Brief on the Parliament Building
THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING AT INAUGURATION (1960)
The original design for Uganda’s Parliament Building was selected from schemes submitted in competition by architects throughout the Commonwealth. Since then, the design has been altered considerably to suit a larger assembly than was at first intended and also to allow the scheme to include several blocks of government offices.
The group of buildings are designed to accommodate two principal elements of Central Government - the Chamber for the Legislature, set forward in a position of prominence, is linked by bridges (in a manner intended to be both symbolical and practical) to executive departments of the Civil Service in the adjoining office blocks.
The most important room in the Parliament Building is the Chamber itself, entirely buried in the heart of the structure, artificially lighted and fully air conditioned and insulated from all external sources of noise.
The Chamber is modelled on the Chamber of the House of Commons in Westminster with government and opposition benches facing one another across the Floor of the House and with division lobbies flanking the Chamber on either side.
The Table occupies the centre of the Floor of the House, together with the desk of the Clerk. The Speaker’s chair, placed on a dais, faces the length of the Chamber to the main door leading to the Central Lobby.
The Chamber has been kept as small as possible to encourage the proper atmosphere for debate and to aid acoustics. Most of the architectural richness has been concentrated at the Members’ level of the Chamber, the press and the public galleries above and surrounding the Chamber being treated with less elaboration. Part of the seating on the first floor level of the Chamber has been set aside for Distinguished Strangers with access from the Members’ part of the building.
The Chamber has a specially designed ceiling composed of louvered lighting troughs and incorporating distribution grilles for the incoming supply of dry, cool air.
The joinery in the Chamber is almost entirely constructed in mvule, a type of teak commonly used in Uganda. The balustrade front to the public galleries is faced in grey plastic sheets engraved with a white papyrus design and on to which are set metal plaques with a decorative motif based on the cotton and coffee plants. The Members’ benches are upholstered in green leather, while the Floor of the House is close carpeted.
The size of the Chamber does not warrant the installation of a voice amplification system but microphones have been provided for use. The recording of proceedings is provided for in a gallery adjacent to the press.
The Chamber Building is raised on a stone-faced plinth which contains basement accommodation consisting of storage areas, workshops, service staff mess rooms, and the rooms housing the air conditioning machinery. (Note: Usage of these rooms has since changed)
The building has its own covered loading bay. Also situated in this basement area is the lower entrance hall. Members gain access to the building at this level from the Members’ sunken car park.
The ground floor level of the building is largely occupied by the Chamber itself and its surrounding galleries and lobbies. Apart from these areas, there remains the spacious Central Lobby which links the main entrance with the Chamber, and around which are grouped the Sergeant-At-Arms’ room, and ancillary rooms.
The Central Lobby has a highly polished terrazzo floor worked in an interlacing pattern derived from an Arabic design. The lower part of the hall is paneled in mvule while the balustrade of the first and second floor on either side have plate-glass panels set in aluminum frames in the centre of which are bronze plaques with a cotton and coffee design in bas-relief.
The ceiling to the Central Lobby is formed with strips of a light coloured Uganda timber known as mumuli. In the centre of the ceiling, a circular opening reveals a coloured mosaic saucer dome, at a higher level, and hanging from this dome is a beaten copper lighting in the form of a sun.
The main feature of the Central Lobby is a huge carved screen, some 40 feet wide by 30 feet high, employing many different types of Uganda timbers and incorporating designs in relief representing the principal geographical features and the tress, plants, animals and birds of the Protectorate. The doorway leading from the Central Lobby to the Chamber is situated under this carved screen and in the sandstone surround to this doorway is set a piece of carved stonework from the Palace of Westminster.
The first floor of the building accommodates a number of Members’ rooms grouped around the Central Lobby. These rooms are intended for the general use of Members and staff.
The Kenya Government donated the paneling in one of the rooms, which is of Kenya red cedar embellished with numerous small bronze plaques depicting the Kenyan lion. Also on this floor, served by corridors leading from the Central lobby are a number of staff offices and associated archives and filing rooms.
The second floor of the building accommodates the three principal committee rooms in the largest of which is a table 32 feet long, so big that it had to be built up in the committee room itself.
Also, on this floor are other offices and it is from this level that the two bridges connect the building to the adjoining office blocks. The three committee room tables were specifically designed by the architects for the building and were made by the Public Works Department.
All the rooms on this floor in the building are air conditioned by individual units supplied with piped chilled water from the refrigeration machine of the basement air conditioning plant. This provision of mechanical ventilation is mainly to allow the windows of these rooms to be kept closed, thus eliminating nuisance from external noise.
The third and top floor, extending over the whole area of the building including over the Chamber itself, accommodates a Members’ dining room and kitchen, a main bar, a private bar, a lounge, a writing room and a small library.
There are three open roof garden courtyards, linking the various rooms, furnished with benches and flower boxes. The dining room has sliding doors which can be folded back completely to the main roof garden where a fountain plays in a small pool. Lights are set in the pavings of this courtyard. A private dining room is also provided and this room is completely paneled in Elgon olive.
The structure of the building is of reinforced concrete and the external facings are pale grey terrazzo slabs of local manufacture. Uganda firms have contributed largely to the finish of the building. The paneling and joinery generally, the hardwood floors, the terrazzo floors, and the special decorative gates to the main entrance are all the works of local craftsmen.
The landscaping of the surroundings to the buildings has been the subject of special care, and the layout, designed by the architects, has been the basis for a planting scheme devised by an expert gardening consultant. All the planted areas have been treated with a rich layer of special soil mixture and the grasses and plants for the building were reserved in the Kampala Municipal Nursery for many months in readiness for planting in the gardens at the completion of the building works.
A paved walk between the office blocks and the Chamber Building is intended as an open public thorough fare linking Queen Mary’s Garden with Coryndon Road. When the final two blocks of offices are constructed, this walkway will pass underneath the two blocks which will then enclose the area where the tower stands as a small piazza.
The tower itself rises 180 feet above the nearby road level. It has a light at the top, operated from the Sergeant-At-Arms’ desk in the Chamber, to shine when the House is in session at night. The remainder of the tower accommodates water storage tanks for the whole group of buildings, and water cooling machinery for the air conditioning plant.
The architects of the Parliament Building are Messrs. Peatfield and Bodgener. The main building contractors were Mowlem Construction Co., Ltd.
THE CARVED SCREEN
The whole of one wall of the main Central Lobby of the Chamber Building is occupied by a decorative carved wooden screen. When the provision of this screen was first proposed by the architects, it was agreed that the screen should illustrate the best known features of Uganda in a manner which could be left to an artist to propose.
After considering a number of well-known artists, the committee decided to appoint Mr Joseph Mayo, to prepare designs and he was then invited to visit Uganda for one month in order to collect material for the design. Mr Mayo toured the whole of Uganda, collecting information, making drawings and taking photographs. He returned to England and prepared his first sketch designs which, after minor modifications, were accepted. They formed the basis for the final drawings of the screen as it now stands.
Such a large work of art in the form of hand carving would have been extremely expensive and would have taken a great deal of time to complete. It had, therefore, always been the architects’ intention that this screen be designed in such a way that it would be carried out largely with woodworking machines. Although this would require extremely skilled craftsmen, it would not necessitate the artist himself carrying out the whole of the work with his own hands.
Mr Mayo informed the Protectorate Government of the various types of wood, all native to Uganda, which he intended to use. The Public Works Department and the Forest Department obtained sufficient of these woods, and the timbers were sent to England to be seasoned and transformed into carved panels ready for shipping to Uganda and erecting on the site. When all the panels had been completed, Mr Mayo (who carried out all the design of the screen) and Mr E. Wilson (who had been in charge of the team of craftsmen carving the screen) came out of Uganda and they themselves fixed the various decorative panels onto a mvule backboard.
The screen is bordered along its lower edge by a frieze of papyrus plants among which can be seen carvings of birds commonly found by the lake edge and in the swamps. Just above this frieze on the left-hand side of the screen can be seen other carvings of subjects taken from the lake shore life - the crocodile and the canoe in the reeds are easily identified examples of these features. In the lower centre and the lower left hand areas of the screen are various features common to Buganda, including banana trees and local musical instruments. Continuing on the left hand side and rising towards the top of the screen are features found on the route towards the Western Province. Of these, the zebra is a typical example.
Those who know the country between Kabale and the Congo frontier will recognise, towards the top left hand side of the screen, the terraced hillsides, the rain forests, the bamboo forest and, at the extreme top left land corner, the volcanoes which can be seen from Kanaba Gap.
Across the top of the screen (traveling, as it were, from the Kabale area to the Fort Portal area) stretches the Rwenzori mountains of the moon in which can be seen a copper drill symbolising the Kilembe Mines.
Below the range of mountains can be seen many of the wild animals that are to be found in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. At the right hand corner of the screen, beyond the Rwenzori mountains, can be seen a representation of Lake Albert with some of the birds and beasts normally found in this area and in the Murchison Falls National Park, including the rhinoceros.
At this point in the screen the Murchison Falls themselves are represented, with the Nile meandering down the screen to the Owen Falls Dam at the river’s source. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen, one can identify the Tororo Rock and various trees and plants commonly found in the Eastern Province. In the centre of the screen is a symbolic shield with abstract carving suggesting the present and future industry of the country, and this shield is shaped at its lower edge like a traditional hut, under which is gathered a collection of tribal drums.
The screen took 18 months to manufacture and is the largest and most elaborate work of this kind in the Commonwealth, if not in the world. It is an interesting technical feat, apart from its artistic merit and illustrates the way in which it is still possible, even in these days of mass product on mechanisation to achieve original works of art on a large scale.
Mr Joseph Mayo, the artist for the carved screen, was also commissioned to carry out the bas-reliefs which embellish the front of the building on either side of the main entrance. For these areas, the architects required a design which would not compete with the importance of the main entrance but which will provide richness to otherwise blank and windowless facades working within these limits. The artist prepared designs of an abstract character, but based upon readily identifiable Uganda plant forms.
On the left hand panel, the bas-reliefs include, on the left edge of the design, forms taken from wild grasses of the savannah; on the right side, there is a pattern taken from an arrangement of acacia branches seen near the Murchison Falls.
The right hand panel has the note flower on the top right corner and, adjacent to this, a dragonfly. On the left of the panel are some large mvule leaves, bordered with forest lyanas. At the bottom of the panel are aloes and shapes of mysterious stones seen on hill tops in Bunyoro.
The actual construction of these bas-reliefs required a special procedure in the architects’ office. Full size drawings were prepared of the two panels, based on the artist’s small original sketches. From these drawings, the correct profile was obtained for each individual stone, which was then cast in a specially prepared mould.
There have been recent developments which changed the outlook of the Parliament Building. These changes include the construction of a multi-level parking lot, and construction of an additional floor on the East, North and West wings of the Parliament Building.
Parliament had earlier, in 2000, taken over the North and East wings from other government agencies that were occupying them.
Multi-Level Parking Lot
The multi-level parking lot was constructed to address the parking needs occasioned by the increased number of Members and staff of Parliament. The parking lot, with one ground level and five underground levels, can accommodate over 500 vehicles. The project commenced on 15 December 2010 and was completed on 29 October 2013. The project was executed by Seyani Brothers and Co. (U) Ltd.
When the Parliament Building was constructed, allowance was given for future expansion at the top of the East, North and West wings of Parliament. To accommodate the increase in the number of Members of Parliament, the additional floor was built at the top of the East, North and West wings. The construction started on 26 September 2013 and was concluded on 29 December 2014. The offices of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are now located on the fifth floor of the East Wing (Rt Hon. Speaker’s Chambers) and sixth floor of the North Wing (Rt Hon. Deputy Speaker’s Chambers). The construction was also executed by Seyani Brothers and Co. (U) Ltd.