Bhante Buddharakhita’s inspired vision of bringing Buddhism to Uganda and creating the first African Buddhist Centre founded by a native African has inspired many people around the world. As a practicing Buddhist, and an architect who has worked for many years in Uganda, I was delighted when I first came across Bhante on the internet and then met him in London and later in Uganda. We began discussing how I might assist with the design and planning of UBC and also discussed other potential projects, for example a retreat centre on the Ssese Islands.
For several years I had wondered whether Buddhism would flourish in Africa and what form it would take. I thought of the Parable of the Plants in the White Lotus Sutra which describes the dharma being like monsoon rain falling abundantly on every plant and how each then grows according to its own unique nature. Surely Buddhism in Africa will flower in a unique way and I am grateful to play a small part in the early days of this exciting story.
A key aspect of the approach Bhante has taken to introducing Buddhism to Africa is to explore the rich traditions of African wisdom and spiritual life and to find the parallels that exist between this tradition and dharma teachings. This approach is the starting point for the design philosophy that underpins the development of the UBC. It is important that the Centre is welcoming and familiar to visitors whilst also having clear links with Buddhist monastic traditions from Asia. The aim is to find a synthesis between traditional African built forms and the Buddhist architectural tradition, and to develop a new design approach that is rooted in both traditions yet contemporary and unique.
Discussions concerning the development of the Centre have been ongoing since 2015 and recently this has coalesced into initial concept proposals. It was necessary to take time to fully consider the underlying aims and objectives before starting on the development of proposals.
Strategic site planning
The following are key aims of the site planning:
- Preservation and enhancement of the natural environment
- Developing the natural beauty of the site
- Creating a sense of legibility and order without unnecessary formalism
- Creating axis lines that link the different buildings and facilities
- Grouping of facilities by function so that activities in one area do not disturb another
- Creating a natural flow from inside spaces to outside spaces
- Arranging facilities to take advantage of the views
- Orientating facilities in response to sun path to maximise natural sun shading
- Achieving a harmonious balance of buildings and formal and informal gardens
The site covers about two acres of land at Bulega, Garuga near Entebbe. It lies on a peninsula of land that projects southwards into Lake Victoria in an elevated position with beautiful views across Lake Victoria to the west and east. The area is currently semi-rural but is developing rapidly. It is therefore important that the proposals take into ac-count the likely development of new buildings in the area and the impacts this will have on the Centre. The site slopes from north to south and has been partly terraced.
The design approach adopted is to combine the circular forms of traditional African buildings with the requirements of modern life and the specific requirements of Buddhist monastic buildings. Most buildings will have two storeys of enclosed accommodation with an open roof terrace covered by a thatched roof. This will provide additional flexible space on the roof terraces with spectacular lake views whilst also providing shade for the floors below to create comfortable conditions without the need for air conditioning. The larger buildings such as the Guest House and Monks House have internal courtyards to provide privacy and quiet spaces whilst also providing natural cross flow ventilation to all rooms.