Making a point

© The Artist


David Tremlett (1945 – )


Accession number
P/commissioned work


A new Council office, designed by Squire and Partners, opened in Nairobi in November 2004. The building exploits the natural fall of the site, towards the city centre, to give views towards the north of the city via a dramatic double height space. The design utilises the local climate and orientation to passively control the building’s environment, with facades designed to mitigate as much of the glare of the sun as possible. A large overhanging roof provides shading and a screening wall of plants and vegetation filters a dappled light through to the cool interiors. The materials of the building are simple – local terrazzo and Nairobi Blue Stone along with rendered concrete and plastered walls display differing textures and finishes. The design has evolved from Squire and Partners’ ethos of contextual modernism. The practice works hard with site locations, aspect and orientation to develop proposals that are both appropriate and culturally of their 'place’. As the building was designed in collaboration with Kenyan architects and consultants the design responds specifically to both the culture of the British Council in East Africa and the site context of central Nairobi to create a dramatic, beautiful space. The construction was undertaken by a Kenyan contractor and the building has been shortlisted for the Community Building category of the Cityscape Architectural Review Awards. To see plans, elevations and photograph sof the building visit

Visual Arts Department commissioned a site specific work for the new building from artist David Tremlett. He was invited to contribute wall drawings to the front and back elevations and to the main corridors leading to the teaching areas within the building. The drawings of rubbed pigment and varnish highlight and accentuate the flat planes of the building and the colours harmonise with the vibrant richness of the Kenyan soil, vegetation and sky. A group of young Kenyan artists worked with the artist in realising the drawings.

Tremlett wrote of the work “The decision to introduce art onto the walls of a building is far from new as an idea, but still remains full of problems and hesitation by those who own or who are considering commissioning such projects. Usually these are of how long should the art last or what’s to be done with it if leaving the premises?

The involvement in the new British Council offices in Nairobi was for the first time allowing me to go from the inside to the exterior with drawings. The design of the building, which is reminiscent of something interesting from the Bauhaus, is a beautifully simple set of interlocking, parallel, sloping planes which needed almost nothing from me. My job (from my point of view) was to add, underline and emphasise the existing construction and not to distract. Using my favoured material – pastel (hand, finger, elbow and arm massaged), the aim of my project was to underline different architectural elements then becoming an integral part of the overall construction.

Pastel became a material for my work in the 1970’s, it offered a flexibility and large colour range, I was able to travel with a small bag of pastels, anywhere and execute drawings everywhere. Over the years of travel it was always the simple techniques of craftsmanship that took my attention i.e. Aboriginal bark painting and the hand painted dwellings of Mauritania and Nigeria, they became the roots of my work alongside a Western culture.

The internal and external drawings in Nairobi are the result of a challenge (central to most serious art) concerning the proportions and volumes of the space offered and their often unnoticed differences, without the mysterious and unknown it’s hard to produce anything new. The challenge was the architecture, the setting (Nairobi), the chance to work on exterior walls for the first time and to take a newly constructed building away from its functional raison d’êtreand put it into the ‘sublime or extraordinary’. With the essential help of Peter Smith (UK), John Kamicha (Kenya), Patrick Mukabi (Kenya), Mary Ogembo (Kenya), Tabitha wa Thuku (Kenya), places I’ve seen and people I’ve met, I believe this was achieved.

Further reading:
British Council Nairobi, British Council 2005, ISBN 0 86355 543 X