.

“Yes, Mzee, I have it.’’

“I’m heading to State House. I want to find you there with the drawings duly approved,” the President said and hung up.

“When we got to State House, Ngumba was already there waiting with the drawings stamped ‘approved.’” He was then asked to review outdated laws. 

He recalls that the “approved” stamp was a source of great mirth for Mzee Kenyatta. As they chatted over tea, the President remarked: “Ngumba, that small stamp of yours will one day land you in trouble.” 

The building, whose design is compared to a maize cob, was completed in the early 1980s.

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