Friends and colleagues, the 37th session of the Architects ወርሃዊ was conducted with Efrem Beyene at the magnificent Hilton Addis Ababa lobby. Canvas tote bags were presented on geometric wood displays positioned along the curtain wall in the foyer. People of all ages had gathered to hear Efrem’s awaited presentation.
Efrem Beyene grew up and attended school in Dessie before being sent to Sweden thirty-three years ago to study art. He is currently working in Stockholm as a communication and branding consultant. The presentation was his attempt to raise public awareness of Ethiopian consciousness in the sphere of communication at a time when it was less relevant than it is now. He finds it remarkable that the country’s leaders, organizations, and businesses realized the necessity of communicating using powerful symbols at the time.
Efrem begins by explaining that his fascination began a few years ago while he was staying at the Addis Ababa Hilton and discovered the Hilton’s logotype, which was developed fifty-two years ago. He goes on to say that Hilton’s initial logotype was created in 1969 for the inauguration of the hotel by His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I utilizing three Amharic letters placed geometrically in a humble manner. “Addis Ababa Hilton is original in its environmentally friendly material, color, graphic, and decoration, as well as consistent with the brand from the design of the hotel room numbers, hotel’s façade features, lighting features, and all subtleties, including the emblem imprinted in the swimming pool,” he continues. He also stayed at the hotel due to its unique architecture, which was inspired by Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches. He went on to remark that it was fun to redesign the emblem and adapt it to a canvas tote bag. As a result, Efrem created four distinct shopping bags based on hotel characteristics and so the first exhibition took place in 2021, and the second is still ongoing.
He claims he continued to look for symbols and memories from his childhood. Efrem goes on to say that he believes the show’s symbolism is done expertly and clearly. The Emperor Tewodros II stamp stand was first in the row. According to Efrem, three imperial monograms were displayed during his previous exhibition. The Emperor Tewodros II stamp was printed on a tote bag that was a life-size replica of a painting by Scottish artist William Simpson.
He goes on to describe the Ethiopian Airlines brand. He believes it’s a logo that has grown on him since his early days in Dessie, through his trips to Lalibela, and now when he sees planes in Stockholm that stand out from the crowd. He ends by noting that the rebranding of Ethiopian Airlines was a success.
He then goes up to the stand, carrying the engraved bag with the message “13 Months of Sunshine.” He believes that an advertisement should be amazing, or, as he defines it “ልብ ትርት የሚያደርግ” a simple image with a simple message that may also convey a hidden meaning, such as the one for 13 months of sunshine, which raises the issue of how a year might include 13 months. He continues by saying that the advertising is no longer operational and that the term has been altered to “land of origins.” ‘The problem with the latter is that, unlike the 13 months of sunshine, any country might use it’ Efrem declares.
Efrem switches to a rather unique bag: a green bag with white buttons and an Ethiopian flag on it. He explains that it’s the ‘Alemye Sora’ bag. Sora/ Sora Meda is a neighborhood in the Lasta Subdistrict. He mentions that this region of Ethiopia is well-known for its poetry and songs. According to Efrem, it has evolved into a funkier dance with its own distinct traditional clothing. He goes on to say that most musicians in that area film their videos over a stunning Ethiopian landscape, complementing the beauty of the country and its people. As a result, he wanted to demonstrate it and brought the materials from the original location, Sora Meda, and produced the bag.
Another notable piece in the row was the Ambo Mineral water cork bag, which had an internal wire bracing to keep it in place. He added that although the logo had previously been on show at an exhibition, he now intended to use it as a work of art. According to him, he constructed the bag from corks he gathered from several bars. Even though this is a small bag, he thinks the headquarters might apply this strategy. He continues by saying that the symbol is exceptional and doesn’t require much justification.
The Ethiopian national bank tote bag came next in the row, and he begins by saying that this logo was developed when no other African country had a sophisticated logo, which the late His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I kept tweaking through time. The logo’s style is distinctive; it’s geometric, proportionally square, and has sharp edges.
Efrem continues by saying that individuals who view the display are also viewing his past. ‘When I was 16 years old, I went to the Dessie Branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and opened an account. I would only use an ATM run by a commercial bank when I came back after 17 years. See, that’s branding; it’s generated a sense of trust,’ Ephrem explains. Samuel Larsson, a Swedish radio journalist, spoke with locals about the architecture in Ethiopia and asks an architect about the rationale behind the construction of the round commercial bank building around Beherawi. The Architect says that it is intended to illustrate the traditional gojo bet, much as the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa is based on the architecture of Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches. Then he claims he called his friend Fasil Ghiorghis and asked him to illustrate the Commercial Bank and a regular gojo bet side by side. There it was, Fasil’s artwork displayed beside the tote bags. He continues by stating that he believes Commercial Bank of Ethiopia is entering a new period and that the logotype has to be retouched and simplified somewhat, using Ethiopian Airlines as an example.
He adds he presented Berbere during the previous year’s event, but this year he wanted to honor coffee. And says to have drunk a lot near his birthplace. Additionally, it’s said that drinking one cup of Ethiopian coffee will heal a headache. He claims to have substituted roasted Ethiopian coffee beans for the Swedish paracetamol Alvedon in the medical plastic tray and joined collectively to create a bag. He claims that this message raises a query in people’s minds.
A shopping bag and t-shirt bearing the façade of the “Bedilu Building” were displayed at the stand. The owner of the building, Kengazmach Bedilu, commissioned Italian architects. Efrem adds that the building caught the Emperor’s attention as it was striking. As a reward, Kengazmach was invited to the palace and received a medal.
The exhibition’s introductory banner is easily noticeable in the lobby. Efrem stands in a two-piece bold blue outfit, standing tall with his hands in his pockets. He stated that Ethiopians are known for standing tall and lifting their heads high, which is why he poses in this manner. More branding and visuals are presented than the ones indicated above, such as Woizero Sehin school, Bole mini, the Ghion Imperial Addis Ababa, Kagnew Battalions in Korea, Mengizem Berehan, and others.
Efrem concluded his interactive session by responding to audience questions and remarks. At the end of the session, the audience was given a special tour of the presidential suite refurbishments, as the Hilton undertook soft renovations that merged the new with the old in the guest rooms and suites while projecting color and local inspiration in the public spaces.
We’d like to thank the moderator, Semawit Ayele, for organizing yet another one-of-a-kind event at the Hilton Hotel Addis Ababa. The exhibition is still open, and we encourage you to go see it. See you all at the next Architects ወርሃዊ session, and remember to take the required precautions to protect your family and yourself from Covid-19.//