Our building in Addis Ababa - Ethiopia

Award Winning Architecture of The Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa

The Dutch embassy in Ethiopia is located in a lush garden on the western outskirts of Addis Ababa. The theme of unity with the surrounding landscape formed the starting point for the design of the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa. Ethiopian architect Rahel Shawel (founder and principal of RAAS Architects in Addis Ababa) and Dutch architect Dirk van Gameren received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007 for their collaborative work on the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Addis Ababa. 
This article was first published in What's Out magazine.

A new European embassy in Africa often uses materials and human resources brought from outside. The Dutch Embassy in Addis Ababa is different. It was realised entirely by local contractors, using the only widely available local construction material, concrete, coupled with Ethiopian stone, marble and timber for the interior finishes. Dutch design and art complete the picture. The brief required new buildings for the ambassador’s residence, chancellery and staff housing, and the renovation of the existing deputy ambassador’s house.
Located on the edge of the city, the site comprises five hectares of forest that descends steeply to a valley. Three new accommodation buildings for staff were placed as terraces against the perimeter wall with open views of the landscape. On the street side, the gatehouse camouflaged in the colours of the Dutch flag peeks over the wall. Situated centrally on the site is an elongated, horizontal volume that houses the chancellery and ambassador’s residence.

An existing historic villa containing the deputy ambassador’s residence has been extended downwards. The chancellery consists of an ascending corridor lined with offices on both sides. At the lowest tip of the corridor is a lofty entrance space with a mezzanine containing the ambassador’s office and stairs to the roof. The adjacent two-storey residence comprises formal reception areas above and private spaces below, all connected via a series of voids and courtyards. Thanks to the height difference on the site, both floors can be accessed from the ground plane, which enables the spaces to be used independently.
Three concealed staircases connect the floors internally. The elongated volume evokes a traditional Ethiopian rock-cut church sculpted from the landscape. The facades are made of untreated concrete in the same red tint as the earth. The roof is designed as a shallow pond, a subtle reference to water landscapes in the Netherlands.

What’s Out was delighted to be able to visit the Embassy on a recent visit and wish to thank Ambassador Henk Jan Bakker and Embassy Press officer Tigist Sengogo who were kind enough to show us around.

In addition to the stunning architecture, the visit was enhanced further with the wildlife in the green compound surrounding the buildings, including 84 different types of birds and some wild animals. It is truly a breath-taking oasis in the city!

In 2007, the architects were awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture for their design. More information about this project can be found on the website of the Aga Khan Development Network.