Built On Fertile Ground

by Zelalem

Tayitu 14th

An academic initiative to help shape the new face of Ethiopia was held from December 15 to 17.

Around 150 key stakeholders from Ethiopia, Germany, India, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda involved in urban development and construction gathered in Addis Ababa to attend a symposium which was an initiative of the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) and the Bauhaus University of Weimar (Germany) – funded by both universities – and the hosting partner as well as the German Embassy in Addis Ababa – Green Climate Funds and DAAD “Welcome to Africa”. The three-day event brought together University lecturers, practicing architects, engineers and contractors and policymakers to deliberate on an efficient and viable interdisciplinary approach when it comes to urbanization in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia, writes Daniel Dormeyer.

The dream of Dubai

The Burj Khalifa, the Chrysler Building, the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal are located in different parts of the world. However, there is one thing that makes them fall under one umbrella – they are considered to be some of the best structures of all time. So who is behind these edifices? The answer is obvious; engineers and architects.

These professional gathered in Addis Ababa a couple of weeks ago for the first edition of the International Symposium on Climate Adapted Urban Infrastructure, which was held at the Goethe Institute in Addis Ababa. Irmtraut Hubatsch, the director of the Goethe Institute Addis Ababa, in her opening speech said that all cities want to look like Dubai. She pointed the major changes Addis Ababa has undergone in the last 10 years, and reckons that no one will recognize it in 10 years. But then what will be the image of this capital heading towards a mega-city status in the context of an irresistible urban growth and a rapidly expanding population? Forward-looking she called upon all participants to provide the means to fulfill the ambitions of the academic project, and stressed the importance of networking in its broadest sense: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, and institutions.

The reality of Ethiopia

The next speaker brought the audience back to reality from the splendor of Dubai. Thomas Terstegen, Chargé d’Affaires of the German Embassy in Addis Ababa, reminded that global warming, which is a global problem should top the agenda. He called upon stakeholders to limit the hazards of climate changes that already cost up to 10 percent of countries’ gross domestic product. “Everyone has a role to play in facing the challenges with determination,” Terstegen said.

One of the major issues with regards to urban development is the availability of affordable housing. Invited experts estimated that one million people presently need affordable houses. A nationwide program, which was launched in 2004, dubbed “Integrated Housing Development Program” (IHDP), the government’s biggest intervention to make housing affordable for low- and middle-income households, has delivered only 142,000 of the 396,000 units planned between 2006 and 2011. In parallel numerous previously built houses have dilapidated, making relocation inevitable.

Infrastructure development and water management were identified as cardinal issues. Indeed, in a country considered as a water tower of the continent, access to water remains critical. Tesfaye Hailu from EiABC explained that the average amount of water required for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sanitation is 50 liters/day (compared to 104 in the Netherlands and even 250-300 in the United States), whereas it is estimated at only 37 liters/day in Addis Ababa according to the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) in 2012. The conventional sewer system conveys only about 21,630 m3 of wastewater every day to the treatment plants, which represents coverage of only 7.3 percent. Considering this existing figure, the experts evaluatedthe capacity requirement for additional waste water system facilities to fulfill the targeted coverage at 236,698 m3/day. It should also be noted that the overall waste collection coverage at city level is around 44.3 percent. Considerable room for improvement can be identified in another area: the inefficient drainage and use of storm water, bearing in mind that the mean annual rainfall could increase by 35 percent-50 percent with respect to the current urban situation, where built-up areas have increased by 120.93 km2 within 24 years, according to a research conducted in 2012 by Leulseged et al in 2012. There seems to be a deficient water management system that obviously does not hinder a generous sprinkling of private gardens or car washing in some areas.

The employment figures recapitulated by Tesfaye Hailu look more satisfying with 4,200 small scale and micro enterprises and 86,000 jobs created through the SMEs in the first phase of the IHDP. He also estimated that 395,239 jobs created (vs 420,000 planned) will be created through SMEs, contractors, consultants and implementing agencies/clients in a second phase from 2010/11 to 2014/15, based on the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP).

The GTP records the construction of 163,414 housing units, but 400,000 people are currently registered on the housing lists, and the experts expect up to 45 million of people to move to cities within the next 20 years. What type of dwelling and their location seem only of secondary importance. However, each new building decides about the way a city will develop, with dull or contrariwise lively surroundings.

Presently,multistory apartments range from G+2 to G+15, but both the design and construction of roads, water supply, sanitation, drainage, power supply, and telecommunication are generally all provided after the completion of the houses. In parcels and neighborhoods, the infrastructure design and construction progress separately, and no one seems to own the coordination of Infrastructure.

A local artist asserted that everyone wants to live in a condominium, but once people have moved in, several questions arise: where are the schools, the hospitals, the shops? How to access it, and how sustainable are the facilities? A block of dreams suddenly turns into a block of doubts.

The thesis that non-adequate urban space is conditioned by rapid and inflexible urbanization was brought forward by Bernd Nentwig (Prof.) from the Institute of European Urban Studies. He urged for qualitative urban and land use management ensuring the access to all services in consideration of the different social milieus.

Patrick Kayemba from the African Institute for Sustainable Transport and Development Solutions, Uganda, deplored on his part the minor consideration of transport in urbanization models, at least in the early stages of development. Besides being a major contributor to the climate problems, transport enables people, especially the ones displaced at the periphery of cities, to keep on moving and conducting their daily businesses. As a matter of fact, many African cities become more and more heavily congested, and complaints often end up in lacks of productivity. Evolved nations have first made then realized massive mistakes of their car-oriented policies, and they are now turning to sustainable mobility. Addis Ababa is working on it, while other countries still haven’t understood the urgency to act, or it simply takes too long because priorities get shifted for one reason or another, like in Cairo, where substantial improvements have failed to make positive progress.

All the experts recognized that urbanization can’t get stopped, but it is possible to hinder the failures of the developed Occidental countries, and find an own, suitable way for Ethiopia. By facing holistically the challenges of urbanization and an uncontrolled population growth.

Take action, but also the right decisions

Hailemeskel Tefera, minister of state at the Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Construction (MoHUDC), reinforced the tricky and crucial agenda for Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. Like Yoseph Birru (PhD), executive director of the Ethiopian Construction Project Management Institute, he endorsed what appears to be one of the fastest growths in the world; building and construction being both a manifestation and source of growth. But he acknowledged, “growth of this sort usually overrides environment; people are not worried yet, and green is not as high on the policy agenda of developing countries as it should be or is in other countries, but its importance has been identified.” Nevertheless, the focus lays predominantly on an enhanced building performance, and people expect a lot. “Unfortunately skill and capacity limitations lead to inefficiency, which calls for an interdisciplinary project management of long-term programs, incorporating all key actors”, he insisted.

Sustainability is by far more than a buzzword or a label of good conscience. Though it is subject to different interpretations, depending on the point of view. It is probably the reason why the attendees of the symposium tended to talk about resilience, or socially acceptable and practically viable concepts. Zegeye Cherenet from EiABC based his thoughts on “foundations for livable space production in cities of transforming societies”, pretending that “a deep understanding of the three key elements foundations / cities / societies affects the way we approach every problem in a city. Or even the understanding of the city itself”. Hence the fair understanding of these elements would help to open windows of opportunities.

All the experts agreed on a necessary paradigm shift to ensure a brighter future in urban development. It is known that pressure not necessarily helps making the best decisions, but at least it forces to act. Avoid the one and fuel the other is exactly the objective of the two universities because the time for joint action has arrived.

Understand the complexities to overcome the challenges

Hailemeskel set the starting point: housing is not only about buildings, but also surroundings. And isolated planning without area-measured supply and disposal facilities as well as well-thought transport networks to gain access to jobs, schools, hospitals, leisure areas etc only leads to a deadlock. Public transport needs to become attractive, public spaces preserved, and private spaces affordable and acceptable.

He admitted also that the growth of industry cannot be sustained by disadvantaging the quality of life for the citizens, especially when already suffering from inefficiency and malfunctions. But this means also breaking up with the general assumption that fast growth brings investment and favors lower regulations, whereas environmental concerns lead to more laws and hinders growth.

Particular account has to be taken of the fact that the Ethiopian population is predominantly rural (83 percent) and the economy agricultural. Technology has substantially evolved, but houses not that much. “People tend to think that all the problems always come from the cities, and they look for the symptoms there, instead of looking at the countryside”, Baylie Damtie (PhD), president of Bahir Dar University, said. He considers the villages currently not sustainable, and if so, he believes people would stay in the countryside. Therefore, the challenge is also how to keep these people in their territories, bring safe water and sanitation to areas in need, design and build schools, hospitals, and encourage businesses. In short, the focus should be on how to make all this work efficiently and durably also outside of the cities.

Nevertheless, this will not put a stop to the migration to Addis Ababa and other key cities. So here comes again the importance of planning vs reacting: who is coming to the capital, for what reasons, and with what kind of expectations, single-living or multi-storey living, what are the necessities, which fabrication methods will ensure enough flexibility for further extensions, what is the maximum of self-supply in contrast to the minimum of dependence on public infrastructure, what kind of ownership (who invests, who is owner, who is selling), etc.

A particular attention got drawn to the question of density raised by Dirk Donath (Prof.) from the Bauhaus University Weimar, the driving force behind the academic partnership with EiABC. How dense can an area be? How to increase? There are hardly any studies and figures about density. And yet a Google Earth aerial view would reveal a density of 1200 people/ha in the most populated areas of Addis Ababa, based on a starting calculation of 1 person/10m2. Urban centers generally record between 800 and 1400 people/ha, sometimes more (up to 2000 people/ha with G+30 skyscrapers, which means 30 levels from the ground floor), sometimes less like in Berlin (600) or even Vienna (450). Presently, the condominiums in Addis Ababa are conceived G+11/12. In fact, Professor Donath believes that the density in the existing Kebeles could expand from 1000 people/ha with G+1 to 2000 if G+2 or even more if G+3 thanks to alternative modular housing models like the ones both universities have been developing on since 2012 (named SECU, SICU and MACU).

Indeed, this density consideration should not be underestimated, because politicians tend to refer to it when people urge for solutions. For instance, if a new company suddenly needs habitations for its 5,000 employees. But the real problems of an unprepared, uncoordinated and uncompleted action will then appear 10 years later.

The estimation of the costs of planning errors appears complicated though possible. Usually, quantities and budgets are set too low, and the problem is exacerbated by the time and cost pressure. Furthermore, there is a lack of standardization for basic components. Yet digital makes it possible to calculate everything virtually, and a closer collaboration between architects and construction engineers would ensure a more reliable assessment of plans.

However, standardization is strong in housing design, leading often to repetition and monotony and also to a lack of contextualized special solutions and alternative programs or materials depending on the target groups and activities.

Complexity needs to get commonly understood, and simplicity – not simplification – promoted. Then pragmatism and scientific commitment can help deciding whether it is better to improve what already exists, or push completely new alternatives. This is a matter of education (encouraging interdisciplinary and integrated research), but also of fashion (looking at what is developed and possible locally rather than importing often non-suitableconcepts from abroad).

Ultimately it is also a state of mind. Are professors willing to go to university rather on bicycles than in big fancy cars? Are the young generations happy to give up small shops and cobblestones for huge westernized malls or new broad road arteries? And more generally are people ready for change, or at least aware of its necessity?

This is the point where the face of Addis Ababa and of Ethiopia will be shaped. By “deciding what kind of cities and what kind of infrastructure is wanted”, as summarized by Antaria Chakrabarty (PhD) from the Ethiopian Institute of Technology in Mekelle. Through the mindset, but also power relations, bearing in mind that this might lead to uncomfortable questions, re-assessment and potentially opposition.

Laying the right foundations

Zegeye Cherenet from EiABC defined cities as “the venues of heightened relationships, where human beings are central. And the resilience and ‘sustainability’ of these (or any) relationships are determined by the foundations upon which they are built”. Eventually infrastructure equals foundations: the Latin prefix “infra” means “below”, hence the structure below so to speak.

A successful capacity building operates at different levels:

Politically, from the governmental point of view, urban development needs “planning and regulations, improved technologies, and potentially intervention against market failures if the private sector can’t profitably cope with it”, as Hailemeskel Tefera stated. The Ministry would also “stimulate research to become more professional and encourage pioneers”. On the academic and business part, political support and a high level commitment is required to implement their ambitious projects. The experience on the grounds also shows that new concepts need to make them better known and understood, then politicians will start getting interested.

Administratively, Ethiopia will have to address urbanization in urban areas, but also in rural areas. “Urbanization creates wealth, and this should be possible also to the countryside”, BaylieDamtie insisted, convinced that urbanization makes the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, and that the main challenge lies in an improved life for the countryside and its massive population. He warned of overcrowded city centers, which implosions would lead to total breakdowns, and he stood up for decentralization with equal, equitable and environment-friendly city centers. “The Bauhaus, birthplace of modernism to reorganize urban life, can help paving the way to make design and quality accessible for the masses”, he said.

Legally, regulations already exist, but they are not all implemented. Additionally, the possibility for communities to create associations, the involvement of residents at the early stage of planning, the limitation of cars in neighborhoods, the preservation of public spaces, or the house ownership continuity can be reinforced by law. After the symposium, a visit of an experimental neighborhood project in Buranest, in the Amhara Regional State (the so-called NESTown or New Ethiopian Sustainable Town) raised the question of an adjustment of the dual law (urban and rural). In fact 2,000 people are requested to claim a township status and access basic and vital services. If not, the area is considered as rural, denying the right to build infrastructure and get a bank loan for housing. And yet city development appears possible with a few hundreds of persons. Besides being a good testing ground for law, this clash between land use and land administration might ultimately becomea human right issue: the fundamental right to housing, land and property.

Environmentally, one focus can be placed on keeping number of cars low by making public transports more attractive, and by developing strong secondary public transport networks. Road planning should also include pedestrians and bicycles. And besides these basic considerations and the absolute need to preserve biodiversity, there is enough room for alternative concepts like biogas and solar energy.

Contextually, planning has to consider local circumstances better. Constantine in Algeria has demonstrated a smart deal with its adverse topography made of plateaus, depressions and brutal slope breaks by installing a cable car system, proving that good and sustainable alternatives to mass transit exist, allowing in addition people to move faster. The heavy rain falls in Ethiopia should also give cause for thoughts regarding the process of water collection, the rationalization of water provisions and the full integration of water supply in architecture and engineering developments.

Thanks to workshops, visits on site, studies, and visualization in planning, the preliminary assessment of functional needs and the consideration of future needs will Impact the degree of standardization and modularization, or tailor-made and do-it-yourself solutions. However, when all urge for solutions, concept and timing for implementation should allow a certain degree of flexibility to fully match the necessities of the people in a communicative process.

Sociologically, professionals should pay stronger attention to the social coherence in new settlements to preserve social bonds and reduce the risk of future problems. “The recognition of different lifestyles is important for the choice of residential locations”, Bernd Nentwig said, by referring to the theory of the French sociologist Bourdieu and its social milieus. The combination of different criteria is decisive for the type of population settling in a certain area: family structure, level of employment, occupational status, income conditions. And populations will favor different factors depending on their type. For instance, before evaluating the market conditions and the project risks, Nentwig, initiator of one of Europe’s most area-wide urban enlargement project in Vienna Aspern (240 ha), analyses more than 200 location factors, derived from different themes: geographical situation, traffic structure, economic sphere, socio-demographic structure, image/investment climate.

Even though socio-scientific theories and typologies may vary in Ethiopia and in other emerging or developing countries, he globally believes in “social production”, and that “a transparent societal model – and an early ‘neighborhood branding’ – for new districts could result in a “participative growth”, with a “balanced community” that could withstand conflicts despite its social diversity.

Financially and economically, making houses available and neighborhoods affordable is a priority of professionals like Tsedeke Woldu, CEO of the Flinstone Construction Company. Finding a job represents the main reason to move to Addis Ababa, and urban development drives substantially job creation in production and construction for SMEs and contractors, as it could be observed with the IHDP. Certain issues have yet to be dealt with, like financing in urban but also rural areas for farmers willing to expand, or the proximity of home and businesses in the new neighborhoods, as the experts have learnt from the process that small businesses will appear in residential area if dedicated space is planned.

Technically, local has to come (back) into fashion, especially in major cities’ administrations, but also in architecture (remember the dream of Dubai). Currently, imported materials like steel, glass or concrete get imported but are expensive, whereas local materials like straw, grass, wood or clay are less cost-intensive but more labor-intensive. Interestingly, local materials are high on the agenda in Europe, for ecological reasons, but also to look less similar to other cities. The increased use of local materials does not mean imitate the traditions, but gain knowledge. As such, the EiABC and the Bauhaus University of Weimar have demonstrated with their 3 prototypes that local materials and smart architecture can coexist. For instance, the newest modular design concept MACU (Mobile Automated Contemporary Unit) uses one core local material (eucalyptus) and requires just one day to put all the components together, with one single tool: a rubber hammer.

Organizationally, a control management with pre- and post-occupancyevaluation methods and criteria appears necessary to assess the performance of the different proposals, and to monitor the success of planning and implementation.

Academically, besides the know-how and technology transfer welcomed by Hailemeskel Tefera, several experts urged the architects and urban designers for a new potential and awareness. They both might dream of creating livable spaces overriding complexities of societal realities, but the knowledge remains “too compartmentalized in academic disciplines and lines, often bound by abstract theoretical models”. In saying this, Zegeye Cherenet from EiABC is convinced that the creation of a holistic thinking in education with inter-disciplinary and integrated research (but also in professional practice and governance structures) will help dealing with complexity without oversimplification, thus understanding it and finding the right ways to address it. Moreover, knowledge exists, but a model that integrates it is needed. And finally knowledge should not only be shared at an academic level, but also with people it is for. Baylie Damtie, president of the Bahir Dar University, reminded that”Ethiopia needs expertise to optimize the experiences, and a university can’t remain isolated from local authorities and communities.”

Psychologically, all recognized that they would go to the walls they are erecting if they would not build with intelligence and motivation. The willingness and determinationto face the challenges must go hand in hand with the acceptance of failures, which is inherently connected to experimentation, and should not lead to a fear of isolation.

Motivation to engage with change is key, as well as the ability to convince people (at least the most influential community members) and garner support, especially on the countryside where “people tend to be satisfied with what they have, and not to complain”, according to Baylie Damtie. “Change is necessary to avoid disastrous scenarios in a couple of decades when the population will have doubled. We must convince the farmer that his current way of life is not optimal. Like we do not teach science, but the motivation to go and research further”, he said. Because motivation is contagious when you find the right words. Projects like NEST in Buranest show that the biggest achievement is not technical, but organizational through planning, and psychological though convincing.

By the way, the Dubai everybody dreams of has emerged as a global city, business hub and architectural reference almost out of nothing because of this ability to convince and a strong will to change.

Integration by and for empowered people

As summarized by Zegeye Cherenet, “laying the infrastructure or foundations for cities with rapidly transforming societies suffer from both partial and exclusive(dogmatic) readings of the city phenomena (oversimplification), and disintegrated planning resulting in grossly unresolved interrelationships amongst systems”, means communities.

Everything needs to flow in and to work together in a concerted holistic approach. Ethiopia surely needstailor-made solutions, though it might not be necessary to reinvent, but just rediscover the wheel. The objective has to be clear and the attitude practical, without neglecting the potentials already created.

When it came to the question of how to integrate bottom-up and top-down approaches, mutual respect and trust between all the actors (administrations, professionals, communities) were the most cited terms. Human beings are not standardized, so why should their houses be? If progress is a means and not a goal, people have to be part of this development, and they can be empowered through active participation. Empowerment means the possibility to make decisions about urban life in the cityscape. Indeed, a city should be made by and for people, with people having the main share in its development. A city needs its people and culture as a system needs every single part to work together to keep the whole working smoothly.

If human beings are central, it is open to debate how much power, or should we say leeway, can be given to people.As a matter of fact, housing is deeply rooted in the Ethiopian tradition, where people are used to build houses on their own. A reference was made to slum federations in other countries or times, where settlements got created by the poor for the poor. Against this backdrop, some regretted the absence of condominium associations at the symposium.

“We don’t need the results, we need the people”, Dirk Donath said. He deeply believes in listening to the people and making them participate, convinced of the collective belonging resulting from it.

From blueprint to showcase

Nonetheless, the academic partners from Addis Ababa and Weimar will have and are determined to prove their capability at a larger scale. The audience unanimously acknowledged that showcases, and not just theory, are now requested. A commitment, which resonates with the Bauhaus principles based on education in experimental way and experimental architecture. A commitment to prove that a better standard of living is possible, and to make the younger generations participate – also entirely in the spirit of Walter Gropius, the founderof the Bauhaus School: know and verify the rules to better extrapolate tem. A commitment to developa neighborhood modelwithin the next years as launching ground for bigger research foundations, and as evidence that do-it-yourself works and that traditional materials can fulfill the specifications while preservingthe Ethiopian heritage.

The necessary framework of this joint academic research unit to create this new architecture and urban development culture has just begun taking form under the name “Emerging City Lab Addis Ababa”, driven by the Bauhaus University and the EiABC. At the time of the symposium, the final details of the partnership were about to get fixed before signing.

Ethiopia stands at the threshold of a new era, with a rapid urbanization and the expected massive population explosion, exposing the country for unique challenges and opportunities.

The question about the dream of Dubai raised a smile in the face of Hailemeskel Tefera. He reminded that Addis Ababa means “new flower”, and affirmed his intention to “build a country looking like the name”.

This flower should grow on a fertile and solid ground rather than on fine and unstable sand. And the best way to predict the future is to build it now.

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