head office, Corner House, BFC Building in Seychelles, Reserve Bank of Malawi, among many others have one thing in common apart from their being some of the most architecturally imposing buildings in Zimbabwe and in the region.
They are all the brain-children of Mike Clinton, a veteran architect who has dedicated his entire life to giving the perfect glossy look to most of Harare’s Central Business District, especially Samora Machel Avenue.
Countrywide and regionally, he has designed plans for prominent hotels such as the Elephant Hills Inter-continental, Zambia’s Ancient River Lodge, Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre, Malawi, Kuchawe Hotel in Zomba, Zambia, remodeling of the Kingdom , Victoria Falls Hotel , Meikles Hotel among plenty others.
Each time he put pencil to paper, Clinton would create out of the ordinary sketches, almost turning Harare’s Samora Machel Avenue into a mini New York – work that arguably resulted in him being awarded many contracts to sketch plans for some of the country’s most important buildings.
And in almost 40 years of continuous work, Clinton and his partner Evans, have been involved in a very wide range of projects and has stamped his identity on Harare’s skyline.
He also did renovations and alterations to Hwange Power Station at the end of the colonial rule as the Smith regime had closed down most sections of the station.
Clinton who turns 80 tomorrow, does not look the geriatric which that huge figure denotes.
He looks a young 60, pointing to another plenitude of life ahead, all things being equal.
And with that vastness and richness of a wealth of age has come a unique architectural mind that will be a huge legacy to Zimbabwe.
Many future generations will come and catch a glimpse of the magnificent shiny buildings, but many may by no means know the humble man behind their design.
Clinton last week gave us a glimpse of his life and work explaining how passion made him grow professionally.
Indeed, it is true that the world’s greatest architects were born in June.
Some of them include British-born Sir Norman Foster June 1, 1935; Solomon Willard, Boston USA June 2, 1783 -1861; Asher Benjamin June 5, 1773 – 1845 (USA) ; Charles Rennie Mackintosh June 7 , 1868 – 1928; June 30 ; Dominikus Zimmerman (1685 – 1766) just to name a few.
Born on June 26, 1931 Clinton attended David Livingstone Primary School between 1940 and 1943 before moving to Blackiston Primary School the following year. Initially, Clinton did not want to be an architect but had other ideas though he did not know what by that tender age.
His late mother Edith, a draughtswoman who was born in Shurugwi and died at the age of 103 suggested that he takes up architecture as a profession and he immediately loved the idea.
“This is when I was at Prince Edward between 1944 and 1949 for my secondary education. I then moved to South Africa where I attended University until 1954.
“From there, I went to London for a year’s attachment where I gained a lot of experience. I returned home in 1955 and got my first architecture job,” he disclosed.
His first job, drawing the original plan for Radio Limited along Angwa Street in the mid 60s had a few of its challenges as he was still wet behind the ears.
“It was challenging but I loved it. I did not stop and am still going on even though I am about to retire,” he said.
From sketching the Radio Limited plan, Clinton’s next jobs would include drawing plans for upmarket shopping complexes, high rise maximum security buildings like the RBZ, Reserve Bank of Malawi and that of Seychelles, luxurious hotels, office parks and airports.
Architecture soon found its home in his blood and has been running in his veins.
“I was happy when I got the go-ahead to draw the plan for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe along Samora Machel Avenue. This was during the days of former RBZ Governor Kombo Moyana. It took about six years to sketch, design and build the massive building.
“I had a big team and we got the job done,” he said.
He was to get several jobs along the city’s commercial street as he had the opportunity to draw the plans for Karigamombe Centre, Century Towers, Megawatt, Pegasus, ICL and Corner House.
“I had no particular idea of what I wanted the street to look like back then.
“Whatever I did is a reflection of what I had in mind when I was asked to do the plans for the various buildings. But I am pleased with the outcome. Samora Machel is almost nearly mine,” he joked.
Even though he turned 80, the “little boy” in the octogenarian’s blood still whispers in his ear telling him “to go on, age is no limit to success”.
Clinton’s dream is to see young and upcoming architects keeping up good standards of their trade.
“I am worried that because of the economic challenges faced by the country in the past 10 years not many huge buildings like the ones we used to do are coming up.
“Certain buildings have finally come up, but it took too long to be built.
“Such a slow pace of infrastructural development must have been quite hard for university graduates who ended up with no jobs because the demand for building was quite low,” he said.
Added Clinton: “For example there are some buildings whose construction commenced many years ago and should have been completed back then but have been on the same level because of the challenges.”
He further said it is not all rosy being an architect as plans are sometimes not approved.
“Not all plans have been successful and sometimes even if it has been approved, you would get a bad contractor who would not bring out exactly what you wanted. However, this is not the norm it only happens occasionally,” he added.
He also said a lot of buildings in Harare are in need for a facelift.
“There has been a marked deterioration of office blocks and factories. At some learning institutions, maintenance has been neglected and windows are falling down and doors missing.
Clinton revealed that Southern Sun now African Sun and Old Mutual have been his biggest clients.
Hundreds of graduate architects have had a chance to work with him and get a share of his wisdom. He believes experience is the best teacher.
“This job is like any other profession. When still 22 years old, you have little practical knowledge of your job and the way you perform your duties is quite different. It will take another 10 to 15 years to get the necessary experience,” he revealed.
Since his job required his maximum attention, Clinton said his family greatly suffered in the process, not financially but psychologically.
“Architecture is very psychic and can easily affect you. It goes up and down. You can be poor or rich. I made a fortune but not so much,” he says.
A father of two children Carol and Russell and grandfather to Tara and Lana, Clinton and his wife Rosemary have had their fair share of blessings.
Clinton, has also made his name internationally and his designs have won various architecture prizes. The competitions in which over 700 architects from all over the world entered include:
l Liverpool Cathedral UK (Fourth place)
l Dublin City Ireland-Library for Dublin University. (Fourth place)
So many are the plans he has sketched that the last time he counted they summed up to almost 3 200.
Below is the list of some of the buildings whose plans he sketched or made some additions he made to already built structures.
l27 storey Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe which was completed in 1996. Incorporates high security vaults, banking hall, staff canteen and conference centre.
l Reserve Bank of Malawi, Blantyre, which was completed in 1999. This includes multi storey offices, banking halls, canteen and staff facilities.
l First House Blantyre (2003) – An 8 storey development incorporating shops, banking hall and office space to let, for First Merchant Bank, Malawi
l BFC Building, Seychelles (2003) – A four storey office building with ground floor, banking hall and shops. This was done in collaboration with Frank Lincolm, Architect.
l The 19-storey Century Towers which has a ground floor, blanking halls and three levels of parking, designed as an investment by CABS.
l Corner House (completed 1994) 10 storey office development for Old Mutual properties.
l Megawatt House (completed 1994) 10 storey office development with ground floor banking hall for Zesa Pension Fund.
l Unity Court (completed 1994) – 7 storey courtyard – style office block with ground floor shop for Old Mutual Properties.
l Pegasus House (1992) – 8 storey regional headquarters building for Mobil Oil. Fully air conditioned.
l Advern House (1988) – 7 storey offices and shops.
l Karigamombe Centre (completed 1986) – 21 storey office tower with ground floor shopping mall and first floor parking deck.
l Legal and General Building (completed 1984) – 8 storey offices and shops.
l ICL House (1975) – 10 storey building, offices over shops.
l Westgate offices 1 and 2 (completed 1995 – Two storey courtyard style offices adjacent to Westgate Shopping Centre
l OK Bazaars Head Office (completed 1993) – four storey office block.
l Tabex Head Office (1992)
lCABS Head Office (completed 1987) – Head office complex for Central Africa Building Society at Northridge Park
l Maputo Airport Refurbishment (competition sketch design 2002) – Scheme for major refurbishment of Maputo Airport- shortlisted.
l Cargo Village , Harare Airport(sketch design 1998) – Proposal prepared for consortium bidding for construction and operation of a cargo village at Harare International Airport
l Harare International airport (full tender documentation 1994) – In collaboration with Aeroports de Paris. Full working drawings completed when project was put on hold by Government.
l Chitungwiza railway project (full working drawings 1992) – Full working drawings for five railway stations and related facilities. Project put on hold.
l Willards Foods (Harare , 1982) – Factory , warehouse, offices
l National Breweries Complex (Harare 1968 to 1980) – Office block, warehouses, bottling plant, tanks, staff facilities
l National Breweries Complex (Bulawayo 1985) Extension of existing brewery
l National Breweries Malting Plant (Kwekwe) Major Brewery complex; offices, maltings, staff canteen etc
l Mutare Oil Refinery (Feruka) – Architectural design of all facilities, including offices , workshops, staff facilities, housing etc.
l Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco (Harare 1976) Office block, warehouses etc
l Borrowdale Brooke Medical Centre (Full working drawings 2002) – Three storey medical centre project incorporating trauma centre, consultants rooms, retail space and basement parking – On hold
l Zesa Training Centre, Phase 3 (Completed 1998) – Recreation centre and executive suites at Zesa Skills training centre
l UZ halls of residence (completed 1992)- Free standing bedroom complex
l UZ Great Hall (1988)
l Belvedere Teachers College (completed 1984) – Complete teaching establishment comprising lecture theatres, workshops, administration block, hostels, sports facilities, kitchen and dining hall.
l U Z Law faculty extensions (1982)
l UZ New lecture theatre – Major new lecture hall
l Audio Visual services – Ministry of Education
lUZ Engineering block (1977) – Lecture rooms, staff offices, workshops etc
lGroombridge manor – Prestige housing development. Mix of single storey and double storey executive houses in secure , walled complex
l Isobel Gardens (completed 1999) – Complex of nine single storey units with individual garages and staff accommodation
l Isobel Lane phase 1 (completed 1997) – Development of 14 cluster houses mix of 2 and three bedroom units
l Ryelands (1990 onwards) – Executive housing development
l Harrow Avenue Investments (completed 1986) – Double storey town house development
l St Tropez Flats (Eastlea 1975) – Complex of two storey blocks of flats
l The Hilton – Seven storey block of flats
l Warwick House – 10 storey block of flats
l Killarney Heights – 8 storey block of flats
l Zimbank Refurbishment Programme (2000 onwards) – Development of new interior design theme and teller cubicle design. Refurbishment of various branches around the country on a phased basis
l AON Minet – Interior design
l CABS Fourth Street Branch (completed 1983) – Freestanding building on prominent site
l Beverly Building Society (1975)
l Millennium Mall (sketch design 2002) – Proposal for new major shopping centre , Eastlea, Harare , project put on hold
l Manica Mall (sketch design 1999) – Shopping complex proposal for central Mutare
l The Grange (Sketch design 1996) – Proposal for new major shopping centre, Harare – Put on hold
lW estgate Shopping Centre (completed 1995) – 27 000 sq m of retail space
l Feruka Oil refinery and housing (Mutare)
l Royal Harare Gold Club
l Chitungwiza Shopping Centre
l Carribea Bay Hotel (Kariba)
l Elephant Hills (Vic Falls)
l Rainbow Hotel -Vic Falls, bedrooms
l Victoria Falls Hotels – alterations, additions , renovations
lThe Kingdom -Vic Falls
l Troutbeck Resort -Bedroom extensions
l Bumi Hills – bedrooms
lKuchawe Inn, Zomba Malawi – (Rebuild fire destroyed)
l Mount Soche Hotel, Blantyre, Renovations
l Vilankoulos Timeshare project
lHwange Lodge – renovations, housing and conference centre
l Spray View Hotel, Vic Falls – offices and shops
l Standards Association of Zimbabwe
l Highlands properties – Delloites offices
l Warwick House – block of flats
l Zimbank Offices – Bulawayo and Harare
When not working, Clinton enjoys gardening and the fresh lilies and lush green lawn of his Avondale home tell a story of the soft hand that takes care of them.
He loves rugby and at one point played for the Prince Edward School team during his student days.
He is also an avid golf player and tees off whenever he gets the opportunity.
Smoked salmon and pepper steak make a great lunch or supper for the busy architect.
He sums his life story up by saying “If sketching is the food of life let me feast on it.”