Addis Abeba – Commissioned by the Meles Zenawi Foundation (MZF), international design firm based in Germany, Studio Other Spaces (SOS) has been working for the past ten years to transform Meles Zenawi Memorial Park, which covers 65 hectares on northern outskirt of the capital, Addis Abeba, into a park that is widely accessible to the community
According to a press release sent to Addis Standard by the SOS communications team, led by its founders artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, the design firm conceptualized an expansive, multifaceted landscape that connects 7 pavilions and 5 buildings along a meandering 2.4km walking path.
Constructed by combining local methods, crafts, and materials with modern technology, Meles Zenawi Memorial Park invites visitors to co-produce its purpose and meaning, while resonating with the nation’s past and future, the press release stated.
“By designing a socially horizontal space, SOS has expanded the meaning of the word ‘memorial’ beyond the memory of a single leader to include the many memories of the countless people, whether from the cities or countryside, whether old or young, rich or poor, who make up the country of Ethiopia and who themselves have lived its history” it added.
Meles Zenawi, who was Ethiopia’s president and then prime minister from 1991 until his death in 2012, hails from the country’s northmost region of Tigray which was an epicenter of the devastating two years war that pitted Ethiopia’s federal government army and its allies against the Tigrayan forces.
“The overall design strives to facilitate exchange through recreation and education, and to hold space for contemplation and debate of the country’s histories, as well as paths forward. The hope is that the memorial park can accommodate the many, often complex feelings and reflections around Meles Zenawi’s legacy – from celebration and optimism to grief and reckoning.”
Olafur Eliasson, artist, SOS co-founder who was a visiting professor at the Ale School of Fine Art and Design at Addis Ababa University for many years, and gave several workshops and initiated many exchange programs between Addis Ababa and Berlin said, the memorial park design builds on several layers.
“Walking in this recreational spot entails taking in history actively – walking makes history felt and embodied. We hope that visitors will experience it as a generous public space that welcomes people with diverse backgrounds and opinions – friends, supporters, and political adversaries alike” Olafur noted.
Sebastian Behmann, architect, SOS co-founder on his part said, “our starting point was to research the potential of the site with its proximity to Addis Ababa: the availability of materials, the craftsmanship, the social context, the distinct climate – all of these elements merge in the unique structures of the park, which together reflect Ethiopia’s past, present, and potential future”.
“We aimed to combine a globalised experience of how things are built with a deep knowledge and understanding of local conditions. One of the references we incorporated in our work was the contemporary adoption of Ethiopian culture through modernist buildings, namely, their specific materials and spatial organisation” he added.
According to the press release, in 2016 Vogt Landscape joined the project to create curated gardens along the campus path and individual concepts for the landscape surrounding each building. The path follows the topography of the site and boasts flowers, trees, and stones gathered from all regions of the country, achieving a co-existence of naturally and regionally distinctive traits. In addition, the site features water prominently in a number of settings, a tactile gesture to the resource’s continued importance for the growth of the nation.
The press release further notes that experiencing the park on foot, visitors are confronted with nature while encountering an alternation of scenic views and spaces that contemplate Meles Zenawi and the country’s developments.
“These are explored through a series of pavilions that represent relevant stages in Meles Zenawi’s personal and political life, such as Education, Debate, Struggle, Transition, and Constitution. The journey begins with a modest winding path, its character changing gradually – beginning with a simple soil trail that leads to an elevated wooden construction, and finally to a path created with stones gathered from all over the country. Finally, one reaches the Outlook which offers an impressive view over Ethiopia’s capital. The building provides a space for large gatherings. The path continues, leading up to a campus consisting of the Guest House, Research Centre, Library, and Office.”
Stretching along seven commemorative stations on the western side of the park, a memorial trail traces the childhood, education, and services of Meles Zenawi, aimed at representing the upbringing and political circumstances of his generation and what it could have meant to grow up in Ethiopia during this period.
This exhibition and reception area occupies the site’s most prominent panoramic point and is the campus landmark most visible from Addis Ababa proper. The structure unites various conference and exhibition functions under one large roof. The Outlook’s expansive rooftop terrace offers sweeping views of both the city below and the neighboring botanical gardens.
THE GUEST HOUSE
A collection of brightly painted, freestanding walls arrayed in concentric rings outlines the perimeter of the Guest House. While they screen the individual residences from view, the segmented walls allow the park to flow through the communal spaces between them, imparting porosity to the building. The vivid coloration of the rough-plastered wall segments tints the spaces between and within the living spaces, creating different chromatic atmospheres according to the intensity of the sunlight.
THE OFFICE BUILDING
As structurally dynamic as they are transparent, the Meles Zenawi Foundation offices are housed in an ascending spiral, with walkways wrapped around the Office Building’s interior and exterior, offering a variety of meeting spaces and adaptable work areas. The pervasive use of glass endows the building with cross-sectional visibility. The building’s transparency and flowing sequence of spaces express the openness, introspection, and cooperation that drive the foundation’s work.
THE RESEARCH CENTRE
Situated in a terraced landscape, the campus’s Research Centre hosts circular workspaces organized around a central meeting place, which allows for ease of communication among researchers. The building’s unorthodox design creates a striking presence within the landscape and, in a way comparable to how sculpture defines space, frames the public terraces cascading out from beneath it.
The Meles Zenawi Foundation Library is designed as an ascending and expanding spiral, a shape that gestures to the Library’s possible expansion and to the constant growth potential of knowledge. The spiraling floor is sectioned into alternating collection and reading spaces; calmer zones are contrasted with common areas for exchange that are afforded by the spiral staircase at the centre of the structure. The central spiral, with sunlight from above lighting the space, offers a variety of seating and reading arrangements. While the closed, solid exterior suggests the introverted nature of the building’s use for reading and study, a patio at the upper end of the spiral provides an expansive panorama and space for outdoor recreation.
Editor’s Note: The texts used in this article to describe the photos are directly copied from the press release sent to Addis Standard by the communications team of Studio Other Spaces.