From the inception of Addis Ababa, 4kilo has served as a context for various historical occasions. It has witnessed events that changed the country’s course for the better and worse. Similar to other historic places, it has also produced great works of architecture that speak of their time. These buildings appear as a testament to the past and present 4kilo has and continues to experience. Recently, these buildings have gotten new neighbors such as the Abrehot Library and the Prosperity Party Headquarters. The recent addition of “Ambassador Mall” is sure to bring a vibrant and eclectic atmosphere to the already transforming neighborhood while respecting its historical roots.
Tucked in the historical and the current, the Ambassador Mall building is easily recognizable through its rectangular volume, white stripes, and floating eave. The building breathes an air of modernity while echoing the characters of the works of the 60s and 70s architecture. It does not poke its head, but stays calm and blends seamlessly into its neighborhood.
The building’s journey began when Ambassador Garment & Trade Plc launched an architectural design competition for a mixed-use building after acquiring a plot of land adjacent to the north of the present Abrehot Library. Siting the potential of the project, RAAS Architects entered the competition, whose design entry eventually won. “We thought this was an excellent opportunity to link the heritage of 4kilo with modern times, an opportunity to contribute to the enrichment of its historical context” RAAS Architects. The architects looked at three important aspects to lay the basis for the building’s design: history, context, and sustainability.
Initially, the architects studied the context’s historical aspect and found its 60s and 70s architecture inspiring, especially the office of the members of parliament in front of the plot. Even if it was built decades ago, the building is rich with plenty of interesting details. At its ground level, it is porous, with a colonnade defining its boundaries while the rest three floors remain solid. Vertical elements subdivide its facade, in which a mix of small pebbles and mosaic patterns decorate each partition, with openings springing out in a definite pattern. “The office of the members of parliament was inspiring since it incorporates the interplay of texture, form, and color. We decided our design has to complement such existing buildings rather than stand out” RAAS Architects.
Following the inspiration stage, the design team sought to interpret its findings and synthesize a modern building that fits its context. The first step was to realize the basic volume that can accommodate the required function and continue the trend of the colonnaded space at the ground level. Next, the architects varied solid and transparent faces to enclose the interior spaces with a floating eave topping off the building as a unifying gesture similar to its neighbors. Next, colorful vertical louvers covered the building’s façade as threads sewn into cloth. This thread concept is even more striking on the north-western facade corner, where hollow circles sway in the air, held by vertical threads as in sewing action. The designers deemed these elements critical since they also describe the identity of the Ambassador’s clothing brand, besides being a mere interpretation of the surrounding buildings. Functionally, the building, apart from its many shops, had plans to include cinema halls, gym & sauna facilities, cafes, a restaurant with an individual kitchen, children’s game rooms, and rental offices as well. However, some functions and design moves are missing in the final product, as the client parted ways with the architects midway through construction. Despite the hiccups, the basic form of the building remained intact.
On the ground floor, the building provides a double-height colonnaded transitional space that wraps the building from the front, where visitors can access the front shops to the south, where visitors can access the Abrehot Library compound. Initially, this path was part of a plan to connect the Library’s park to the urban life arriving from the northwestern front. This would have provided an excellent linkage path for the two projects, but unfortunately, large tukuls of the library have obscured this path, decreasing its view and accessibility.
As you approach the building’s main entrance, you get a glimpse of light rays showering the atrium beyond the dark façade of colonnades that define the interior and exterior of the building. The sense of light culminates in the central lobby where the sun’s warm colors shower the interior space. Four cascading floors open the way for an enormous skylight that renders the white-painted interiors vivid. While the atrium and skylight appear as a receptacle to natural light, they are also crucial elements in the building’s passive ventilation. Cold air sips in through openable windows and escapes through designated openings just beneath the skylight. Thus, the atrium acts as a chimney for air circulation. Gazing back down and exploring the ground level, you can notice the atrium’s floor differs from the rest of the space. It is well-delineated through material and light since it is a center stage for exhibitions. As you leave the atrium and delve deeper, strips of artificial light guide you through the shops enclosed within glass partitions.
Passing to the first and second levels, they show similar characteristics to the ground floor. Here too, glass partitioned shops occupy the well-lit floor, while artificial lighting maintains constant exposure inside deep parts of the space. The difference occurs on the northern face of the building, where white louvers cover the building and act as sunscreen. These louvers also give the building its dominant look while providing a subtle interplay of light and shadow.
On the third floor, the space is even brighter as you are nearing the skylight through which you feel the sun’s warmth on your skin. It is also on this floor that you can appreciate the “cascading” effect of the floor slabs. Looking downward, you can see floors arranged as sandwich layers through which vibrant human activity fills in as a marmalade to deliver an architectural experience visitors can devour through their senses. Unlike the previous three floors, here game zones, a cafeteria, and a juice bar occupy the space. After enjoying yourself at the game zones, you can head to the cafeteria to grab food, where you can notice the ceiling expanding upward and the walls dissolving into transparent frameless glasses. As you wait for your food, you can enjoy the wide views from the balcony behind the glasses. The building’s vertical louvers end as a handrail and ensure a safe walk while you catch views of the Ethiopian Parliament, the Holy Trinity Cathedral to the North, and the Abrehot Library to the south, set against the city’s skyline as its background.
The fourth and last floor hosts the office of Ethio AIRS Trade & Investment. It contains several offices, a conference room, and open spaces. Its conference room and offices offer controlled settings, while its open spaces provide a flexible environment that encourages interaction. The open spaces come furnished with an open kitchenette and seating spaces where employees can take a break by sipping their coffee. As the uppermost floor, the space allows for spectacular views of both the inside and outside. Inside, you can observe the layered floors of the building bustling with activities under the enormous skylight. Outside, you can take in the views of the city under the changing atmosphere and light.
Overall, Ambassador Mall captures the history, material, and light to forge them into a single habitable and experiential entity. It is introverted, yet it provides a dynamic environment; It aims for modernity, yet springs from history. Through these seamless integrations, the building has become one of the distinct faces of 4kilo and a new landmark. Apart from the admirable qualities, looking at the building, you also wonder how different it could have looked if the client allowed the design team to realize its entire vision. What if the cinemas were there, and what if the facade was dynamic with its colors and all its details? Who knows?//