Technische Universiteit Delft
A growing horizontal structure of affordable housing in Menem, Addis Ababa
Ethiopia is in the throes of a relentless development and the population of Addis Ababa in particular is growing faster than the city can absorb. The result is a huge shortage of housing. During the last ten years, the Ethiopian government has tried to tackle the housing shortage by building blocks of apartments. However, this government initiative is unable to truly resolve the problem of accommodation. While it does achieve a high density and a fast construction process, it is a system imported from abroad and as such utterly fails to meet local requirements. Three main problems can be highlighted: production costs are too high for the target groups, the set-up fails to match the social and cultural context of Ethiopia’s urban poor and the apartment units are not flexible enough to meet changing resident needs.
Our project, Rhizome, presents an alternative model for the provision of apartments. The design is rooted in the site, is technically feasible, economically competitive and flexible in both construction time and materials. Our project, therefore, can compete with the government initiative in terms of costs, construction time, labour and requisite skills.
Rhizome steps off from a study into social and spatial patterns of lower income areas of Addis Ababa, particularly the Menen neighbourhood. The research question was how to incorporate the different socio-spatial layers characterizing the fabric of Menen in a low-rise project able to achieve a density comparable to that of apartment buildings. Hoe can the project be feasible and promote itself as a flexible standardized system?
The backbone of our project is the idea of a residential compound, a physical and social structure comprised of three elements: two incremental housing blocks and a circulation system. The compounds are clustered together and can be rotated, mirrored and linked to generate a spatial series, a hierarchic sequence of community spaces. This entails a holistic strategy that bridges multiple scales, from the main urban streets to the intimacy of the compound and ultimately to the most private space of the dwelling.
In our project, each cluster is independent, allowing the entire project to be built in stages and in time become organically integrated in the surrounding physical structures. This strategy forestalls disruptive social and spatial breaches between old and new structures and between communities. Furthermore, the project can be built using two different methods of construction that offer more affordable solutions than those currently used in the governmental housing programme. The project can be standardized and rapidly built using a concrete structure. However, it can also be built with rammed earth. The former requires imported materials, a technological infrastructure and specialized skills while the rammed earth alternative is more affordable and sustainable, using locally available materials and techniques and able to involve the local population in the building process.
In botany, a rhizome is associated with the growth of a plant’s underground roots. Similarly, our project stands for the continuous growth of an interconnected sequence of spaces stemming from a unique and simple element: the residential compound.