South African Embassy in Addis Ababa – Description from MMA Architects.
A TESTIMONY TO SOUTH AFRICA’S COMMITMENT TO THE CONTINENT.
Addis Ababa, which means “new flower,” is the capital city of Ethiopia the second most populous country in Africa. Ethiopia (previously known as Abyssinia) is one of the oldest independent countries in Africa and one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Like South Africa it has yielded some of humanity’s oldest traces, traces that stretch throughout the length of the rift valley.
Architecturally Ethiopia is most famous for its rock-hewn Christian churches most particularly in the holy city of Lalibela built as a replacement to Jerusalem after its fall to Islam in 1187.
In more contemporary times Ethiopia under Haile Selassie I, was both founding member and permanent seat of the Organization of African Unity (OAU,) a role continued today with the African Union. Addis Ababa is therefore considered to be the capital city of Africa.
Given the important role of South Africa in Africa its embassy in Ethiopia is one of its most significant with both bi-lateral and multi-lateral diplomatic functions.
MMA architects a black-owned South African firm who also designed the Embassy in Germany were commissioned to carry out the project with Mphethi Morojele as project leader.
The brief to the architects from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to use the chancery to express South Africa’s commitment to and importance in Africa, to recognize the significance of Ethiopia in Africa’s cultural, political and spiritual history, and to reinforce the links that bind the two countries.
In particular the design was to explore and demonstrate the potential of (material) cultural heritage as a generator of economic development.
The embassy complex consists of the main chancery building of +\-5000m2, a staff recreation centre and three staff residences.
Situated on the corner of a busy and noisy street the complex is largely introverted with an internal atria and courtyards providing privacy for various functions.
Ethiopian Christianity has been the inspiration for a range of independent black church movements in South Africa and the architects used the rock-hewn churches as inspiration for the embassy’s massing, volumes and small openings. Internally the building has overlapping double and triple volume spaces reminiscent of the vertiginous and precipitous spaces that occur in the churches and throughout the rift valley.
External materials are Ethiopian pink granite and grey sandstone with imported black Zimbabwean granite used as accents.
Due to the intense sun radiation at this altitude the building wears a silver veil, designed to screen the sun and the diplomatic goings-on in the public areas. Developed in collaboration with South African award-winning artist Usha Seejarim the veil consists of a stainless steel mesh with pop-riveted depictions of Khoi-san rock art. This screen was manufactured in her Johannesburg studio before being shipped to Ethiopia. According to Khoi-san beliefs the rock-face is a veil between this and the metaphysical or in this case diplomatic world. In this way the design of the embassy seeks to combine the indigenous rock traditions of both South Africa and Ethiopia.
The building was opened by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.