Honouring National Heroes Through Architecture

A Case Study of Presidential Mausoleums

  • Anthony Oduor Ralwala
Keywords: Hermeneutic interpretation, Kenyan architectural academia, Presidential mausoleum


The Presidential Mausoleum is a novel architectural typology procured by African states to honour fallen leaders. The purpose of this study is to expose the Presidential Mausoleum as a significant artefact of national importance, through revealing key considerations, design principles, ideas and concepts in its architecture, in a thematic manner based on content analysis. The study discusses implied and embodied meanings in these Mausoleums as vessels of cultural containment imbued with national symbolism. The study provides Afrocentric content and exemplars pertaining to architectural theory on poetic dwelling and its metaphoric dimension to address the dearth of such knowledge in Kenyan architectural academia. The archival research method is employed, with selected Presidential Mausoleum as the unit of analysis. The Mausoleums were purposively identified on the basis of convenience and availability of secondary data such as photographic images and seminal publications which were critically identified and reviewed. A physical visit to Jomo Kenyatta Mausoleum in Nairobi uncovered additional primary data, yielding pertinent observations whose hermeneutic explication and interpretation revealed multiple meanings. Unstructured interviews were conducted with Government officials at Kenya’s National Assembly to obtain background material on Jomo Kenyatta Mausoleum and rituals that are performed therein. The findings outline commonalities, as leitmotifs, in the design of the Presidential Mausoleums and their potential inspiration by the Egyptian Pyramids, focusing on thematic aspects such as form, geometry, numerology, ornamentation and symbolism. The study recommends regular maintenance of Presidential Mausoleums to prevent their physical deterioration. The thematic approach to interpretation herein is recommended for extension to African Presidential Mausoleums that were not discussed in this study. African Governments should provide research funding and grant access to schematic and production drawings of these Mausoleums to enable researchers to provide richer holistic hermeneutic interpretation.