Printer Friendly

Diplomatic relations: a new embassy complex in Addis Ababa is an imaginative response to local conditions.

In their recent programme of embassy building in Third World countries, the Dutch are acquiring a reputation for promoting architecture that responds imaginatively to local culture, climate and sensitivities. Collaboration with local architects is also manditory. This new Dutch diplomatic compound in Ethiopia by the Amsterdam based partnership of Dick van Gameren and Bjarne Mastenbroek follows on from Claus en Kaan's embassy in Maputo (AR November 2004), the civil war-torn capital of Mozambique now slowly rebuilding. The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa is also not immune to political unrest, with demonstrations taking place last year in protest at the then newly elected government. Such unpredictable civil unease only serves to deepen the frisson of security consciousness already in play post 9/11, and adds to the challenge of trying to create a dignified and genuinely open diplomatic presence.

New embassies are often an opportunity for bombastic displays of national identity, but this new building treads discreetly, mining and refining the richness of local nuance to produce an architecture that resonates with context. Van Gameren and Mastenbroek are part of the generation of Dutch architects that includes MVRDV, UN Studio and Neutelings Riedijk, and while they share the same quixotic approach to formal and technological enquiry, their projects manifest a quieter, less demonstrative disposition.

The site for the new diplomatic compound lies on the southern outskirts of Addis Ababa where a thickly wooded eucalyptus grove slopes into a valley. In a strategy of consolidation and addition, an existing villa on the edge of the site was enlarged and four new elements added: the chancellery and ambassador's residence; dwellings for staff members; a small school building and a new entrance gatehouse. Linked by a circuitous access road, these form a self-contained micro campus among the luxuriant eucalyptus. From the busy main drag, diplomatic presence is signposted by the gatehouse decked out in the bright colours of the Dutch tricolor, a playful Pop Art twist on flagwaving expressions of national identity. At the western end of the site, the extended villa now houses the deputy ambassador and his family, with a new school and trio of staff dwellings placed along the northern perimeter. In scale and organisation, these subsidiary service elements clearly defer to the main architectural event of the chancellery, a horizontal volume 140m long which cuts commandingly across the compound on an east-west axis.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Built out of roughly textured concrete pigmented the same intense red ochre as the Ethiopian earth, the elongated, monolithic structure of the chancellery seems to have been carved out of the ground, in the manner of the country's extraordinary Coptic rock churches (AR June 2003). Utterly uniform in colour and texture, its geological gravitas confronts you head on, suggesting archaic solidity, stillness and mystery. Like a lost temple or abandoned monument, the building is partially engulfed by the landscape, a move that reinforces its already powerful topographic quality. About a third of the way along its length, the ground rises to allow the approach road to pass through the embassy at first floor level. This also effectively divides the building into two parts, separating the smaller head of the ambassador's quarters (west end) from the main body of chancellery functions (east end).

Though divided by the road, the two parts are reunited by the span of an immense flat roof, its surface raked by an organic network of channels like a dried-up river bed. From mid June to mid September Ethiopia experiences its rainy season, so the roof is periodically transformed into a shallow reflecting pool, a reminder of the life-giving cycle of nature. The sculptural rivulets also allude to the Dutch knack of managing water and the Netherlands polder landscape. Steps lead up to the roof/pool from the chancellery and a series of slightly elevated paths provide opportunities for rooftop/poolside contemplation. At its eastern extremity, the roof overshoots to form a beetle-browed canopy marking the main public point of arrival and entry.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Internal organisation is admirably economical, with cellular offices double-banked off a spinal corridor that rises gently through the building from the entrance hall, following the gradient of the site. The two-storey ambassador's residence has private quarters at lower level with more formal reception spaces above. These connect with a secondary entrance and the approach road that penetrates the building. A trio of concealed staircases (for the ambassador, his family and staff) link the two floors.

Cleft-like patios are cut at intervals into the long volume to capture and funnel dramatic shafts of light. The ochre concrete is largely left exposed (floors are of the same material but polished), so the general effect is like being in a system of caves. This could be romantically interpreted as a return to primeval arcadia, but the bullet-proof glass in some windows is an indicator of more pressing contemporary concerns. Cast in horizontal formwork using local materials and labour, the pigmented concrete has an unselfconscious roughness entirely suited to its context. The striated texture catches the light and vigorously animates the building surface. Clearly this is all worlds away from the obsessive perfection of Japan or Wolfsburg (which in any case would be out of place here and well beyond Ethiopian resources), but as Van Gameren and Mastenbroek persuasively demonstrate, limited means and skills need not necessarily result in limited architecture.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
COPYRIGHT 2006 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:921
Previous Article:Container art: Shigeru Ban's inventive yet frugal Nomadic Museum berths on the Santa Monica beachfront.
Next Article:Cheap and cheerful: low-cost housing is given an eye-catching and inventive twist on Slovenia's Adriatic coast.
Topics:


Related Articles
ARAB-AFRICAN AFFAIRS - Apr. 14 - Egypt Sends Envoy To Sudan.
The War Against Terrorism - Part 3 - The 2nd Phase; The Long Term.
U.S. ORDERS EXPULSION OF SUDANESE DIPLOMAT.
Tree house: a proposal for making affordable, flexible and ecologically appropriate housing for Ethiopia.
IRAN - Sept. 3 - Embassy Shooting Fuels Tehran-London Tensions.
White castle: the Finnish Embassy in Stockholm represents both a modern democracy and a long interlaced history.
White heat: with a new co-location embassy, Manser revives Modernism in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters