Mui Ho
Center for Cities

The Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities transfers knowledge to action to build more equitable and sustainable cities today and in the future.

Informal Futures: Housing in Mathare, Kenya

Architecture and Planning Option Studio Arch 4101/5101/7112, Fall 2024

Instructor: Felix Heisel
Meeting times: T/F 12:10–5:10 p.m. 
Credits: 6

Informal Futures: Housing in Mathare, Kenya is a cross-disciplinary design option studio that brings together students from Cornell University’s Departments of Architecture, and City and Regional Planning with collaborators from the University of Nairobi, Slum Dwellers International, and the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities. This collaborative effort is dedicated to addressing the unique challenges and opportunities presented by informal housing, with a specific focus on Mathare, Kenya.

Located in the Eastlands of Nairobi, Mathare Valley is the oldest and second largest urban informal settlement in Kenya, comprising 157 hectares from Pangani to the Gitathuru River. The valley is an agglomeration of 13 villages, with the studio intervention focusing primarily on the village of Mathare 4B. The community is characterized by its high population density, haphazard arrangement of structures, insufficient public infrastructure investment, and a lack of public services, conditions that negatively impact the health and safety of its residents.

The studio explores innovative architectural and urban planning solutions that reimagine the future of housing within this complex urban, social, cultural, and historic fabric. Through the integration of residents, community stakeholders, and local and global experts, the project team aims to provide the required background information and historical context to co-produce culturally appropriate improved housing typologies. By integrating principles of circular construction, community engagement, and resilience, the studio seeks transformative proposals grounded in a productive collaboration of formal and informal strategies spanning the scales from material selection, construction detailing, scenario planning, and urban development. By addressing the dynamic challenges of informal housing in Mathare, participants will contribute to a broader conversation about the role of architecture in shaping resilient, equitable, and dignified living spaces for the future.

Participants in the design studio will be traveling to Nairobi for a one-week field trip during the semester and will meet with local stakeholders as well as students from the University of Nairobi. The cost of the trip is generously supported by the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities. To facilitate a meaningful exchange between Ithaca and Nairobi across the 7-hour time difference, we are proposing an additional 1-hour block on Monday mornings (about once per month). In those weeks, we will end the studio earlier on Fridays.

To participate, CRP students are encouraged to apply directly to with a short motivation letter and a commitment to the 10 contact hours / 6 credit course. Architecture students will use the normal department balloting system to enroll.

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