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Dossier: The space of diplomacy. Design and beyond

A city shaped by diplomacy

The case of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa
Dirk van Gameren et Anteneh Tesfaye Tola

Résumés

Dans le très ancien pays qu’est l’Éthiopie, l’instabilité socio-politique intérieure s’est manifestée par une tradition de mobilité du siège politique. Axoum, Lalibela, Tegulet, Gondar, Magdala (aujourd’hui Amba Mariam), Ankober, et Mekele sont quelques exemples de ce nomadisme des centres du pouvoir, sans citer les nombreuses autres capitales erratiques. Le changement le plus récent a été la fondation de l’actuelle capitale à Addis Abeba en 1886. La ville est depuis passée de l’état de simple village installé près de sources chaudes et fait de campements à celui de centre diplomatique mondial. L’importance diplomatique de la ville s’est accrue rapidement, surtout à partir de 1950. Elle abrite aujourd’hui des organisations continentales et internationales (Union africaine, Commission économique des Nations unies pour l’Afrique, Programme des Nations unies pour le développement, unesco) et autres, venant s’ajouter aux organisations diplomatiques nécessaires aux relations bilatérales. La ville ne présente plus que des traces du bouleversement créé par la brève période de la colonisation italienne entre 1936 et 1941, quand les occupants ont tenté d’effacer la ville existante et d’ériger une nouvelle capitale coloniale.

Cet article traite de l’évolution d’Addis Abeba au travers des institutions diplomatiques. Il se concentre sur les manifestations structurelles et architecturales de la diplomatie dans la ville, en se fondant sur cinq périodes clairement identifiées. Des études de cas illustrent l’impact physique et spatial ainsi que les influences architecturales liées à l’activité diplomatique. Il est montré que l’émergence d’Addis Abeba comme centre diplomatique au cours de ses deux premières décennies d’existence l’a ancrée en tant que centre politique stable, tandis que les développements diplomatiques qui se sont ensuivis et leurs manifestations physiques ont eu un rôle déterminant sur l’urbanisation. À l’intérieur de la structure polynucléaire de la ville, les institutions diplomatiques se sont imposées comme fondements et points de repère disséminés dans toute la ville.

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Texte intégral

1The evolution of Addis Ababa from a new intended temporary seat of government at the end of the nineteenth century to today’s sprawling capital of Ethiopia is very much shaped by the agency of diplomacy.

2Each of the five periods in which the urban and architectural development of Addis Ababa can be divided shows different but often decisive roles of diplomacy in the city’s formation and growth.

Foundation and initial establishments

  • 2 Bahru Zewde, “The City Center: A Shifting Concept in the History of Addis Ababa,” in Simone AbdouMa (...)
  • 3 Edward Gleichen, With the Mission to Menelik, 1897, London: E. Arnold, 1898, p. 150‒153. URL: https (...)

3The first period of development of Addis Ababa is the time between the foundation of the city in 1886 and the early 1930s. Its foundation is credited to Empress Taitu Betul, wife of Emperor Menelik II, who had persisted in moving down from the northern hills of Entoto close to the hot springs of Finfine.2 Emperor Menelik II had become a heroic figure, credited for retaining Ethiopia’s sovereignty by defeating the Italian colonial attempt in 1896 at the battle of Adwa. Menelik was accepted as the unifier of the country, with more territories submitting to his control in due time.3 Yet his main success was his ability to use this national momentum to enhance trade and technology through diplomacy. During the period between 1886 and 1910, Addis Ababa grew from a cluster of rural villages with huts, at the beginning, into a large encampment and a main political, administrative, religious, and later commercial hub that attracted many.

  • 4 Peter P. Garretson, A History of Addis Abäba from Its Foundation in 1886 to 1910, Wiesbaden: Otto H (...)
  • 5 Ibid., p. 22.

4With the victory against the Italian army at the battle of Adwa and the seat of the throne settled in Addis Ababa, Menelik gained even more recognition from foreign governments. After 1896, this recognition was signaled and followed by the sending of special missions by France, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, and others to Ethiopia.4 The Indians, Armenians, and Greeks, who primarily were merchants, traders, artisans, and builders, were a less official yet also significant presence. By 1908, an official bond was sealed, with the signing of the Klobukowski agreement between Menelik and the French, in particular, but also all foreigners, by extension. “It was to provide the basis for consular jurisdiction within Ethiopia in the long run and greater security and privileges for foreigners living in the capital and the empire.”5 Consular representations were given large tracts of land and secured their premises by erecting extensive fences. Foreign residents who lacked representation would also receive consular services from those who had legations.

Figure 1: The first ambassadors (ministers) sent to Ethiopia.

Figure 1: The first ambassadors (ministers) sent to Ethiopia.

In the center, from left to right: Ciccodicola for Italy, Léonce Lagarde for France, and John Harrington for Great Britain accompanied by Alfred Ilg (on the left), a Swiss adviser to Menelik 1900.

Source: Fasil Giorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, Addis Ababa 1886‒1941 = La ville & son patrimoine architectural, Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2007, p. 52.

5In protection of their vested interest in trade and public life, and having suitably settled in Addis Ababa, a civil capital by now, legations and foreign merchants, together with local ones, played a significant role in cementing the permanence of the political seat in Addis Ababa. Around 1900, Menelik envisioned moving the capital once again, to Addis Alem, west of Addis Ababa. A palace was built for this aim. But the physical presence of the legations in Addis Ababa and Menelik’s strong ties with foreign governments, with whom he was able to introduce technologies such as the telegraph, telephone, and the railway connecting to Djibouti in the east, influenced the decision to stay in Addis Ababa. As a result, instead of moving to Addis Alem, he decided only to build a road connecting it to Addis Ababa. In this way, the diplomatic institutionalization of foreign governments’ interests, through the physical presence of the legations in the early days of Addis Ababa, contributed to its evolution as Ethiopia’s permanent urban capital. This was the first time diplomacy exerted a significant influence on shaping the city. The foreign legations enabled trade to flourish, which in turn encouraged speedy growth of settlements.

  • 6 Fasil Ghiorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, Addis Ababa 1886‒1941 = La (...)
  • 7 Mia Fuller, “The Italian Imperial City: Addis Ababa,” in Moderns Abroad: Architecture, Cities and I (...)

6Although military, geographical, and political criteria were factors in selecting Addis Ababa as the new capital of Ethiopia, trade was the primary agent for consolidating it as a city of prominent stature.6 Markets thrived, with traders from Europe, Armenia, and India importing goods from North America, Britain, and India.7

  • 8 Fasil Ghiorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, op. cit. (note 6).

7“The main commodities that were brought from the different parts of the country to Addis Ababa were salt, coffee, grain, ivory, gold, cattle, sheep hides, honey, butter, cotton, and incense. Some of the imported items were cotton, textile, metal products, medicine, and luxury items such as velvet, silk, and colored yarn, to name a few.”8

  • 9 Gebbi means “compound” in Amharic, the lingua franca of Ethiopia, and usually refers to the royal c (...)
  • 10 A local name for the market area of early days. It eventually became the commercial center of the c (...)
  • 11 Akalou Wolde-Michael, “Urban Development in Ethiopia (1889‒1925) Early Phase,” Journal of Ethiopian (...)

8It is important to assess the effect of the positioning of the legations on the evolution of the city. Their presence on the vast surrounding hillsides, then the fringes of the city, was very strong. The royal family, especially in the first few years of the foundation of Addis Ababa, used to move between the two houses, the first palace at Entoto to the north and the new palace at the Gebbi in the heart of what was to become Addis Ababa.9 The first five legations are situated just below Entoto, to the north and north east of the Gebbi. An array of connecting road networks from these legations to the palace and the market at Arada10 prompted what has become the northern body of the city today. As can be seen in figures 2, 3, and 4, what looked like open terrain, in the early stages, gradually developed into settlements, and eventually into significant urban structures. This can be accounted for by another phenomenon in the formation of the city, which is the positioning of regional rulers from all over the country in the newly founded Addis Ababa. It was during this period that Ethiopia began to attain most of its structure, both territorially and administratively.11 Menelik showed remarkable skill in dealing with internal conflicts by means of a “domestic diplomacy” coupled with both military and political might. He employed various political and military strategies to gain control over many of the conflict-ridden territories. The local lords loyal to him, and those he won over in due time, were given vast tracts of land on hilltops in Addis Ababa. These regional lords then built their own palaces on the summit, and their entourage settled on the slopes. These settlements occupied the space benchmarked by Arada, the Gebbi, and the legations to form neighborhoods and communities (fig. 3). It is relevant here to highlight that both the regional rulers and foreign consular institutions were given equivalent presence in the city. Both groups were situated on vast tracts of land on elevated grounds. They then fenced off these parcels, to create compounds. In later stages, this was more be relevant, because communities emerged around these compounds, associated with them directly or indirectly. Parts of the city got names such as ferensay legasyon, an Ethiopianized version of “légation française.” Likewise, other neighborhoods were named after royal families; for example, Dejach Wube Sefer became Dejazmach Wube Atnafseged. This growth of the city by the simultaneous expansion of these camps and embassy compounds led to the organic poly-nuclear structure that is still the dna of Addis Ababa’s urban form.

Figure 2: Addis Ababa 1890’s with assumed location of the early diplomatic institutions.

Figure 2: Addis Ababa 1890’s with assumed location of the early diplomatic institutions.

Source: Drawn by Anteneh T. Tola, based on the 1897map sketched by Edward Gleichen.

Figure 3: Map of Addis Ababa 1912.

Figure 3: Map of Addis Ababa 1912.

Source: By Anteneh T. Tola, based on the map generated by the Italian Military Survey Office.

Figure 4: Map of Addis Ababa 1964.

Figure 4: Map of Addis Ababa 1964.

Source: By Anteneh T. Tola based on the map of Ethiopian Tourist Organization.

9In Addis Ababa’s early years, most constructions were firmly based on the vernacular tradition of the mud-and-straw circular huts called tukuls, the traditional housing, with larger or elongated tukuls for the more prominent official buildings and nobles’ residences. Around 1900, however, a new way of building emerged, as a result of the activities of a number of foreign builders. They introduced a style characterized by simple building volumes with one or more floors, surrounded by finely crafted wooden verandas and loggias. The verandas served as circulation space, giving access to the rooms in the core, which had walls of stone. This style, the new “Addis vernacular,” can still be seen in a number of preserved noblemen’s palaces. It is beautifully exemplified by the prominently positioned Ras Birru House, now the Addis Ababa Museum, and by commercial buildings in and around the Arada area, built by Armenian builders such as Moussie Minas and Artin Avakian.

Figure 5: Residence of Moussie Minas, an Engineer/Architect to most buildings during this period.

Figure 5: Residence of Moussie Minas, an Engineer/Architect to most buildings during this period.

Source: Neglected Heritage, an exhibition at the Alliance Ethio-Francaise, September 2013.

Figure 6: Interior view of Ras Birru residence (currently Addis Ababa Museum) with the "Addis Ababa vernacular" style of architecture.

Figure 6: Interior view of Ras Birru residence (currently Addis Ababa Museum) with the "Addis Ababa vernacular" style of architecture.

Source: Archive Dick van Gameren.

  • 12 Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gérard, Ethiopia Photographed: Historic Photographs of the Country and (...)
  • 13 Fasil Ghiorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, op. cit. (note 6), p. 80.

10Even though Menelik died in 1913, this prominent period of enhanced foreign relations for Ethiopia continued through the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I (from 1916 onwards). His lavish coronation ceremony, in the presence of a number of international leaders and representations, in November 1930, was “a notable media event, attended by numerous foreign journalists and cameramen, besides important visiting dignitaries.”12 Of course, such a celebration helped impress his subjects with the fact that he was a monarch endorsed by the kingdoms and governments of the world. But most importantly, Haile Selassie was projecting an image to European visitors “that Ethiopia was not an agglomeration of primitive chiefdoms open to colonial exploitation, but a powerful, organized state.”13

11Inheriting a more or less stabilized capital in Addis Ababa and gaining international recognition, Haile Selassie successfully increased Ethiopia’s international visibility. It was during his reign that Ethiopia became one of the founding signatories of the League of Nations, based in Geneva. An increasing number of foreign governments were more confident and interested in establishing official presences in Addis Ababa. Those who were already represented enhanced their structures, building more expressive and permanent buildings and landscapes. Meanwhile, new embassies and legations continued to be founded. The architectural values these buildings conveyed in representing their countries were at times strange for the context, but were received as references and benchmarks.

  • 14 Ankober is a town 140 km northeast of Addis Ababa. It was Emperor Menelik’s seat when he was just “ (...)

12One of the most prominent examples of this development can be found in the buildings on the British embassy compound. The first structures of the legation of Great Britain, built in 1900, were quite modest, making use of traditional vernacular construction techniques, similar to those of Menelik’s palaces in Entoto and the earlier one in Ankober.14 This first British building was conceived as a cluster of tukuls, with walls of straw and mud and thatched roofs, eight in number and joined by rectilinear shorter thatched roof structures to connect them. Only the interiors, decorated in European style, made no concessions to context. The walls were pierced by simple fenestrations, resulting in a building devoid of any grandeur. However, in the year the Treaty of Klobukowski was signed, the British started the construction of a new, more prominent building. It was designed by HM Office of Works architect George John Thrift Reavell who, in this capacity, had designed a large number of British embassy buildings all over the world.

13Thrift Reavell’s design was based on the classic figure of a courtyard building where the courtyard is divided in two by a large reception hall in the central axis, directly accessed from the entrance hall. The courtyard left of the main hall was surrounded by the living quarters of the ambassador, the right-hand court by offices. All rooms were accessed by verandas that surrounded the courtyards. This organization is a complete reversal of the one adopted by the new Addis Ababa buildings of that time. The exterior of the building shows a rather eclectic combination of typically European architectural elements, ranging from a stone portico with monumental stairs to Palladian windows in the end “pavilions” of the front façade. The facades are partly plastered, partly clad with local volcanic stone. The building shows a remarkable combination of domesticity and monumentality. The one-story-high volume, with its low roof and wooden shuttered window frames, lends a domestic character to the building, on the one hand. But the elevated position of the main floor, probably for reasons of security, the strictly symmetrical composition, and the use of stone ornamentation gave the building a strong, solid, monumental appearance, on the other.

14Construction was completed in 1911 under the supervision of WC D’Harty from the same office.15 The building was one of the very first in Addis to introduce a European architectural style, without any reference to Ethiopian vernacular building—a departure from the style of the first British legation—and it also ignored the “Addis Ababa” style dominant at the time, characterized by a mixture of Indian, Armenian, and local building methods and traditions.

Figure 7: Site Plan of The British Legation in Addis Ababa, 1922.

Figure 7: Site Plan of The British Legation in Addis Ababa, 1922.

Source: Room for Diplomacy, https://roomfordiplomacy.com/​addis-ababa/​

Figure 8: View of the round thatched huts, or tukuls, which served as the old British Legation buildings in Addis Ababa.

Figure 8: View of the round thatched huts, or tukuls, which served as the old British Legation buildings in Addis Ababa.

Source: Oxford (United Kingdom), University of Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum, Photographer Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger.

Figure 9: Interior view of one of the tukuls, 1910.

Figure 9: Interior view of one of the tukuls, 1910.

Source: Oxford (United Kingdom), University of Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum, Photographer Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger.

Figure 10: Floor Plan and Front Elevation of the British Legation and Residence building built 1908-1911.

Figure 10: Floor Plan and Front Elevation of the British Legation and Residence building built 1908-1911.

Source: Room for Diplomacy, https://roomfordiplomacy.com/​addis-ababa/​

Figure 11: View of the British Legation and Residence building built 1908-1911.

Figure 11: View of the British Legation and Residence building built 1908-1911.

Source: Room for Diplomacy, https://roomfordiplomacy.com/​addis-ababa/​

15Other legations followed, constructing new buildings in varying hybrid combinations of local and European styles, and carving out a distinct presence for themselves among traditionally built structures and the vast open terrain. The French embassy relied on local materials and techniques in construction, but deviated in design. It primarily used rectilinear forms and open verandas underneath floating roofs with stretching eaves, creating a rather generic image of a tropical building. The Italian embassy, built a few years before the Fascist invasion, has in retrospect a rather ominous appearance. The rationalist, abstract classicism of the building and its expression of strength and power by means of the heavy stonework between the entrance arcade and the roof cornice are quite characteristic of the architecture that the Italian occupiers would introduce on a much larger scale after 1936.

Figure 12: The French Legation 1935.

Figure 12: The French Legation 1935.

Source: Fasil Giorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage: Addis Ababa 1886‒1941 = La Ville son Patrimoine architectural, Addis Ababa: Shama Books, p. 262.

Figure 13: Italian Embassy building in Addis Ababa 2017.

Figure 13: Italian Embassy building in Addis Ababa 2017.

Source: Photograph by Anteneh T. Tola.

Legacy of the Italian Occupation

  • 16 Mia Fuller, “The Italian Imperial City: Addis Ababa,”, op. cit. (note 7).
  • 17 “Kasanchis” is an Ethiopianized version of the name Casa-incis. incis was the Italian housing assoc (...)
  • 18 Mia Fuller, “The Italian Imperial City: Addis Ababa,” op. cit. (note 7).
  • 19 Ibid.

16This period of Ethiopia’s rising diplomatic success was interrupted by Italy’s second attempt at colonial conquest, led by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Haile Selassie left the country, and became an Emperor in exile, battling diplomatically, while local heroes and rulers found themselves in a hands-on battle during the years 1936‒1941. Due to the shortness of this period, the repeated revisions to the Italian masterplan for Addis Ababa, and the bureaucratic delays due to lack of coordination among the Italian chain of command assigned to implement this master plan, not much of the Italian vision was realized.16 Yet, the parts of it that did get built have left a strong urban legacy with significant structural impacts on the city. The plan was responsible for the formation of Merkato, a commercial and residential area designated for indigenous locals; Kasanchis,17 a residential area for higher-ranked Italian officials; and Casa Popolare, a residential area for Italian workers. The main goal of this planning was segregation that would allow the Italians access to all parts of the city with minimum contact with locals, while denying locals access to the city center.18 The segregation went further into the indigenous quarters with the allocation of specific blocks to specific ethnic, religious, and economic groups. The relatively uncontested area with open fields in the western part of the city allowed for the rapid construction of a significant part of the planned indigenous neighborhood.19 The existence of prominent structures and places delayed the intended development in the city center.

Figure 14: An Italian study perspective for the market and neighborhood for locals.

Figure 14: An Italian study perspective for the market and neighborhood for locals.

Source: Giuliano Gresleri and Pier Giorgio Massaretti, Architettura italiana d'oltremare: atlante iconografico = Italian Architecture Overseas: An Iconographic Atlas, Bologna, Bononia University Press, 2009.

Figure 15: incis Technical Office’s lot division plan of 1936 with plots of different residential typologies for the Italian residential area.

Figure 15: incis Technical Office’s lot division plan of 1936 with plots of different residential typologies for the Italian residential area.

Source: TUDelft Global Studio 2015.

Figure 16: Aerial perspective of an exemplary Italian colonial neighborhood design in Addis Ababa.

Figure 16: Aerial perspective of an exemplary Italian colonial neighborhood design in Addis Ababa.

Source: TUDelft Global Studio 2015.

Figure 17: View of constructed residences for Italian quarter.

Figure 17: View of constructed residences for Italian quarter.

Source: Giuliano Gresleri and Pier Giorgio Massaretti, Architettura italiana d'oltremare: atlante iconografico = Italian Architecture Overseas: An Iconographic Atlas, Bologna, Bononia University Press, 2009.

Embracing a continental role

  • 20 Aurora Almada e Santos, “The Foundation of the Organization of African Unity,” in Isabel Boavida an (...)

17After the second victory of Ethiopians over the Italian invasion and Haile Selassie’s return to Addis Ababa on May 5, 1941, his international acceptance was enhanced. The fact that by the prime use of diplomacy and politics he had averted the second Italian attempt at conquest was a source of pride for Africans and African Americans. It symbolized the African struggle for liberation from colonization and resonated with the civil rights struggles in the United States. The emperor was able to speak and utilize the League of Nations while it functioned, and Ethiopia subsequently became a founding member of the United Nations after Selassie’s return to Ethiopia and the end of the Second World War. His recent achievements became useful as he advocated for the decolonization of African nations. His speeches at important venues promoted the African states, decolonization, and a united Africa. By May 1963, 32 African nations assembled in Addis Ababa at his invitation, and became signatory governments of the charter for the formation of the Organization of African Unity (oau). It has been headquartered in Addis Ababa ever since. In July 2002, the oau morphed into what is known today as African Union (au). Thus, it is important to underline the fact that Ethiopia had been playing an important role in African unity since the 1950s, with Haile Selassie’s bid to unite a free, post-colonial Africa.20 Moreover, through dedicated diplomatic work in the 1950s and 1960s, more and more diplomatic facilities emerged. Addis Ababa positioned itself as a hub connecting Africa, the Middle East, and the West. This in turn attracted many more international organizations, such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (uneca), to the city.

  • 21 Bahru Zewde, “The City Center: A Shifting Concept in the History of Addis Ababa,” op. cit. (note 2) (...)
  • 22 Ayala Levin, “Haile Selassie’s Imperial Modernity: Expatriate Architects and the Shaping of Addis A (...)

18Addis Ababa needed to show its ability to assume this newly found role. This purpose justified southward expansion of the city. In the early 1940s, the only strong pulling factor in the south was the train station, but the addition of two consecutive airports, to the southwest and southeast, made southward growth more practical. Airplanes had appeared in 1929‒1930, and commercial civil aviation with international passenger service was established by 1946 as Ethiopian Airlines.21 Prominent urban structures began to emerge. Public squares, cultural venues, banks, hotels, and the like were built in the time leading to the foundation of oau. Adwa Square became the node for the southwestern expansion, whereas Mesqel Square anchored the southeast. These squares were accentuated by buildings such as the National Theater, Ambassador Theater, Ghion Hotel, Hilton Hotel, Jubilee Palace, and uneca headquarters. Architects such as Henri Chomette (France), Arturo Mezdedimi (Italy), Zalman Enav (Israel), and Michael Tedros (Ethiopia) became close attendants to the Emperor’s wishes. They designed and built major buildings and monuments like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Addis Ababa City Hall, Commercial Bank of Ethiopia Headquarters, and the famous Lion of Judah monument.22 These buildings and monuments were instrumental in creating an international diplomatic scene, featuring events, banquets, theater performances, and leisure activities.

19Once again, embassies and legations during this period were positioned on the southern and southwestern fringes of the city, almost continuing on the principle that was started by the first five legations. Once the expansion to the south became eminent, a ring of legations framed the city as such. Considering the increasing number of Embassies opening in Addis Ababa, the size of the land grants gradually decreased. On the other hand, embassies started to become landmarks useful in navigating the rapidly growing city. The only street signs were directing travelers to diplomatic facilities. This also contributed to the acceptance of foreign embassies as the city’s adopted identity.

A low point for diplomacy

20From 1974 to 1991, Ethiopia underwent a radical change in regime. The monarchy was overthrown by a pseudo-communist military government. It was a time of an ongoing revolution, driven by the slogan “land for the tiller,” and conflict persisted through all of those years. The forced abdication and later death of Haile Selassie were only the beginning of a dramatic chain of events. Diplomatically, Ethiopia became isolated, quite the opposite of the country under Haile Selassie in the preceding decades. Political alliances with the West gradually deteriorated, while the military regime relied on its ties to other socialist countries.

  • 23 Bahru Zewde, “The City Center: A Shifting Concept in the History of Addis Ababa,” op. cit. (note 2)

21Addis Ababa’s diplomatic hospitality was challenged the most. The construction industry, which had been booming for decades, declined to what amounted to zero.23 The most damaging measure taken by the government was the 1975 proclamation nationalizing urban property and extra houses, making it illegal to own more than one house. The private sector lost any motivation to build, discouraged by the ongoing nationalization campaign. It was only in the late 1980s that individuals and cooperatives began to be interested in building residential communities, motivated by an alarming housing shortage. Through highly regulated schemes, relatively small lots were granted for cooperatives to construct at low costs. These neighborhoods earned the name “quteba,” an Amharic word meaning “frugality.” Morphologically, they are visible as pixelated neighborhoods, mainly in the southern and southeastern parts of the city.

  • 24 Named after the abbreviation of the Italian construction cooperative turned company, Cooperativa Mu (...)
  • 25 Yeraswork Admassie, “The Gated Communities of Inner-City Addis Ababa,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies(...)

22Embassies functioned at a bare minimum, and the city’s diplomatic capacity ceased to evolve. However, the cmc24 residential neighborhood located in the eastern part of the city was an exception to the lack of building progress in the diplomatic world of Addis Ababa. In line with the policies of strict government control, it was intended to house all foreign diplomats and expatriates in a single neighborhood, an enclave where the diplomatic community could be kept under surveillance.25

  • 26 Ibid.

23The project was undertaken by the Mengistu government, prompted by the global reactions to Ethiopia’s disastrous 1985 famine. The extensive Western media coverage of the famine and the worldwide outpouring of sympathy made the government look for stricter ways of controlling foreign presence in the country. A closely watched diplomatic quarter would be an important step towards achieving this. The government understood that this forced accommodation had to offer certain luxuries, and commissioned a Western firm to do the project, instead of builders from the “brotherly” Soviet bloc states that were already active in the city. The Italian builder CMC, affiliated with the Italian communist party, built a low- density residential neighborhood that comprises about 500 apartments and two-story townhouses of varying sizes, in a gated compound. With its distinct prefabricated construction, controlled details, calm pigmented concrete color, and well-groomed landscaping, it presented notable architectural qualities as far as housing design was concerned, qualities which were in fact exceptional in that period. It was only at the end of the 1980s, in the twilight of the socialist regime, that construction of this neighborhood could be completed. Thus, contrary to its original purpose of accommodating the diplomatic community, it was handed over to a state-run housing rental agency and was made available to any tenant who could afford to pay the steep rent.26

Figure 18: Site Plan of CMC residential compound initially built by the Derg regime to accommodate diplomats residing in Addis Ababa.

Figure 18: Site Plan of CMC residential compound initially built by the Derg regime to accommodate diplomats residing in Addis Ababa.

Source: Drawn by: Anteneh T. Tesfaye.

Figure 19: View of residential apartments at the CMC compound.

Figure 19: View of residential apartments at the CMC compound.

Source:https://www.flickr.com/​photos/​ahnd/​154039448/​sizes/​o/​

24As the scene of anti-government actions, in which protesters took the battle to the streets, Addis Ababa took a heavy beating during the 17-year struggle to overthrow the Derg military dictatorship. By May 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (eprdf) had risen to power. It took some time for the new government to establish itself. Developing from a charter-led government, a new national constitution was drafted, founding a federal democratic republic. The first decade of Ethiopia’s new administration was almost exclusively invested in agriculture and rural infrastructural development. Addis Ababa was left in limbo, with a hangover of the previous dictatorial political climate. Small local administrative units known as qebele, set up under the Derg regime, were also responsible for the rent and administration of the public housing program. These cooperatives remained as the cell of the system. Until the beginning of the 2000s, little was done to improve housing conditions in these projects and deal with the increasing pressure of urbanization.

25On the other hand, the private sector was motivated by the prospect of a stable market. Numerous real estate agencies flourished and the city expanded in multiple directions, in a sprawl to the fringes that was both formal and informal. It was only after 2004‒2005 that rehabilitation began on significant parts of the inner city. An extensive governmental program tore down the decaying qebele housing, replacing it with higher density urban dwellings referred to as condominiums. The city’s rapid urban rehabilitation plan generated more than 220,000 government subsidized housing units, a number of new and restructured road networks, a light rail public transportation system, and an ever-growing construction industry. A number of high-rise structures, both commercial and residential, gave the city a new face.

26The urban renewal program and stable economic progress helped Addis Ababa regain the international credibility it had lost. Regional and international organizations again invested in building headquarters in Addis. Currently, the city hosts 112 embassies, 3 consulates, and a representative office, attesting to its diplomatic hospitality. The African Union expanded its facility into newly built headquarters, a gift from China. Nearby, in the compound of the previous African Union headquarters, the Julius Nyerere building, housing the Council of African Union, was erected. It was a gift from Germany. In terms of complexity, size, and urban significance, the two buildings reflect recent shifts in the balance of power between Europe and China in their relation to Africa. The new Chinese-funded and built AU headquarters rises prominently on the city skyline. Continuing Addis Ababa’s original poly-nuclear structure, it was built far from existing, pre-revolutionary institutional buildings. It has successfully triggered redevelopment of an area that was neglected for years, catalyzing the southward urbanization of the city.

A new embassy for the Netherlands

27Within the context of this latest period of Addis Ababa’s development, a number of embassies engaged in expanding their facilities. The embassy of the Netherlands is an intriguing example of the role and development of diplomatic architecture in Addis Ababa.

28The embassy is located in a compound in the southwestern part of the city, near what is called the Old Airport Zone. The property was granted to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to be used for its embassy, by Emperor Haile Selassie, after the end of World War II. The considerable size of the compound makes it one of the larger post-war legations, and is possibly a sign of the friendly relations between the emperor and the Dutch royal family. There were two existing buildings on the lot: a combination clinic and residence, built in the 1920s by a British doctor, and another, possibly older private dwelling. Both buildings show the typical blend of architectural influences, local and international, Indian and Armenian, that became the new Addis Ababa vernacular during the first decades of the twentieth century. The clinic had been turned into a chancery; the connecting house into the ambassador’s residence; and the other private house became the vice-ambassador’s residence.

29In the 1980s, the chancery and residences had fallen into such disrepair that they had to be condemned. Due to the limited possibilities in the city and country for construction and the scarcity of materials, prefab units were brought in as temporary solution.

  • 27 Ministries of vrom and wvc, Ruimte voor Architectuur, ‘s-Gravenhage: SDU, 1991.
  • 28 The Dutch embassy project was designed by Dick van Gameren, co-author of this article, and Bjarne M (...)

30At the end of the 1990s, the Netherlands funded the building of a new chancery, a new residence and, because of the large size of the compound, a number of staff houses. The initiative became part of a newly introduced Dutch Culture Ministry policy of promoting the architectural heritage of the Netherlands. In 1991 the groundbreaking policy paper Ruimte voor Architectuur (Space for Architecture) was introduced.27 The policy was adopted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which decided to build a series of new embassies all over the world, showcasing the importance and quality of Dutch contemporary architecture. The best-known result of this policy is the Berlin embassy by oma-Rem Koolhaas. In Africa, five new embassy projects were started, including the one in Addis Ababa. Ground was broken at Addis Ababa in 1998, when the first signs of Ethiopia’s new development were appearing, leaving behind the ravages of the Derg period. The compound was finished in 2005.28

31Although it is still common practice in Addis for a foreign architect to import almost the whole structure of a new embassy and have it installed by builders from the represented country, the Dutch client and consultants decided to make a project that could be built mainly by local Ethiopian contractors, using local materials. To a large extent, this intention resulted from a discussion about whether it was appropriate to invest in building a new embassy in one of the world’s poorest countries, where the population still lacked even the most basic needs.

32The client’s brief specified both functional and cultural aspects, the latter being the wish that the design present an example of Dutch contemporary architecture in the hosting country, and at the same time pay respect to local conditions and socio-cultural traditions.

33Bringing all of these aspects together, the designers proposed a project that was first of all based on the topography and natural qualities of the site. When the existing compound was given to the Dutch, it was located on the very edge of the city, and was still part of the original natural landscape surrounding it. By the 90s, however, the city had encroached on all sides of the compound. As a result, the property had become a small natural reserve, like an island, where native trees, plants, and animals had survived between the fragmented and partly informal occupation of its surroundings. This occupation had caused serious soil and landscape erosion, however.

34The new project sought to respect the surviving nature, positioning the buildings in such a way that minimal interventions were necessary, and leaving the existing network of paths in place. The topography, with some radical height differences, was used to address the functional demands for optimal privacy for the different houses in relation to each other and in relation to the chancery offices.

35The desire to build locally led to an inevitable choice for concrete as the main building material. At the time of design, wood, steel, and brick would all have had to be imported. The buildings, carefully set into the slopes of the site, and the reddish-brown pigmentation of the concrete, matching the color of the soil, resulted in a project that aims at a unity between architecture and landscape, giving priority to the landscape.

36This approach was inspired by an impressive example from Ethiopian architectural heritage: the monolithic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. In these structures, landscape and building form an inseparable whole.

37The “Dutch” aspect was expressed by an architecture that introduces a strong transparency in otherwise very solid, closed concrete volumes. The chancery and residence, divided by a natural ridge bisecting the compound, meet only at the level of the roof. This roof is at times covered by water, as an example of Dutch water management traditions, and projecting an image of the fact that many people in the Netherland live and work below sea level.

  • 29 In 2007, two years after completion, the project received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The (...)

38The project departs radically from “traditional” embassy design, or at least what people expect an embassy building to be. This is reinforced by the interiors furnished with in contemporary Dutch style. After construction was completed, the modest and at the same time rather brutalist expression, both outside and in, attracted significant positive and negative attention in Addis Ababa, in both diplomatic and architectural circles.29

39However, the building certainly fulfills the traditional Addis Ababan function of the embassy as a city landmark, part of the ring of compounds structuring the capital. The site of the Dutch embassy is even just beside the new ring-road built during the same period.

40Until the late 1990s, the main road signs in Addis Ababa were the simple ones indicating directions to the foreign embassies, with the national flags painted on them. The new Dutch embassy sign magnifies this tradition many times. The old sign has been replaced by a new gatehouse, a cantilevering concrete structure, clad with ceramic tiles in the colors of the Netherlands flag.

Figure 20: The Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa and its environs.

Figure 20: The Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa and its environs.

Source: Christian Richters.

Figure 21: Aerial view of an architectural model of the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa.

Figure 21: Aerial view of an architectural model of the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa.

Source: Archive Dick van Gameren.

Conclusion

41With its turbulent past, Addis Ababa has constantly aspired to be more than just another city for its locals. Most cities in sub-Saharan Africa originated in the colonial period, and featured segregating plans. By contrast, Addis Ababa, although indigenous, is actually a hybrid of national, continental, and international influences. Since its early days, it presented itself as a trade hub, dealing in local goods and European and Asian products. The architectural and urban contributions of builders, engineers, architects, and planners from different origins are integral to the city’s morphological and spatial identity. Diplomatic institutions, legations, and embassies have been part and parcel of its growth since the beginning. They have played major formative roles in its morphological, spatial, and symbolic identity. The city’s aggressively ad hoc development in a more or less organic way, and its flexibility in combining internal and external influences and agents to evolve and transform, are fascinating.

42Diplomatic facilities such as embassies have traditionally been conceived as enclaved safe havens, interacting very little, if at all, with the city. With more and more embassies being built or refurbished in Addis Ababa, designers face a contemporary challenge: how much do they intend to engage with the city? The embassy of the Netherlands sets an example of how local knowledge and identity can be coherently integrated with high quality design experimentation and reflect the identities of both countries. It is also an example of how embassies can become urban hubs of exchange for different ideas and cultures, and platforms for collaborations, rather than secret enclaves for gathering intelligence. Nowadays, diplomacy is being redefined, and the future will tell us what this means for Addis Ababa, a city shaped by diplomacy.

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Notes

1 Ronald J. Horvath, “The Wandering Capitals of Ethiopia,” The Journal of African History, vol. 10, no. 2, 1969, p. 205‒219.

2 Bahru Zewde, “The City Center: A Shifting Concept in the History of Addis Ababa,” in Simone AbdouMaliq and Abouhani Abdelghani (eds.), Urban Africa: Changing Contours of Survival in the City, Dakar: CODESRIA Books, 2005 (Africa in the New Millenium), p. 120‒137.

3 Edward Gleichen, With the Mission to Menelik, 1897, London: E. Arnold, 1898, p. 150‒153. URL: https://archive.org/details/WithmissionMene00Glei. Accessed 18 January 2018.

4 Peter P. Garretson, A History of Addis Abäba from Its Foundation in 1886 to 1910, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000 (Aethiopistische Forschungen, 49), p. 16‒25.

5 Ibid., p. 22.

6 Fasil Ghiorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, Addis Ababa 1886‒1941 = La ville & son patrimoine architectural, Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2007, p. 36.

7 Mia Fuller, “The Italian Imperial City: Addis Ababa,” in Moderns Abroad: Architecture, Cities and Italian Imperialism, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2007 (The Architext series), p. 197‒213.

8 Fasil Ghiorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, op. cit. (note 6).

9 Gebbi means “compound” in Amharic, the lingua franca of Ethiopia, and usually refers to the royal compound.

10 A local name for the market area of early days. It eventually became the commercial center of the city, and was called the “Piazza,” or “Piassa,” during the Italian occupation.

11 Akalou Wolde-Michael, “Urban Development in Ethiopia (1889‒1925) Early Phase,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, January 1973, p. 1‒16.

12 Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gérard, Ethiopia Photographed: Historic Photographs of the Country and Its People Taken Between 1867 and 1935, London; New York, NY: 1996, p. 33.

13 Fasil Ghiorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, op. cit. (note 6), p. 80.

14 Ankober is a town 140 km northeast of Addis Ababa. It was Emperor Menelik’s seat when he was just “king of Sheba.”

15 Mark Betram, “Addis Ababa,” Room for diplomacy, 18 January 2015. URL: https://roomfordiplomacy.com/addis-ababa/. Accessed 18 January 2018.

16 Mia Fuller, “The Italian Imperial City: Addis Ababa,”, op. cit. (note 7).

17 “Kasanchis” is an Ethiopianized version of the name Casa-incis. incis was the Italian housing association.

18 Mia Fuller, “The Italian Imperial City: Addis Ababa,” op. cit. (note 7).

19 Ibid.

20 Aurora Almada e Santos, “The Foundation of the Organization of African Unity,” in Isabel Boavida and Manuel João Ramos (eds.), Ras Tafari in Lusoland: On the 50th Anniversary of Haile Selassie I’s State Visit to Portugal, 1959-2009, Exhibition catalogue, Lisbon: CEA, 2009, p. 35.

21 Bahru Zewde, “The City Center: A Shifting Concept in the History of Addis Ababa,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 131.

22 Ayala Levin, “Haile Selassie’s Imperial Modernity: Expatriate Architects and the Shaping of Addis Ababa,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 75, no. 4, 2016, p. 447‒468.

23 Bahru Zewde, “The City Center: A Shifting Concept in the History of Addis Ababa,” op. cit. (note 2).

24 Named after the abbreviation of the Italian construction cooperative turned company, Cooperativa Muratori a Cementisi of Ravenna, that was responsible for its construction.

25 Yeraswork Admassie, “The Gated Communities of Inner-City Addis Ababa,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 41, no. 1‒2, December 2008, p. 111‒141.

26 Ibid.

27 Ministries of vrom and wvc, Ruimte voor Architectuur, ‘s-Gravenhage: SDU, 1991.

28 The Dutch embassy project was designed by Dick van Gameren, co-author of this article, and Bjarne Mastenbroek. The descriptions of the concept and program are based on their project archive. An extensive documentation of the project can be found in: Homi Bhabha (introduction), Intervention Architecture, Building for Change, New York, NY: I.B. Tauris, 2007 (Aga Khan Award for Architecture).

29 In 2007, two years after completion, the project received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The jury report states: “The massif architecture, at once archaic and modern, belongs as much to the Muslim, Christian and indigenous peoples of Ethiopia as it does to its Dutch homeland. In its conception and daily operation, the building responds to its social and physical context with inventive design and poetic sensibility….”

Homi Bhabha, Intervention Architecture, Building for Change, op. cit. (note 28), p. 116.

The film Mission Statements by Jord den Hollander, 2012, gives insight into the discussions on and the receptions of the project.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: The first ambassadors (ministers) sent to Ethiopia.
Légende In the center, from left to right: Ciccodicola for Italy, Léonce Lagarde for France, and John Harrington for Great Britain accompanied by Alfred Ilg (on the left), a Swiss adviser to Menelik 1900.
Crédits Source: Fasil Giorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage, Addis Ababa 1886‒1941 = La ville & son patrimoine architectural, Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2007, p. 52.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 256k
Titre Figure 2: Addis Ababa 1890’s with assumed location of the early diplomatic institutions.
Crédits Source: Drawn by Anteneh T. Tola, based on the 1897map sketched by Edward Gleichen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 232k
Titre Figure 3: Map of Addis Ababa 1912.
Crédits Source: By Anteneh T. Tola, based on the map generated by the Italian Military Survey Office.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 400k
Titre Figure 4: Map of Addis Ababa 1964.
Crédits Source: By Anteneh T. Tola based on the map of Ethiopian Tourist Organization.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Figure 5: Residence of Moussie Minas, an Engineer/Architect to most buildings during this period.
Crédits Source: Neglected Heritage, an exhibition at the Alliance Ethio-Francaise, September 2013.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Figure 6: Interior view of Ras Birru residence (currently Addis Ababa Museum) with the "Addis Ababa vernacular" style of architecture.
Crédits Source: Archive Dick van Gameren.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Figure 7: Site Plan of The British Legation in Addis Ababa, 1922.
Crédits Source: Room for Diplomacy, https://roomfordiplomacy.com/​addis-ababa/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 236k
Titre Figure 8: View of the round thatched huts, or tukuls, which served as the old British Legation buildings in Addis Ababa.
Crédits Source: Oxford (United Kingdom), University of Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum, Photographer Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Figure 9: Interior view of one of the tukuls, 1910.
Crédits Source: Oxford (United Kingdom), University of Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum, Photographer Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 108k
Titre Figure 10: Floor Plan and Front Elevation of the British Legation and Residence building built 1908-1911.
Crédits Source: Room for Diplomacy, https://roomfordiplomacy.com/​addis-ababa/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 756k
Titre Figure 11: View of the British Legation and Residence building built 1908-1911.
Crédits Source: Room for Diplomacy, https://roomfordiplomacy.com/​addis-ababa/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 332k
Titre Figure 12: The French Legation 1935.
Crédits Source: Fasil Giorghis and Denis Gérard, The City & Its Architectural Heritage: Addis Ababa 1886‒1941 = La Ville son Patrimoine architectural, Addis Ababa: Shama Books, p. 262.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 644k
Titre Figure 13: Italian Embassy building in Addis Ababa 2017.
Crédits Source: Photograph by Anteneh T. Tola.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 884k
Titre Figure 14: An Italian study perspective for the market and neighborhood for locals.
Crédits Source: Giuliano Gresleri and Pier Giorgio Massaretti, Architettura italiana d'oltremare: atlante iconografico = Italian Architecture Overseas: An Iconographic Atlas, Bologna, Bononia University Press, 2009.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 320k
Titre Figure 15: incis Technical Office’s lot division plan of 1936 with plots of different residential typologies for the Italian residential area.
Crédits Source: TUDelft Global Studio 2015.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Figure 16: Aerial perspective of an exemplary Italian colonial neighborhood design in Addis Ababa.
Crédits Source: TUDelft Global Studio 2015.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 728k
Titre Figure 17: View of constructed residences for Italian quarter.
Crédits Source: Giuliano Gresleri and Pier Giorgio Massaretti, Architettura italiana d'oltremare: atlante iconografico = Italian Architecture Overseas: An Iconographic Atlas, Bologna, Bononia University Press, 2009.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Figure 18: Site Plan of CMC residential compound initially built by the Derg regime to accommodate diplomats residing in Addis Ababa.
Crédits Source: Drawn by: Anteneh T. Tesfaye.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 248k
Titre Figure 19: View of residential apartments at the CMC compound.
Crédits Source:https://www.flickr.com/​photos/​ahnd/​154039448/​sizes/​o/​
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-19.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 560k
Titre Figure 20: The Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa and its environs.
Crédits Source: Christian Richters.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-20.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 876k
Titre Figure 21: Aerial view of an architectural model of the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa.
Crédits Source: Archive Dick van Gameren.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/4038/img-21.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 170k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Dirk van Gameren et Anteneh Tesfaye Tola, « A city shaped by diplomacy », ABE Journal [En ligne], 12 | 2017, mis en ligne le 26 janvier 2018, consulté le 19 avril 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/abe/4038 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.4038

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Auteurs

Dirk van Gameren

Professor of Architectural Design, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

Anteneh Tesfaye Tola

PdD Candidate, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands and Lecturer, AAU-EiABC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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