Lack of harmony rightly describes the changing face of Addis Abeba. Although the City is passing through a defining phase of reconstruction, largely, its undertakings do not have dexterity. They rather appear piecemeal. At the base of all of this lies the improper weight that money attains over expertise.
More and more new investors are coming forth to join the band of the nouveau riche. Billions of Birr is being saved or borrowed to establish new businesses. The increase in the number of investors is so high and so rapid that the carrying capacity of the existing accommodation does not seem able to keep up with the growing demand. As a result there has been a rapid growth in the field of construction.
The logical question that follows, therefore, will be whether or not these high rise buildings, sprouting up all over the place in Addis Abeba, are being constructed in line with the appropriate architectural and structural requirements, and with the right economic and environmental perspectives.
There is no denying that the face of the capital city is transforming rapidly, from slums with rusted roofs to multi-storey buildings, ranging from one-storey establishments to skyscrapers, as tall as 23 storeys. The narrow back road labyrinths have given way to main roads, varying between six metres to 40 metres wide, not to mention the fascinating overpasses, bridges and intersections.
The demand for business accommodation varies too. An advertising agency, engaged in the booming sector of promotion and marketing, may require a four by four metre room for its office, whilst a trader in the supermarket business could require a large hall and store. Just like in other sectors, where investors tend to polarise to the same types of business, owners of new buildings also show a similar tendency to construct high rise buildings, all of a similar design. They do so, largely without considering the type of building that most require on that particular site. This trend of polarisation could also be susceptible to similar shortcomings, resulting from the lack of professional consultancy.
Most owners seem to decide on the type of buildings they want to see instinctively, rather than logically. Many new buildings originally meant as hotels are seen converted into medical institutions, with large sums of money being spent, even before a fraction of the original project investment is recovered.
A lack of proper and well deliberated utilisation of the available accommodations is also a big concern to be addressed. Take the case of a private learning institution, at the epicenter of the city, located on top of a blaring music shop, or even a medical clinic located in the centre of Merkato, of all places.
The newly built condominiums are appreciated, if anything, for their quality as low-cost shelters. However, similar structures flooding the city ofMoscow, after the Second World War, were judged as manifestations of the totalitarian communist system that had no regard for aesthetics or individual taste.
These apartments are all identical in what they offer, not only in terms of their appearance and the number of levels, but also in terms of what they do not have, in terms of elevators, terraces, balconies, or playgrounds for children.
Another point that could be raised here is the lack of ramps for people with disabilities, and parking lots, not to mention fire alarms or smoke detectors to warn occupants of danger.
The weather in Addis Abeba, at this time of the year in particular, is scorching hot during the day time and freezing cold at night. Residents often take the option of heating their rooms using charcoal.
A person, who could be an example of this, is a 30-year old woman residing in a two bedroom apartment, at Asko, with her two children, whom I talked to recently. She says that she cannot use her charcoal stove to warm up the cold rooms, since there isn’t enough space to store a sack of charcoal. The designers may have never thought about this need.
Many people agree that any structure meant to serve people ought to be designed according to the life styles and requirements of the people who are to use it. The Tana edifice, built years back at the centre of Merkato, for instance, was virtually neglected for years, simply because shoppers were not in the habit of climbing upstairs to look for merchandise, which they could easily find somewhere else without the hassle of walking up a couple of floors.
I cannot imagine a businessman opening a butcher shop and selling raw or roasted beef, in a big and modern mall, like Dembel City Centre. Neither can you expect Gondar Tej Bet to open its doors in a new compound, somewhere near Bole International Airport, and pollute the air with the smell of urine, which usually spreads after the ceaseless consumption of the so called ‘honey mead’.
Global interaction of socio-economic relations between countries is bound to have an impact on building designs. Ethiopians in the Diaspora bring money and designs from abroad. There are, therefore, designs from Europe or the United States, or from oriental countries, like Japan and China. There is nothing wrong in copying designs from abroad so long as it serves the requirements and needs of locals.
Of course, from the perspective of the national architectural history and identity, copying from alien sources is not acceptable.
There is no shortage of consultancy, whilst the construction is still on-going. Friends and disguised foes take pains to pay a visit and offer all sorts of advice. Ethiopians mainly consider silence as either a sign of being inconsiderate or being outright ignorant. Therefore, they start their inspections with rich words of applause and appreciation, as well as amazement; adoring the design, rate of speed or materials used.
Before long, however, they bring their blunt comments and remarks, not wasting time to give their views of rectifications. In many cases, the advice includes replacing the steel frames of doors and windows, or even hand rails, with aluminum.
The advice, which I call consultancy in the parlance of the laity, even goes further. Some would suggest that the owner would be better to add one more floor upstairs and fish for a higher income from the lease.
Investors ought to benefit from the services of a professional consultant, before they arbitrarily decide to construct a building, within their means, lest they pay heavily for their mistakes at the end of the day.
Modern high rise buildings that are replacing the old face of Addis Abeba is not being constructed in line with the appropriate architectural and structural requirements.
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