April 29 - May 05 , 2005


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Zbigniew Waclaw Sczeliga Trzebinski

celebrating exotic life of a talented architect

Coastweek - - A Memorial Service in celebration of the life of Sbish Trzebinski was held at the Emmanuel Church, Freretown, Kisauni, Mombasa, on April 22, 2005, followed by refreshments at The Tamarind Restaurant.

A friend of the family read out the following eulogy to an appreciative gathering of his immediate family, long time friends, close colleagues and architectural associates:

On March 15, 2005, Kenya lost one of its premier architects, with the death of Sbish Trzebinski - who, with his professional partner, Tibor Gaal, was responsible for designing some of Kenya's most dramatic coastal resorts.

Their teamwork for almost forty years provided clients with spectacular and often brilliantly innovative designs all along the coast from Diani to Malindi:

Tropical Village, Severin Sea Lodge, Traveller's Beach, Two Fishes, Jadini, Saki Beach Hotel, and Kaskazi are some examples of how their finest work met the challenges of nature.

Meandering swimming pools became one trademark, starting at the reception desk within the hotel, to flow out through gardens toward white sandy beaches illustrating their approach.

The Tamarind Restaurant and Village complex and African Safari Club's Flamingo Beach Hotel at Shanzu, may prove to be their most creative where in the case of the latter, acres of useless ancient coral reef were transformed into a spectacular aquatic amphitheatre high above the Indian Ocean.

Their extensive use of makuti, Swahili in origin, took inspiration from Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes.

But instead of sophisticated metal struts local material such as sisal poles, mangrove and blue gum were deployed by the ton.

Tibor and Sbish, had been junior partners of lmre Rozsa, Nairobi, when they designed Mountain Lodge, in the forests on Mount Kenya, conceiving the very first underground tunnel so that tourists had access from the heart of the lodge to the water-hole where they could photograph elephant and buffalo at close range and in complete safety.

This was an innovation that has been copied over and again.

The commission to design Kunduchi Beach Hotel in Tanzania, was dependent upon opening an office there.

Tibor, as the bachelor, was the obvious choice.

Sbish did not hesitate over moving from Karen to Mombasa with his wife, Errol, and their three children, Bruce, Tonio and Gabriela.

Tibor and Sbish next invited Errol to work on the interiors for this Hallmark Hotel's project.

The client's faith was justified when on completion, Kunduchi Beach Hotel was subsequently chosen to as one of the Best Of Three Hundred Hotels In The World.


Coastweek - - Relaxed and in
his prime: architect Sbish
Trzebinski enjoys a midday
meal in his Shanzu home
during January 1976.

Another remarkable project followed with Chris Seex, whose vision of what Mombasa public really wanted was a restaurant specializing in superior seafood.

He raised the money to build this on the magnificent site overlooking Mombasa's old town, naming it after a fully mature tree on the site, The Tamarind.

Now began the first of chain of excellent eating venues upcountry.

Their success was such that Chris Seex and his partners developed Tamarind Village, once more from the drawing boards of Trzebinski and Gaal.

It was not all plain sailing however - Sbish simply ignored the fact that flat roofs, which have always been an architect's nightmare, presented any hazard.

His conviction came from his guru, the American architect Frank Lloyd-Wright.

Famously confronted by a wealthy and outraged client, because their dining room was not water-proof, Lloyd-Wright had ordered them to "move the dining-table".

Faced with a similar complaint at Tamarind Village, Sbish, who always expected to have the last word baffled the Tamarind board, with his argument:

'But it ONLY LEAKS when it rains !"

Zbigniew Waclaw Sczeliga Trzebinski was born in Gydnia in Poland, the first child of noble parents whose families, lost everything at the outset of the Second World War.

Sbish's maternal grandfather was one of the victims of the infamous Katyn massacre, then in the former Soviet Union.

Sbish's father, an officer in the Polish navy, escaped to offer his services to Britain's Royal Navy.

As a Commander he was torpedoed three times but survived though he had entirely lost touch with his wife and son.

In 1944, he assigned the Red Cross to establish their fate, having no idea whether they were still alive, having lost contact since 1939.

In fact, they had traveled almost four thousand miles to Kazakstan via Krasnovask in Siberia to where they had been deported.

Sbish's reaction to the film, Dr Zhivago, triggered memories of sleeping curled up on his mother's hat box during this 17-day rail journey across the frozen wastes.

Nor had he forgotten the stench of 'night soil' as it was shoveled out of the cattle-truck in which they were transported.

His mother hid her valuables in his felt boots, cautioning him not to utter a word.

Border guards often searched her but the jewelry was safe: and, thanks to her valuable heirlooms, she eventually bartered her way through to Teheran, and then on to Basra and Baghdad by any means available, eventually going by desert bus to Palestine.

Sbish went to school in Aenkarem and almost succumbed to typhoid.

After he recovered they moved on to Tel Aviv and later to Cairo, Egypt, where in 1944, Sbish's mother was contacted by the British Red Cross on behalf of her husband.

Two Thomas Cook tickets were now sent by Sbish's father, for passage on the 'S.S. Franconia' - which formed part of the last convoy to sail for Glasgow before the Allied invasion of Sicily.

On his travels Sbish learned to communicate in French, Russian and Arabic by the time he was eight besides his mother tongue, Polish.

However ... the only English words known to him when he reached his prep-school in Stubbington, U.K., had been picked up in Cairo from the war time song, "Good night my love..."

At Mayfleld College, a minor public school for boys in Sussex, run by Roman Catholic fathers, Sbish played Mary Magdalen, in the annual school play and was so successful that he became smitten with the idea of becoming an actor.

His father, would not hear of this. Recognizing Sbish's flair for drawing, he firmly suggested that his son had the talent to become an architect, and he eventually convinced Sbish that he was right.

The preliminary portfolio presented by Sbish at the Polytechnic School of Architecture in Regent Street secured his place immediately.

A fellow student, Glynn Davis, whose father, Idris had practiced successfully in Nairobi for many years, invited Sbish out to Kenya for a holiday.

This milestone set his fate: Kenya's glorious climate, space, sunlight, shadow and palm trees reminding Sbish's of his first exposure to tropical heat in Cairo was decisive - exotic details of which were to appear in every elevation Sbish produced after qualifying in 1958.

It was this same year that Idris Davis offered Sbish a full time job, once he became a member of the A.R.I.B.A.

This opportunity enabled Sbish also to offer his parents a new beginning too and he brought them out to to live in Kenya.

The Trzebinski's loved their adopted country enjoying many assets they had before the war and Sbish's parents never returned to Europe again.

Glynn Davis, a keen Thespian, introduced Shish to the Nairobi City Players with whom Sbish fulfilled a chance to act at the National Theatre.

Sbish's fans still remember his starring roles in front of the footlights, in such varied productions as:

Salad Days, The Boyfriend, The Caine Mutiny, The Bespoke Overcoat, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Diary of Anne Frank, Guys and Dolls - and in Nairobi Cathedral, in the title role in John Osborne's, Luther.

However for all the applause, nothing held comparison for Sbish, to one small cameo film part.

This occurred when he briefly appeared on screen and was slapped by Meryl Streep during Sydney Pollack's Oscar Winning movie 'Out Of Africa' while on location in Nairobi.

The screenplay had been largely based on Errol's first biography, 'Silence Will Speak', the life of Denys Finch Hatton and his relationship with Karen Blixen.

When the screenplay arrived at Shanzu, as Errol was a consultant on the movie too, she was nonplussed by her husband's choice, when he observed that the only part he would consider for himself in the movie script was that of "the beefy Drunk" and with one of his wicked grins, pointed out that this actor stood between the two stars.

Yet again, his strong intuition had been justified.

Once Robert Redford and Streep were cast in the movie, Meryl kissed "the beefy drunk" after the third take ... making up for the ferocity with which she slapped his cheek.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Clearly a man of many parts, Sbish's energy was boundless; although he had a reputation for being "difficult" his explosive personality made an indelible impact and his presence made him impossible to overlook.

His intellect embraced diverse interests such as classical music and jazz, modern art the French Impressionists, cinema and aquariums.

Sadly his gastronomical pursuits were curbed by the onset of diabetes in mid-life though he was a good cook.

Opportunities on topics ranging from conservation, how to mix the perfect 'Bloody Mary', Winston Churchill, Lamu politics or using polymer plastics as opposed to palm thatch to lessen fire hazards, gave only gave a glimpse into his range of conversation.

His views were brisk and as unorthodox as his upbringing.

He was complex, shy and quite private, irascible yet anxious for attention.

His family learned over the years, that no matter that how angry he might be over some petty detail, given any real crisis, he could be counted upon absolutely to offer support with compassion and loyalty.

Friends, from all walks of life, will remember him for his glamorous concepts, his enormous capacity for humour, his abiding sense of the ridiculous and his ability to cut through false values.

A ball of colour has vanished into the deepest atmosphere and yet the influence of his gifts will endure for those who knew him.





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