Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is an ancient and one of the world’s oldest countries found in the horn of Africa. The country is home to diverse ethnicities and languages. According to the recent UN data that is elaborated on the worldometer, the country is estimated at approximately 116,500,000 people, Africa’s second most populous in addition to the potential and predominantly young demography.

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The capital is Addis Ababa that translates to the English language as “New Flower”, located almost at the center of the country and houses the headquarter office of the African Union and many other international organizations. Indeed, for its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent, the 134 years old city is therefore often referred to as “the political capital of Africa”

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Ethiopia’s capital Addis Abeba’s urban Illustration_©desaus

Even if some research’s note that only 20% of the entire population of the country lives in the cities which make the country one of the least urbanized countries in the world, Ethiopia is also expected to double her urbanization pace over the next twenty years. 

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Population Density in Ethiopia _@TheBigDataStats

Most of the country’s economy is agrarian based while the government is hard working by initiating industrial awakening through developing mega power dams, planting more than a dozen industrial parks and more infrastructural supports for counting a potential national growth and prosperity.

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Farmers plow Ethiopia Western Highlands _©Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

Most cities and urban areas of the country are undergoing radical urban development in the search for livelihood betterment, urban expansion, economic opportunities and infrastructural developments that are seen as key factors to catalyze and activate an urgent yet face-shifting urban building.

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Bird’s Eye view of Meqele City in Tigrai_©Natty Nigussie
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Hawassa City in Sidama Region, Ethiopia_©Desta Keremela
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The Lake front City Bahirdar in Amhara Region, Ethiopia_©The Regional Office

Therefore architects, urban planners, urban designers, and city governance practitioners who are working on the dynamic environment of the country have to be aware and get informed about some considerations while planning, and designing buildings, landscapes, structures, and other urban elements in the country. Here below are the main briefly listed and described considerations designers and urban policymakers should remember while designing and urban-intervening in Ethiopia.    

1. The Climatic Condition and Climatic Regions  

Ethiopia’s climate is diverse according to different topographic regions. The variation in climate in Ethiopia is traditionally divided into three main climatic zones: Dega, Weyna Dega and Kolla. 

The first of these, Dega, refers to coldish, less than temperate zones with altitudes ranging between 2,600 and 3,200m. The second zone, Weyna Dega, is warm, wet and lies below 2,600m. The hot Kolla climate occurs in regions below 1500m.

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The relative climatic diversity in the highlands and lowlands of the country also renders a distinct character and consideration for designing in those respective regions and climatic variations. The highlands of Ethiopia forms the largest continuous area of elevation in Africa therefore they are mainly so-called by many as ‘’the roof of Africa’’ due to their heights and large area coverage. 

The highlands of Ethiopia have a temperate climate while the lowlands have temperate on the plateau and hot in the lowlands as the country lies wholly within the tropics, but its nearness to the equator is counterbalanced by the elevation of the land. 

Therefore, designers are advised to apply the design principles and technicalities when designing in the climatic-diverse climate of Ethiopia for better building performances.  

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The Ethiopia rural-Urban percentage- World Data pie chart_©Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
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Urbanization in Ethiopia _@TheBigDataStats
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Mass Image Compressor Compressed this image. https://sourceforge.net/projects/icompress/

2. The Socio-cultural Context 

Ethiopia is a predominantly religious country that has a majority of Christianity and Islam religion followers. Ethiopia is rich in socio-cultural routines, tangible and intangible cultural heritages and traditions that make up the societal who of the country’s population. The Ethiopian society has very strong religious and cultural norms and values on which designers are solely advised to study and research before projecting solutions and physical manifestations of any form and kind. The conservative nature of the community especially in rural parts of the country is another aspect designers have to explore inside-out for a better and creative prescription of design solutions. Ethiopians are also known for their traditions that counts more than thousands of years since before and during the famous civilization of the world. There are also communities (Shonke Village, Awramba communities, Erob etc… ) that have a distinct socio-cultural context unique of its own.    

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Ben Abeba Restaurant in Lasta, Lalibela Ethiopia by BC Architects_@Goran Hoglund
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Gheralta Lodge in Tigray Ethiopia by Peter Rich Architects_@Peter Rich Architects
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Awramba Community found some 73 kms east of Bahir Dar in the Fogera woreda of Debub Gondar Zone_©Maheder Haileselassie
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The UNESCO registered Ethiopian Epiphany festival celebration_@Kojo Bentum WIlliams

3. The Design’s Location (Urban Vs. Rural)

Even if Ethiopia, as noted earlier, is one of the least urbanized countries in the world, the country has many cities and urban areas. In Ethiopia, designing in rural and urban areas greatly vary for several reasons.  

The rural settlement in Ethiopia is very scattered and environmentally challenging in many ways that could hinder designers to provide adequate amenities for the designed buildings, towns, infrastructures, or other structures. The scarce of basic infrastructure and service provisions must be considered seriously to suggest alternate solutions for the area of design practice. 

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The country’s urban settlement that accounts for less than the quarter percentage is relatively good in the provision of amenities and basic household necessities as compared to the rural areas in the country.

Designers have to be critically aware and give attention to the factors that fluctuate and differ when designing in urban parts and rural parts of Ethiopia.  

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Ethiopia’s Oromo marking thanksgiving festival in Addis Ababa _@Mulugeta Ayene
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The Addis Ababa Municipality building in the inner city _@The Mentalyst

4. Potential Partners, Collaborators and Stakeholders  

Many stakeholders have been working on the urban aspects of Ethiopia in different ways. Designers are suggested to discuss important issues with these stakeholders for better performance of their designs and informed design processes.

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The Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EIABC) under the Addis Ababa University, the association of Ethiopian Architects (AEA), the Ethiopian urban planners Association (EUPA), Heritage watch (HW), UN-Habitat Ethiopia, municipalities of different cities, town administrations, etc…. are some the important assets for designers to get and learn specific technicalities, and detailed knowledge about the environment they are going to design-deal with.     

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The former Dejazmach Asfaw Kebede residence in Addis Ababa_@Abel Assefa

5. The Environmental Conservation and Heritage Preservation Aspects

Ethiopia has both amazingly old and young cities and urban areas that deserve critical environmental conservation and heritage preservation. There are some governmental and non-governmental institutions like the Association for Research and Conservation of Cultures (ARCC) and Heritage watch that have a direct line of contact regarding environmental conservation and heritage preservation aspects of physical and non-physical interventions in different parts of the country.

Architects, urban planners and generally the built environment practitioners are suggested to study and know the different areas that have environmental conservation and heritage preservation sceneries and remarks. As we may know, loss of conserved environments and preserved heritage buildings and structures have their multilayered negative impact on the holistic presentation and identity of cities. 

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Here below is the Indian architectural styled former residence building of one of the Ethiopian elite Dejazmach Asfaw Kebede that was constructed in Addis Ababa near Menen preparatory school before the Italian Invasion in the 1910s. The building was relentlessly demolition to pave the way for a new intervention. Such acts degrade the quality of urban representation and scarce the fundamental representation right of heritage buildings. Indeed, designers are once again hinted to study and document at least the immediate context of their intervention area so as to maintain environmental justice and environmental dignity. 

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The former Dejazmach Asfaw Kebede residence in Addis Ababa after demolition_@Abel Assefa
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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa

6. The Ethiopian Vernacular – Designing and Building 

Ethiopia has a very unique and indigenous way of designing and building buildings. The style, skill, and knowledge of designing environmentally sound buildings vary from place to place, region to region and culture to culture across the country. Designers are expected to learn and associate with these styles, skills, and knowledge for better results and belonging aspects of their designs. Just to give an example let us see the Sidama House Construction Series of the southern Ethiopia.   

An exquisite example of woven architecture, the onion shape and circular plan of Ethiopia’s Sidama houses result from the flexibility of bamboo

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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa
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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa
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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa
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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa

The construction of the walls is made by splitting bamboo to smaller strips and uses whole bamboo with smaller diameters. Jupiter tree poles are embedded into the ground and used as reinforcement bars. 

The interior wall of the hut has a wall finish known as ‘Lemicho’. The wall finish can have an extra layer called ‘Chicha’. The ‘Chicha’ can be applied in different Colors, patterns and sizes

The interior wall has two different types of patterns. The Hilo pattern follows a linear woven form, which has a basic parallel appearance. And the Himbiro pattern has a diagonal woven pattern.

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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa
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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa
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Sidama House Construction Series_©Living Stone Mukasa
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The King Fasiledes Castel in Gondar, Ethiopia_©Bernard Gagnon

The exterior wall is woven into a pattern called ‘Fuko’ which has an overlaying effect on the façade.

The material used for waterproofing the house, ‘Honche,’ or bamboo sheath is harvested from the skin that the bamboo shoot sheds. It is placed in 4 layers all around the house.

The onion_shaped dome, designed to shed heavy rainfall, is made with a triple layer of bamboo splits and ropes for structural support, and culm sheaths for insulation and rain protection. 

7. The Ethiopia’s Architectural Legacy – The Inspiration Pool

Ethiopia is home to several and astonishing architectural masterpieces that are stunningly incredible and unique. Designers are reminded to get to know the architectural styles and other details of those amazing buildings and structures to interpret and use these for inspirations and concept generations. Here listed are some of them. 

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The rock-hewn churchs of Lalibela, Biete Gioprgis_©rogerdhansen.wordpress.com
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The interior of Gheralta Monastry_©theguardian
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The Axum Obelisk in Axum, Tigrai region, Ethiopia_©Jane Sweeney-Getty Images

8. Building Codes, Standards and Regulations (Construction, Codes and Standards)

Ethiopia has a building code, building directives, building regulations, and guidelines that set the rules that specify the minimum acceptable level of safety for constructed objects both at national and federal levels. The minimum requirement stated by the government body should be well maintained to get building permission; indeed, designers are advised to acquire the basic guidelines and regulations while designing urban spaces, buildings and structures in Ethiopia. Therefore built environment practitioners are advised to know the comprehensive building codes and standards governed by local and state laws. Roughly, these might include floor area ratio (FAR), built-up area ratio (FAR), height regulation, land use, seismic zone setting, minimum technical and spatial requirements, etc… More information about the can be found on the Ethiopian Building code of standards (EBCS).      

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9. The Country’s Economic Context

By having the fastest growing economy in the horn of Africa, Ethiopia aims to reach lower-middle-income status by 2025. The country’s urban development strategy is mainly based on the expropriation of peri-urban agricultural land from local peri-urban farmers. Agriculture accounts for almost 42% of the GDP of Ethiopia while export and employment account for 90% and 85% respectively. The country is also diversifying the rural economy by providing an investment climate for Small and Informal Enterprises. However, Ethiopia’s economy is one of the leading factors towards development and growth, it is also the main determinant of the country’s urbanization and urban developments. The urban economy and the rural economy of Ethiopia are arguably strongly bonded in a way it enhances the country’s economic and GDP performances. These designers are critically advised to understand and mitigate the main determinant of the built environment they are about to engage with.

 

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Courtesy of the headquarter office buildings of the main banks In Addis Ababa Ethiopia_©Yared

10. The Ethiopia’s Construction Sector and More 

The Ethiopian construction industry is characterized by a large number of micro-entrepreneurs, the majority of whom operate in the country’s informal economy. Ethiopia’s formal construction sector comprises indigenous and indigenized firms, as well as numerous major foreign civil engineering and construction companies. Although all contractors are required to be registered with the Ethiopian Ministry of Urban Development and Construction, corruption, as well as health and safety issues, remain a matter of concern. Thus, designers are suggested to get at least the basic and at most the detail knowledge of Ethiopia’s construction realities to better realize projects.  

Author

Nahom is an interdiciplinary Architect and built environment practitioner who strives to use the untapped potential of architecture and experiential design for working on the holistic betterment of livelihoods. He has an initiative which works to build and re-build proactive urban community in Ethiopia.

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