Paida Hlambelo: Driving Vavaki Architects’ Global Vision

Paida Hlambelo: Driving Vavaki Architects’ Global Vision

Vavaki Architects Limited is a professional company making heady way in the area of architecture and master planning in the UK and Africa.
Recently the company scooped the prestigious award in Kigali, Rwanda, indicating the hard work and professionalism that Zimbabweans are renowned internationally for.

Vavaki Architects Limited is responsible for some of the African continent’s and the world’s best buildings.
One of its major projects the Kigali Heights, a Vavaki Architects designed and supervised mixed use development in Kigali, Rwanda, was awarded Africa’s Best Mixed Use Development of the Year Award at the Africa Property Investment Summit held at the Sandton International Convention Centre in August 2017.
The infrastructural development was officially opened by His Excellency President Paul Kagame on 6 December 2016 and boasts two floors of retail space housing some of the most prestigious brands in East Africa as well as up to 6 floors of prime office space. It occupies pride of space by the Kimihurura Roundabout next to the Kigali International Convention Centre.

The Iconic Award winning Kigali Heights Building Vavaki Designed

The Kigali award is not the first accolade as Vavaki Architects has been awarded at the Zim Achievers Awards before.

“It was indeed very humbling for me and Vavaki Architects to be recognised and awarded the prestigious Zim Achievers Award presented in London in 2014. The same event recognised Vavaki Architects’ exploits in our chosen field as well as the inroads that we had made back into our continent of origin,” said Paida Hlambelo, director of the award winning architectural firm.
“The award was indeed an inspiration to us and spurred us to strive for more and better. We are pleased that with the Kigali Heights Award, things appear to be falling into place,” he said.

Vavaki Architects is headquartered in Weybridge, UK, were it was formed approximately ten years ago by two young Zimbabwean Architects, Paida Hlambelo and Tendai Mtyasera.
The firm is currently establishing its Africa Regional Office that will be based on the 5th Floor of the Award Winning Kigali Heights, in Kigali, Rwanda. While its Corporate Head Office will remain in Weybridge, London, the Africa operations will be run from Kigali, Rwanda. Satellite offices will be maintained in Uganda and Sierra Leone.

Paida shares a joke with President Paul Kagame at the official opening of Kigali Heights

What does planners look for in a firm in order to support it? According to Paida him and his team’s experience is that first and foremost clients look for a development partner. They do not only expect someone that will deliver architectural wizardry innovatively, they are looking for a practice that will integrate their corporate values specifically and nationally in whatever schemes they come up with.
He explains that many a time, clients expect a lot of concept development work to be done at risk and only after they are fairly happy with the product offering are they prepared to enter into contractual relationships when revenues would start flowing in. This requires commitment as well as financial frugality as such expectations can be very demanding on the practice’s resources. Thereafter, they expect the architect to be both a technical as well as strategic business partner and advisor. “We have also realised that integrity, originality, authenticity as well as the desire to go the proverbial extra mile are valued by clients,” he noted.

Further to their experience in Rwanda, it is now their considered view that Africa is wide open and full of opportunities for architectural practices that are prepared to work hard. “We have realised that Africa is still a green field in as far as infrastructure development is concerned, hence our move to establish our Africa Regional Office in Kigali Rwanda to exploit these.
“Kigali is at most only 4 hours away from the furthest African destination. A challenge in this regard though is the fact that doing business in Africa is definitely not the same as doing business in London where we are based for instance. The business dynamics are different, stakeholder relationships play themselves out differently and as such due diligence is called for in order to succeed,” said Paida.

Paida with President Kagame at the official opening of Kigali Heights

Vavaki was formed in Weybridge, UK during 2009.

Paida concedes that considering the exposure that the firm has had as an architectural practice, the challenges that it has had to navigate, the prestigious commissions / assignments that it has received from clients, the strong partnerships that it has now developed and now enjoy in the course of its doing business, the reception that it continues to receive in the countries where it operates, the vibrant team of young professionals that comprise Vavaki Architects, the much desired accolades that have started flowing in as well as the fact that the practice has weathered the challenges of its formative years and is now able to stand its own among the best in the world, and able to sustain its work force; we can reasonably say Vavaki Architects has been successful.
“Further, both my team and myself have grown as professionals buoyed by the nature of assignments that have come our way. To us, success is measured in the factors referred to above, not just financially, and we are happy so far.”

The success has not been without its challenges and Paida is pleased to detail them as an example.

He notes that to this effect the practice’s formation, its near collapse, challenging African country dynamics, our advisory role on the Earls Court regeneration development in London, winning of the Uganda UPF Scheme as Architects for the Ahadi Consortium, the commissioning of Kigali Heights, the accolades received as well as my appointment on to the Kigali City Master planning Advisory Committee.

While Vavaki has been engaged in several high standard projects there are those that have stood out so far as most memorable projects and Paida supports that observation.

“I would say they are three, UPF, Monkey Bay Resort and Kigali Heights. The projects were memorable in the design challenges they individually presented, the diversity of the geographical environments within which they were conceptualized, the categories of the clients, the impact of each scheme within the respective national economies and social strata, complete with the challenges presented to the team with respect to operating across diverse national boundaries as well as planning regimes.”

Like every aspirational design firm globally Vavaki has its motivation.

“Making a difference through innovation and the creative use of spaces. Unleashing the human creative spirit or genius in creating developments that are least disruptive to their environments and yet appreciated by their owners, users and / or occupants,” noted Paida.

Within this scope Vavaki also can pinpoint its biggest projects it has undertaken and the countries and state possibly how they cost in each country and cost in total.

In this case the $1 Billion UPF Institutional and Commercial Project Design and bid presentation in Uganda tops all.

Paida observes that Rwanda presents by far the most business friendly environment supported by some very well streamlined institutional frameworks. While the UK has some very advanced and well-structured systems and regulations their processes can be very tedious at times.
Uganda and Sierra Leone fit the African bill in that the operational environments still need extensive streamlining. There was an instance for example where a project in one of the countries was delayed due to the absence of an enabling legislation?
“All in all we have found the jurisdictions within which we are operating to be very accommodative of foreign expertise,” he says.

What motivates him to wake up daily?

“A very loving and supportive family, knowing that I have a highly motivated and passionate team to lead, expectant clients to satisfy, nations within which to contribute positively, and a discipline I am very passionate about (architecture, master planning and urban design)”

Paida notes that their biggest projects as pointed above taught them the value of team work, gave the appreciation of the diversity of disciplines that have to be integrated to come up with a great design and built solution. This inclusive of very tight deadlines within which they delivered these schemes inculcated in our team the importance of total commitment and pride in what they do.
More so winning international design competitions and bids as with the Ahadi Consortium on UPF was a source of pride and confidence boost for the team. With all this amalgamation of world class expertise and frugal competence the Vavaki team is now in a position where it does not hesitate to take on the best in the industry and stand its own.

All the above success has not been without challenges especially developing the Vavaki Architects brand with its seemingly incomparable standards and work ethic across Africa and internationally.

To this effect Paida notes that adequate resources are always a challenge, they could do with more. Stiff competition against very well established and deep pocketed practices. The conservative nature of clients, in that they tend to stick to their own tried and tested architects making it extremely difficult for new practices such as Vavaki Architects to break through, regardless of the excellent product offering that one may be presenting. International institutional dynamics also need to be carefully managed.

Paida was born just outside Masvingo, his father originated from Mwenezi and mother from Chivi. His first 14 years were spent in Gweru where the family lived until they moved to Gaborone, Botswana in 1992. He left Botswana in 1997 for University in the United Kingdom and has not looked back!

He did primary schooling at Lundi Park Primary School in Gweru, Junior Certificate at Goromonzi High School,
Ordinary Level at Watershed College in Marondera and
Advanced Level at St Georges College in Harare.

What architectural projects would you like to see taking shape in Zim? “Having designed and advised on developments in 8 African countries, Zimbabwe’s infrastructure remains the most mature in sub Saharan Africa excluding South Africa, however not much improvementhas happened to the infrastructure in 15years. I would like to see the mordenization of Zimbabwe’s metropolitan areas.

“To regenerate and replace mostly colonial buildings and architecture with developments that signify a progressive
Zimbabwe, sustainable and are a catalyst for kick starting a growing economy. In the urbanization driveI am also keen to see well planned Urban settlements that foster good social and community cohesion including
Well designed education facilities, rural and urban;well-designed sporting and cultural facilities and lifetime sustainable and affordable homes.”

What plans would you have for Zim’s architectural design industry / business at large?

“Our business name is Vavaki, the meaning of which is lost on anyone except non Zimbabweans. Although we are yet to have a breakthrough opportunity in Zimbabwe, we are very keen and ready to engage in the architectural industry inZimbabwe and play our part in the contribution of the development of our country. Our extensive global experience, and In particular in Africa, will only stand in good stead to benefit and contribute to Zimbabwe’s future.
“Vavaki was branded with the goal of being a recognised Zimbabwean brand in the real estate development space making huge contributions in Zimbabwe and across Africa. We are keen to engage in the development dialogue for Zimbabwe with both state and private
entities and use our little experience in assisting our country’s development.”

What qualifications have you got as Paida in architectural design and master planning? “Bachelor of Arts Degree in Architecture (KIAD), Post Graduate Diploma in Urban Design (Oxford Brookes), and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Part 3 qualifying me as a Chartered Architect.”

What is your role / position in Vavaki Architects and what does it entail?

“Lead Designer, Practice Principal. The role is responsible for policy formulation, strategic leadership of the practice, business development, public relations, stakeholder management as well as resource allocation and management.”

How do you see Vavaki Architects in the next 5 – 10 years? “Entrenched and fully operational on the African continent.”


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