Quote: "He has been the project architect for a number of well known structures such as the V & A Waterfront Extension in Cape Town, three Gautrain Stations, upmarket residential tower block 100 Crown Street in Glasgow, Birmingham International Airport terminal extension, Liberty Life Regional headquarters in Umhlanga, the Cape Town stadium for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, The Zone Shopping Centre in Rosebank (Johannesburg) and the Intercontinental Hotel at O.R. Tambo International Airport...."
Born in Luanshya, Zambia in 1970, Kelly Kalumba is the partner at Louis Karol Architects charged with replicating in Gauteng the success that the 60 year old firm has achieved from its base in Cape Town.
"We moved in a year ago," he informs me as we settle down in the office boardroom on the 2nd floor of the Rosebank Mews building. "It is a challenge for me to head a new office but one that I am embracing. We are a firm of over 100 professional employees and have done a lot of work in South Africa and internationally in the UK, Israel, Dubai and other parts of Africa. We decided that we should open this office given the fact that we have missed out in the past on a couple of opportunities in Gauteng from clients who preferred competitors with a physical presence in the province."
Kalumba is one of ten partners at the reputable organisation having been appointed to the position in 2003. He had only been at the firm for five years at the time and by-passed the associate level by leaping into partnership on the strength of his work. It is the enviable consequence of a hard worker pursuing a career he was cut out for from an early age.
"I was placed second in my lower secondary school class at Kabulonga Boys and the government determined that I should go to either Hillcrest in Livingstone or David Kaunda in Lusaka. These were number one and two respectively of the technical high schools in the country that taught building drawing, a subject that offered a good introduction to architecture. I left Lusaka for Hillcrest but only spent a year there because I contracted malaria."
Kalumba's parents insisted that he return to Lusaka and he therefore completed his studies at David Kaunda and joined Copperbelt University (CBU) in 1990 for a five year architecture degree. In his third year, he got the opportunity to travel to SA as one of four representatives of CBU at a competition in Pretoria. He fell in love with the country and therefore did not need much convincing to return. He joined Louis Karol in 1998 after a three year stint with Lisulo and Bwalya architects in Lusaka.
"The construction industry in Zambia had declined at the time and I therefore decided to leave to seek greener pastures with the aim of building my exposure and experience in modern building design and detailed construction techniques. My plan was to come to SA and use it as a gateway to living and working in the west in a country like England. But through Louis Karol, I got the opportunity to travel to London and witnessed the lifestyle of my peers from Zambia based there. They lived in small houses and used the subway everyday in a congested city. I decided that Africa was definitely the place to be."
When I ask what projects he has been involved in, he gives me his business card which is designed to open like a folding door to reveal a number of high profile designs. He has been the project architect for well known structures such as the V & A Waterfront Extension, three Gautrain Stations (Pretoria, Midrand & Centurion), the up-market residential tower block 100 Crown Street in Glasgow, Birmingham International Airport terminal extension, The Zone in Rosebank and Intercontinental Hotel at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and more recently the Liberty Life headquarters and Hotel in Umhlanga.
"I was also involved in the Greenpoint Stadium project which we did with a German firm we had enlisted to assist us. I recall when I made the presentation; I was convinced that we had no chance from the hostile reception we received. It was quite a surprise when we got the call confirming that we were one of two firms appointed to work on the project."
More recently, Kalumba has been involved in the design of the Society House Mixed Use Building in Lusaka, a 98 million dollar contract that includes a hotel, retail park, commercial offices and parkade. This adds to many other projects Louis Karol have completed in Zambia. He is also working on ECO Towers in Accra (Ghana).
"If you ask around in Zambia, you will find that a significant number of buildings there were designed by South African firms. Some of these firms are quite small such that their biggest jobs are their Zambian projects. That means we have the potential to do a significant amount of work there. We are also doing work in Ghana and Nigeria. With the construction industry having dipped in SA since the World Cup, we are keen now more than ever to expand our African footprint."
Kalumba says he is inspired by Louis Karol himself, who at the age of 84, is still involved in the business as Chairman alongside his son Dr. Eitan who is the company CEO and daughter Simone who is the partner charged with marketing.
After over a decade in SA, Kalumba has permanent residency status but his loyalties continue to lie in his native Zambia. He donned the black, red and green colours of his country to visit the FNB stadium recently to watch the Chipolopolo beat Bafana Bafana in the Nelson Mandela challenge.
"I am a staunch supporter. I recall during the early rounds of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, I flew into Zambia wearing the team jersey and a South African sitting next to me thought I was a football player. A few Zambian friends asked me why I was clad in the colours of a team that keeps losing and I bet them a new shirt for every win they got in the tournament. They owe me quite a few shirts today!"
I remark that I can see how he could be confused for a footballer given that he has the physique of a man in his twenties. He reveals that he jogs frequently and other than keeping fit, he also enjoys attending business networking functions.