New British High Commission, Kampala

New British High Commission, Kampala

The British High Commission building in Kampala is all about engaging with the local economy. Instead of 'arriving in a box' (as embassies so often do) they one arises out of an exploration by architect, client and local contractors of the vernacular and the ways in which it can be adapted to the needs of sophisticated building types such as this. By using and adapting local materials, this project seems literally to grow out of the red earth of Africa. 

The scheme is held together by its sunken courtyard – one of the two most successful spaces in the scheme, the other being the semi-open visa hall. This is an ecclesiastical space, created by beautifully formed concrete columns which rise into a tangle of hi-tech white steel trees. The interview booths – more like confessionals – are lined with a rich warm local wood, locally sourced and certified like all the building's timber. 

Elsewhere the building has lost some of its planned openness – to the security advisors rather than the quantity surveyors. Hence the glazing of what should have been glassless windows. And hence the need for air conditioning in the offices which the architects had tried to persuade the Foreign Office should be naturally ventilated.

But it is down to the strength of the original idea and sheer persistence of the architect in dealing with problems others would have found insurmountable that the resulting scheme flies a flag not only for Britain but for quality architecture.