Pots, large empty jars, a city of Nairobi concrete bench nestled in a burst of green aloes and ferns, a reclaimed oil drum standing next to a charcoal fridge are just some of the eclectic things you find when you step into the compound of Bric a Brac, a new community space with permaculture principles located off Lang’ata road in Karen. The name fits.
For Ahu, an artist and the brain behind this recoverer’s haven, his encounter with permaculture was a chance to put a name to an outlook and values he already held. Walking through his former childhood home that he is slowly but surely retrofitting into a community space and restaurant you can see what he means. His artistry and art are grounded in restorative work, and reimagining life and new uses for what might otherwise be considered useless and therefore waste.
He tells me a story of how he is quick on the scene of building demolitions of old houses in places like Karen and Kilimani, old Nairobi neighbourhoods where houses are rapidly making way for multi-storey apartment complexes in Kenya’s version of a building and housing boom. The wooden floors in the main lounge area and the stone inlays in an inner room came from demolition sites, as did the bay window he swapped into one of the house windows to create an inviting alcove. From repairing old Moroccan rugs to relaying old tin-roof (mabati) as ceiling and from carving discarded hardwoods into tables and stools to using chipped jars for new purposes Ahu is all about recycling and repurposing.
Bric a Brac aims to also open its doors to the public as a restaurant. What will the restaurant serve when it is up and running and how will that fit in with this restorative and reuse ideals? Ahu says the food will be ethical affordable gourmet. With the help of caretaker George Kairu, and the students on this year’s urban permaculture design course, a food forest designed with permaculture ideals in mind is coming into shape around the house. They’re just starting out and experimenting but they hope to service the restaurant with at least some of the produce from the garden: vegetables, herbs, eggs, and my personal recommendation jam from the gooseberries and kei apple bushes around.
But Bric a Brac is envisioned as more than a restaurant. Ahu wants it to also be a community space hosting informal talks, artists’ workshops and educational demonstrations such as on handling household waste. Some of that vision is already a reality. During last year’s Permaculture Research Institute’s urban permaculture course, participants built a cob oven, charcoal fridge and earthen pizza oven at Bric a Brac. This year Bric a Brac is the site of 2nd urban permaculture design course.
Ahu has hosted a concert and art exhibition at the space with more coming, and when I asked him if I could teach a dance class there, he was up for it. Other ideas he’s toying with are to have some of the rooms in the house be reading lounges with mini-libraries. With the plentiful space in the house, as well as an expansive garden almost anything is possible.
As Ahu said to me, “Permaculture simply makes sense.” He means as ecology and as a way of life too.