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HomeTop StoriesAlan Donovan: Environmentalist who built Africa's most photographed house dies in Mlolongo

Alan Donovan: Environmentalist who built Africa’s most photographed house dies in Mlolongo

Alan Donovan, owner of the African Heritage House is dead.

Donovan died at the age of 83 at his home in Mlolongo, Machakos County.

African Heritage Estate management says Donovan died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday morning.

The African Heritage House

Alan Donovan designed and built the African Heritage House, overlooking the Nairobi National Park, in 1989.

The picturesque house is a combination of mud architectures from across Africa that houses over 6,000 rare and precious items collected over half a century. The house sits on 7.7 acres on the edge of the park.

Alan Donovan
The exterior of the African Heritage House. PHOTO/ COURTESY.

Alan Donovan’s exploits in Kenya and Africa

Donovan came to Africa 50 years ago, in March 1970 to be specific, as a young man in the company of other explorers. Originally, Donovan just wanted to experience Kenya and not to settle down. But a visit to Turkana changed everything, he saw a place of rich culture, collecting some artefacts in the process and therefore the birth of the house.

He held his first exhibition of art and material culture from the Turkana and other peoples of Northern Kenya in October 1970.  It was then he met Joseph Murumbi, the first Vice President of Kenya, and Africa’s most notable private collector. 

Together, with Murumbi’s wife, Sheila, they opened  African Heritage, the first Pan African gallery on the African continent, in 1972.

Now an ageing Donovan feels like it is time for another African art and culture enthusiast to look after the house.

“I am too old now and need to find someone who will look after the priceless items. I may go to another house in the vicinity and continue with my Pan Africa studies,” the 80-year-old former American aid worker told The Standard.

In January 2016, African Heritage House was declared a national monument.

Alan Donovan
Today, African Heritage House is referred to as Africa’s most photographed house. It was the first house in Africa to be featured in the prestigious US Architectural Digest in November 1996. PHOTO/ COURTESY.
Africa’s most photographed house

Today, African Heritage House is referred to as Africa’s most photographed house. It was the first house in Africa to be featured in the prestigious US Architectural Digest in November 1996.

Over the years, African Heritage House went on to appear on the cover of Marie Claire and hosted a photo shoot for the St. John Collection for Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.

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