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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce Headquarters in Ethiopia by BC Architects

May 11th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: BC Architects

The creation of urban potential – through architecture, and the quest for a glocal architecture

Urbanism, in common perception, comes before architecture: urbanism creates potential by generating conditions to orchestrate the city’s latter architectural objects. Urbanism is a very generous way of thinking, since a lot is left open, whereas architecture is a more selfish discipline, which uses up the potential generated by others. In some rapidly changing cities of the global south though, urbanism doesn’t necessarily happen before architecture: it coincides in time.

Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess 

  • Architects: BC Architects with Adey Tadesse of ABBA architects
  • Project: Addis Abeba Chamber of Commerce Headquarters Winning Proposal
  • Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Client: AACCSA
  • Architect: BC-AS
  • Cooperation: Adey Tadesse of ABBA architects
  • Budget: – € (VAT excl.)
  • Surface: 10 000 m²
  • Concept: 2013
  • Status: competition, laureate

Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

At this moment in Addis Ababa, a chaotic arrangement of individual building blocks burdens the city’s collective and common spaces, due to an absent or ineffective planning culture. This, with other urban parameters, leads to tangible effects such as unsafe or absent pedestrian walkways, a lack of accessible parks and squares, and petty theft and violence in undefined public spaces.

A second relevant fact in shaping the city through buildings of considerable scale, consists of the desire of local architects to import an international style of global-modernist buildings, neglecting local traditions, materials and identity in Ethiopian architecture. This imported style tries to connect with a financial reality, which is more and more global, but – with its glass façades and air conditioning – is also often climatologically inappropriate for the harsh afternoon sun in Addis Ababa.

Elevation nord : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

With the architectural design competition for the Headquarters building of the Chamber of Commerce and Sectorial Associations, we take these two facts as a starting point. Being inspired by and in cooperation with a new generation of Ethiopian architects, we consider it our joint duty to respect both the local identity and the emerging metropolis: our design aims to create potential – as urbanists do – through architecture, while trying to establish a glocal architecture.

Elevation south : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

We aim to create potential outside and inside the building, acting both as an urbanist and an architect, through the relationship of the building to the urban surrounding, and through the internal organization of the functions.  At the same time, we aim to generate an architectural language serving the needs of an international entrepreneurial community, while being in line with local materials and identity. Besides using local materials, the design also refers to the ‘Netela’, a woven Ethiopian textile, which so nicely shows the threads of cotton and has a character of both shadow and transparency.

Elevation west : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

Additional design proposal explanation:

DESIGN PRINCIPLE 1: The Podium and the tower

When Le Corbusier conceived the Radiant City, the concept of podium and tower came into existence. Originally, Le Corbusier thought of the podium as an elevated pedestrian public space and worldwide, urban planners and policy makers followed this vision in renovating whole new city parts (Algiers, Marseille, Brussels,…), or even starting new cities (Brasilia, Ankara, …). Nowhere though, has the podium fulfilled its original function as a space for pedestrians. Rather the modernist podium has installed a hierarchical distance between tower and street, creating a feeling of inaccessibility for street dwellers.

In the context of Addis Ababa, we must try to rethink this podium critically to serve the specific social spaces of Ethiopian streets and commerce. In our design proposal, we bring the podium down to the public space where informal meetings, networking and vibrancy take place. Indeed, the term podium extends its meaning to urban scene, where the incoming and outgoing business actors are staged. And its stage is accessible.

Section : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

DESIGN PRINCIPLE 2: the public street as potential, creating busy-ness outside and inside the building.

In the context of Addis Abeba, the street is the main public space that answers to the needs of interaction within communities. It is the place where the rich, the middle class and the poor meet in a complex interaction of people, commerce, stories and goods. Still today, roads in neighborhoods “are not just paths or thoroughfares. They are rather vibrant places of multi-tasking. Domestic activities and businesses extend and flow out into the streets. {…} Furthermore, the streets are a social space of interaction.” (Dr. Elias Yitbarak in ‘What is Zemenawinet?’)

In this function of Addis Abeba’s streets, we see potential to be created. We do this both on the outside and the inside of the proposed building.

Scheme concept building : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

Firstly, on the outside, the building site is defined by 3 streets, and the building gives back valuable public space that facilitates trade, social encounter and exchange, in the form of 3 urban typologies: the urban park, the urban square and the urban stairs. Secondly, on the inside, the building is defined by the grand ramp, which flows from the urban square into the building and circulates around the prominent space. The good characteristics of the street – informal meetings, trade and commerce, networking, vibrancy – become a main feature of the inner circulation activities of the Headquarter Building of the Chamber of Commerce. In this way we try to instigate a vibrant busy-ness and networking environment so necessary for the entrepreneurial world.

Scheme concept material : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

DESIGN PRINCIPLE 3: Ethiopian glocal  architecture

The appearance of the building within the surrounding global-modernist style also concerns us. This brings us to the choice of materials and the façade. The Trachyte stone that will be used for façade cladding on the podium and for structural façade on the tower is a locally quarried stone, and refers to the massiveness of Ethiopian stone architecture. The façade of the tower also refers to the ‘Netela’ (woven Ethiopian textile) which so nicely shows the threads of cotton and has a character of both shadow and transparency.

Scheme facade : Image courtesy BC Architects, ABBA architects, and Adey Tadess

By linking this local material and façade to an architectural expressive form that could connect to a global entrepreneurial community, the Headquarters Building of the Chamber of Commerce is positioning itself as a true glocal architecture, a result of a cooperation between a new generation of Ethiopian and European architects.

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Category: Headquarters

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