Ross Walk Wonder, Leicester

From Latakia in Syria, the GEN Z Series travels all the way to Leicester in UK to meet a promising young Kenyan architect Shayna Nganga. In the year 2023, she graduated with a Master’s degree from De Montfort University, Leicester. Shayna Nganga reveals, “I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. My family moved to the UK to join my mother, who was studying and working as a Midwifery Nurse. My mother got the opportunity to work and complete her further studies in the UK. My father, a banker in Kenya became a Store Manager, when we moved to UK. Interestingly, my family’s educational background is mainly in the business and science field. I am the first in my family to branch into the creative industry (smiles).”

Ross Walk Wonder Model

Shayna Nganga enthuses, “I believe my love for travel was influenced by moving countries. I had the opportunity to work and live in Sicily, after I completed my bachelor’s degree. I enjoy reading and listening to audio books during my downtime or commute to work.” As an individual, Shayna Nganga comes across as passionate learner, who will never miss an opportunity that comes her way. It is the challenge to excel that makes her grab an opportunity. During her two-year Masters at De Montfort University, Shayna Nganga was honoured to receive the ‘Make Architects Prize’ in both the years for her creative design creations.

Concept Model

Johnny D interacts with Shayna Nganga to explore her quest in the field of architecture and her thesis ‘Ross Walk Wonder, Leicester’.

What was your childhood ambition? Did you always wanted to become an architect? 

When I was growing up, I enjoyed science a lot, particularly Chemistry. I presumed I would do something in science at university. However, studying art in sixth grade gave birth to my creativity. After learning about architecture, a spark was lit. There is both creativity and structure in architecture which can be explored in so many unique ways, such as hybrid drawings that combine technology and hand modelling, which I love. While studying architecture, I realised it is influenced by various other fields, thus opening a world of opportunities.

Plan View Children Area

How has architecture influenced your life as a student?

Through my study of architecture, I have gained a unique perspective on settings and surroundings. When I look at a building, I try to understand its purpose and why certain views are framed in specific ways, when I look through a window or door opening. This awareness has shown me how design can influence various aspects of life – such as politics, nature, literature and human behaviour.

Existing Ross Walk Footpath

Briefly tell us about your University and the Course.   

I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at De Montfort University with the support of exceptional tutors. The Arts and Design building Professor Vijay Patel provided the opportunity to mix with other different design course and their facilities. The fabrication workshops provided places to experiment and explore my ideas and creations. De Montfort also offered international experience through DMU Global, which included relevant course trips and cultural and language experience, that enriched my university experience.

Wild Section Pedestrian View

Briefly describe the significance of your project with the ‘Title of the Project and Site Location’.

‘Ross Walk Wonder – Secret Garden’ is located in Leicester, Belgrave Area along the part of the Ross Walk footpath. The footpath is surrounded by densely packed terraced houses and car-filled streets. The project aims to revive life and nature back into the footpath through the creation of children’s playgrounds and social spaces. Inspired by Herman Hertzberger’s concept of the ‘in-between’, the enclosed play areas with wild natural environments offer safety and freedom to the playing children.

Ross Walk Wonder Site Section

The project incorporates learning facilities, community areas and garden spaces to encourage learning and creativity through independence. Themes from children’s literature and the history of play were explored through playful models and hybrid draws to investigate the imagination of how children experience the world. Ross Walk Wonder fosters community engagement and provides children with a safe space to freely place and bring nature back into the area.

Plan View Private Bridge Access

Which National or International architect has inspired / influenced you? Please specify as to why?

Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia and his use of local building materials, and the integration of nature within designs. I find them to be quite extraordinary.

Wild Section Ross Walk

As an Intern, what is the most important lesson(s) you have learned from senior architects, while being a part of a project?

My master’s tutors taught me when designing, start with the master plan and work into the finer details and as a part 1 intern, I learnt asking questions is the best way to learn. I am currently searching for a job in an architectural practice to enhance my further learning.

Wild Section

Hostile architecture is an eyesore and fast changing the urban landscape of prominent cities around the world. Architecture is meant to benefit the people / users at large, but the effects of hostile architecture are targeting people and depicting wickedness of the society and is against the ethos of architecture field. Elucidate your perspective about this unwanted trend in urban landscape.

Designers and city planners construct environments in which they believe best utilise the space, whilst eliminating unwanted social behaviours within cities. However, I believe trying to push out the unwanted only provides a platform to creatively manoeuvre around it. By discriminating against the vulnerable in our design, we refuse to learn how to help them and can impact our sustainable development in cities. I believe that protecting these vulnerable people and designing spaces that incorporate them can create a positive outlook and encourage more creative solutions to better our cities.

Detailed Technical Section

Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you liked the most, and why?

‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ is a great place to learn the current views and values being explored at universities and workplaces globally. It offers a place for influential reading and learning. It is an excellent platform for students and graduates to showcase their work and interests in their respective industries globally, which is amazing!

Interior View of Final Model

How will the younger generation of architects make drastic innovative changes to mitigate the catastrophic effects of Climate Crisis? Elucidate your solution(s) and perspectives.

Advancing technology is helping pave a new approach in tackling climate change as more sustainable designs and thinking are being encouraged by universities. Young architects should aim to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, while designing to help them be more aware of the positive and negative impacts of the climate crisis.

Secret Window Frontal View

Local charm of cities has diminished due to Modern Architecture as every city looks alike and similar. How should architects / urban planners / landscape architects modernize cities, while maintaining the local charm intact?

By looking into refurbishing the existing buildings that give character and charm to the area, helps keep the identity of the place. I believe also researching and utilising local or regional materials that help preserve the character of the place allows planners to maintain the local charm.

Secret Window Rear View

Looking at the past in the current present, what are the futuristic architectural changes you would like to see in your home city / town? Elucidate the reasons for your vision.

The addition of natural wildlife spaces within cities and safe open areas for children and parents. Many streets and housing areas are still dominated by cars and by bringing back people and nature could improve city life.

3D Structural Diagram

Honours and awards related to architecture, if any.

I am proud to say that I received the ‘Make Architects Prize’ in both years of my Master’s studies. I was also shortlisted for the ‘Christopherson Collection’ for my final year project.

A Moment of Pride

Image Courtesy: Shayna Nganga

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