“Akili ni nywele, Kila mtu ana zake.”
This is a Swahili idiom that literally translates to “Intelligence is like hair, everyone has his/her own.” It is normally used to acknowledge other people indifference in thought and ways of doing things that probably are not the norm or expected. Likewise, I will liken this to the bedsitter and the studio apartments.
Kenyans are a very enterprising lot indeed. With difficult economic circumstances, and food and shelter being necessity that must be met for humanity to exist, Kenyans have always been thinking of how to meet the housing or accommodation demand or need in major urban cities like Nairobi, where average income are low compared to rent prices across the city. Across many cities in Europe and North America, there is historical evidence of the slum and impoverished development, also commonly called tenement housing. Particularly, the city of London and New York had enormous challenges and really did a lot to overcome them.
The Nairobi City Council, in an attempt to help ease the housing burden, made allowance and provision to accommodate the development of certain housing typologies that are traditional not in confirmative with the stipulated building codes and regulation. They were called Urban II Housing Standards. It’s probably from here that the bedsitter emerged.
A bedsitter is just that, a bed-sitter. A bed is normally 7fth x 4ft on average, as a result, a room that can accommodate a bed and have some movement allowance of 5 ft on one side, would be a bedsitter. The minimum room size used to be 7ft x 10ft, so that a 7ft (It’s actually 80”) long bed can be accommodated. I want to believe that the minimum size of a room today is 10ft x 10ft. This gives more spread room to accommodate such amenities like closets, cabinets and dressers, pictures and wall artworks, Entertainment sets, TV sets and radio or CD Changers, Kitchenware and cooking apparatus etc.
Bedsitters have been used as low income housing solutions for the working people and sometimes as hostels for college or university students. What makes them attractive as an investment option is the fact that they are easy to plan and build, and they are versatile. Normally, essential amenities like bathrooms and laundry and sometimes the kitchen are shared or placed in a common area, like an ablution block containing a group of toilets and bathrooms and a washing area with a cloth liner.
On the other hand, in more developed cities like London and New York today, rent prices of one and two bedroom apartments is more than the monthly wages of many working people. As such, people are seeking ways to downsize, from one bedroom to a one room accommodation that accommodates all housing essentials: the Studio Apartment. A studio apartment is a one room space that has a space for a kitchenette, a bathroom and toilet, a space for dining and reading and also able to accommodate a bed. In Kenya they would say, it’s self-contained.
Studio apartments are on the rise in Kenya today. However, they are not cost sensitive as the bedsitter. This is where the comparison, similarity and clash between the two comes into play; a comparative analysis. The bedsitter has emerged from the downward direction of lack of housing to finding decent accommodation and the studio apartment has arisen from the upward end of major housing development downsizing into affordable housing units: a very contradictory and opposing path of development and evolution, but all intended to serve the same purpose of providing affordable and decent housing. Indeed, “Akili ni Nywele.”
Between the Bedsitter and Studio apartments, which will be the next dominant typology in the market in Kenya?