Lamu’s stone houses are perfect examples of architecture appropriate to its setting. The basic design is an open box shape enclosing a large courtyard, around the inner walls of which are set inward-facing rooms on two or three floors, the top floor forming an open roof terrace with a makuti roof. The rooms are thus long and narrow, their ceilings supported by close-set timbers or mangrove poles (boriti). Most had exquisite carved doors at one time, though in all but a few dozen homes these have been sold off to pay for upkeep. Many also had zidaka, plasterwork niches in the walls to give an illusion of extended space, which are now just as rare. Bathroom arrangements are ingenious, with fish kept in the large water storage cisterns to eat mosquito larvae. In parts of Lamu these old houses are built so close together you could step over the street from one roof to another.

The private space inside Lamu’s houses is barely distinguishable from the public space outside. The noises of the town percolate into the interiors, encouraged by the constant flow of air created by the narrow coolness of the dark streets and the heat which accumulates on upper surfaces exposed to the sun.

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