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architects ወርሃዊ

Mesqel Square. October 2020, Session 23
Abel Assefa
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October 01, 2020 marked the second-year anniversary and the 23rd successful session of the popular architects ወርሃዊ event. This month hosted the first physical session after March 2020, which was since then being held virtually due to the State of Emergency following the COVID-19 pandemic. The monthly after work meet up resumed as usual after the expire of the state of Emergency, taking place every first Thursday of the European month from 5:45pm to 8:30 pm at KEK’s the urban center. This month’s session was attended by 35 people keeping in line with the COVID-19 prevention measures.

The topic of this month’s architects ወርሃዊ was dedicated to discuss ‘The Mesqel Square project’. Our guest for this month was Bisrat Kifle, an architect and planner by profession and also a lecturer at the EiABC. He was involved from the project’s very inception and is now a reviewer of the project. We would like to thank Bisrat for the wonderful presentation.

Bisrat presented the story of the project as ‘the square, the hall, the street’, starting with the scope of the project, its inception and its current status. The project commenced 4.5 months ago and the scope includes an underground parking for 1,400 cars, refurbishing the steps of Mesqel square, a 3.5 km road beatification project of Churchill street and the Addis Hall.

The discussion started by recognizing that Mesqel square has a very important function in the city. It hosts numerous religious and non-religious activities all year round. But the square is full of obstacles, the steps are not clean, the plaza is crowded with cars and it is full of unsightly advertisement panels. This important space needed a serious refurbishment to make it serve to its full potential. Because of this, the city administration awarded a design build contract to China Communications construction company Ltd (CCCC) and Bisrat and his team are involved as concept generators and later as design reviewers.

The project was commenced with a concept design and the contractor was given only 8 months to complete the project. Therefore, the design was being developed as the construction was going on. The design team and the review team were continuously discussing with different stake holders such as the Ethiopian Orthodox ‘Bete Kihnet’, interested professionals and the city administration; taking important feedback.
In the beginning of the project, several questions and concerns were being forwarded regarding the project. Therefore, the design team met with several stakeholders to clarify the intention of the project and to take important feedback. To this purpose, Addis Hall was created under the mayor’s office with the aim to proactively engage professionals and citizens in the planning, design and development of the city, in addition the hall will be used to display several public and private projects. Bisrat pointed that such a space will have a greater influence on the built environment than the project itself. Additionally, the space around Addis hall attempts to show small-scale urban farming ideas that interested residents of Addis Abeba can replicate where a 1mx1m space is used to grow 200 lettuces.

‘The street‘, refers to Churchill street, where the project aims to design a pleasant walking experience that will connect Churchill road to Mesqel square with interlinked greens and a promenade.

Bisrat mentioned that there were 12 main concept generators and since the inception, the project has received constructive inputs both from professionals inside and outside the project, formally and informally. An example of this effort was illustrated by a sketch forwarded by a fellow architect outside of the project advising to include a drive through tunnel under the steps which was taken in and included in the final design.

Bisrat further discussed their proactive role as reviewers noting that it was not limited to reviewing the contractor’s submittal, but also working as a team, developing early solutions and models to work towards a common goal.

Bisrat mentioned that more than 40 professionals including interns composed his team and they tried to give the chance of involvement to young professionals and students as much as possible. He also mentioned that many interested people have visited the site, and anyone interested to contribute ideas or visit the site was and is welcome to do so.

One of the critical questions since the start of foundation works 2 months ago was whether the plaza will be ready for this year’s Mesqel celebrations. Bisrat discussed how the team had to work tirelessly day and night to meet established deadlines and public expectations. He further discussed and pointed that the ‘Demera pit’ was given special structural consideration and the area below it is filled with earth to fulfill the religious and ceremonial requirements.

Bisrat acknowledged that they were learning a lot from the Chinese contractor and mentioned that they have an impressive work ethics and a lot of skill transfer is taking place as the work is progressing. Bisrat concluded the story of ‘the square, the hall, the street’ since inception to its current status after 4.5 months promising to have another update after the project’s completion.

Discussion points raised include, the unique challenges the Design Build model creates for this project and how tight deadlines affect the thinking process in such important projects. Bisrat discussed how the review team understood the time constraint and were coming up with solutions to aid the timely execution of the project. He further explained how they involved several capable professionals which helped make decisions in a short time without limiting ideas.

A concern was raised on how the process of awarding the project was conducted, Bisrat and another participant noted the importance of understanding the nature of political decisions, that it would have been desirable if AEA was involved in preparation of a TOR and a competition was launched. But when the government decides things differently in different times, it becomes the architect’s responsibility to get as much input as possible by involving several professionals and stake holders to ensure that the project gets all the required inputs.

On one hand it was debated that such unique projects will create channels that bring the professionals close to the decision makers; allowing professionals to demonstrate to authorities’ best practices and ideas. But on the other hand, this idea was opposed by claiming that the government should know the right process and best practice to begin with. And if such political decisions, rather than professionals continue to affect the built environment, it will allow non-technical people to make important spatial decisions and the industry will lose its check and balance.

Additionally, Technical questions such as drainage of toilets located under the natural ground level, ventilation, waterproofing and the how the street beautification plan works with the planned bus rapid transit along Churchill road were discussed. The importance of documenting the entire process was also mentioned as it will be an important reference to learn from.

The session was concluded by noting how Architecture and urbanity are becoming big political agendas and learning from ‘the square, the hall, the street’ and other mega projects being built in Addis, we need to engage with the decision makers to discuss, debate and push professional agendas and ideas using platforms such as the Addis Hall and the urban center.

As time is usually not sufficient to discuss the topic broadly, the discussions are expected to continue on the architects ወርሃዊ telegram group with over 320 participants. We encourage you to listen to the full video session on AEA’s YouTube channel. We look forward to welcoming you on the next architects ወርሃዊ which will take place on November 5, 2020 at KEK’s the Urban Center.

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© November, 2020 Ketema Journal

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