Wakulima Market is the largest food market in the Kenyan capital, providing fresh produce from the surrounding countryside to half the city.
The open building complex now offers protection from the sun and rain to up to 7,000 merchants, in stark contrast to the originally 300 merchants the building was originally planned for at the time of construction, in 1966. The building’s overcrowding became chronic soon after the opening, and several announcements have been made – and postponed – to close the market and reopen it in a different location on the outskirts of Nairobi. In effect, the change in location would determine the loss of Wakulima Market’s significance – its central location fulfils a practical purpose and creates a melting pot; here, people from different parts of the region come together with the Nairobi locals. This important symbolic factor made the market into a pillar of the young nation soon after its independence; people gathered in the shadows of the government buildings to exchange goods and information, while simultaneously reinforcing their common identity. This significance can be seen in the structure’s solid lines and concrete pillars, which not only enable practical usage, but – innovative in form and material – provide the nation with a platform for exchange. The building was included in a study by Basel-based architecture theorist Manuel Herz, who recently conducted a comprehensive study of Modern African architecture.