Inspired by her parents and husband, Assumpta Nagenda, a lecturer at the Department of Architecture, Makerere University, was the first female to hold a PhD in Architecture in Uganda, writes Sarah Achen Kibisi
Friendly, warm, social, humorous and passionate are words that describe Assumpta Nagenda Musana as she sits composed in a way that befits a respected architect. She is a striking woman whose warm smile greets one from far.
Born in a family of six, Nagenda, daughter to Prof Francis and Mrs Grace Nagenda of Mengo, is married to Daniel Musana, also an architect and they have one child, Joshua. Asked about her age, she refuses to disclose a thing.
Nagenda loves motherhood. “Joshua and I are very close. He treats me like a sister and is very open with me,” she says.
Much as she takes her work seriously at office, she is passionate about her marriage. “I keep my marriage strong by putting my work aside and paying attention to my husband whenever at home. We carry work home only when there are deadlines to meet,” she adds.
Juggling work and family
She has a lot of pressure juggling family life with work as an architect and lecturer and fulfilling all the traditional female roles of a wife, housekeeper, care-giver and mother.
“As a woman, you find yourself working overtime at home, yet your male counterparts usually go home to relax. It’s best to find a mate who will value your job and share in family responsibilities,” she says.
“While I was away studying for my PhD, Joshua had not started school, so I would leave him in the care of my parents. Sometimes I was away for three or five months at a go. I felt guilty being away from my son and kept calling every two days. After Joshua started school, he had to be with his dad and a house boy who had been with our family since he was six months old, so he treated him like a brother. I don’t think I could ever manage to stay away from them this long,” she says, her eyes tearing.
In her free time and during holidays, Nagenda does private architectural work for private clients and Daniel’s firm. She does home and commercial building plans for office blocks, educational centres, hospitals and the like.
She has worked on several projects and cannot keep count. “My favourite project was the redesigning of Elizabeth Apartments on Bukoto Rise, Naguru. The outcome was pleasant and I feel proud each time I pass by,” she says, smiling.
Nagenda sat PLE at Nakasero Primary School and attended Trinity College Nnabbingo and Makerere High School. She acquired her Degree and Masters in Architecture at the Kharkov State University of Civil Engineering and Architecture in Ukraine, in 1994 and 1995 respectively.
Wanting to reach the highest peak, she acquired a Licentiate Degree (half a PhD) in Urban Planning at Kungl Tekniska Högskolan School of Architecture and Built Environment, in Stockholm, Sweden From 2002 to 2004. She then pursued her PhD in Urban Planning and Environment from 2004 to 2008, at the same university.
Venturing into a male-dominated area was not scary because architecture is related to her father’s profession (Fine Art), which he introduced her to while she was young; both her parents are good at Fine Art. Also, her architect husband offers innumerable insights and valuable commentary.
“If my father had not encouraged me to do architecture, my career would probably have taken a different course. And although my mum’s passion was in art and fashion design, she also supported me,” she says.
Getting her PhD meant a promotion from the assistant lecturer to lecturer. “Architecture is a professional course, so one can own a consultancy firm even after the first degree, as long as they undergo an internship period of two years under a registered architect. After this, they must sit for and pass professional examinations; this is when they can get a practicing certificate,” Nagenda adds.
The PhD has provided her with the satisfaction that she can set a challenging goal and achieve it. She has also learnt to solve problems creatively.
Her work schedule
Her typical day starts at 5a.m on the three days when she has an early morning class at 8am. On such days, she conducts lectures till 9p.m, with a break of only about 30 minutes for lunch. The core courses in architecture are basically on a one-on-one interaction basis for classes with as many as 35 students and this can be very tiring.
“On the two days that I do not have to teach, I stay at home and work on personal assignments, but wake early to ensure my son and husband have not forgotten anything and that they are both well-dressed. As soon as they leave, I jump into bed and sleep till 10a.m,” she says
After breakfast at around 10.30a.m, Nagenda ensures chores have been done properly by her house helps. “When I am not satisfied, I end up doing chores like preparing certain meals and vacuum cleaning, myself.
Nagenda loves gardening, so whenever she is at home, she ensures that her flowers are watered and sometimes does some weeding. “Daniel has a private practice. He owns an architectural firm called Pan Modern Consult, so he spends more time at home than me. However, on days when I am free, we spend the evenings together, our son close by, usually immersed in his homework.
What it takes to succeed
“Being a success involves a lot of endurance, tolerance and sacrifice, like being away during my son’s tender years and putting off conception to concentrate on studies.”
“The course was grilling. I had hardly spent a few years in my marriage when I started preparing for the PhD course in 2000 (my son was two then). I had to travel to Sweden to identify a supervisor within my research area. From 2002 to 2004, I did research in the informal settlements of Uganda and Kenya and this involved being out in the field for long hours and doing a lot of coursework,” she adds. Nagenda plans to continue lecturing. She believes that private practice is more tasking than lecturing, where one has some breathing space.
Her other roles
Nagenda has had the privilege of serving on several boards and committees. She was part of the team that prepared the Housing and Human Settlements sub sector thematic paper, a component of the National Development Plan 2010/11 - 2014/15. She was also on the committee that investigated the collapsed hotel project in Bwebajja, on Entebbe Road.
Gone are the days we all thought architecture was a thing for men.