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New Realities in Architecture

AW Session 46 With abRen
Summary: Nahom Atakilt
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In this installment of Architects ወርሃዊ, we cover a unique Special Mid-Month session in partnership with abRen and The Urban Center. The focus was on “New Realities in Architecture,” providing a platform for pioneers in the profession to explore and exchange different approaches to architectural practice at The Urban Center. The special session saw the active participation of renowned architectural practices, showcasing their dedicated efforts in spearheading discussions on new architectural realities. The event provided a valuable platform for meaningful exchanges between established pioneers and emerging professionals, fostering a collaborative environment where ideas were nurtured, challenges were addressed, and new possibilities were explored.

Among the participants of the discussion were Rahel Shawl, Addis Mebratu, Maheder G/Medhin, and Tinsae Tsegahun, with special additions from Magnus Ericsson and Tatiana Letier Pinto. Rahel Shawl, representing RAAS Architects and “abRen,” started the presentation by providing a comprehensive overview of their works and highlighting key aspects.

Rahel Shawl: There is often a significant disparity between architectural education and the practical world, which can be disheartening for students, especially in the African context. The conventional approach of establishing an office and acquiring clients for building design can be challenging. As practitioners with 30 years of experience, we have encountered and continue to face these obstacles. Are there alternative approaches or new realities? This is the question I aim to address. In our office, we have implemented an internship program that welcomes architecture students, enabling them to gain valuable insights into various aspects of real-world design, such as detailing and quality control. We also engage in discussions concerning the challenges faced by young architects, female representation, and other pertinent issues. It is from these dialogues and practices that “abRen,” an initiative under RAAS Architects, emerged. abRen seeks to bridge the knowledge gap in African architectural design, empower the youth, and foster an inclusive community.

The initiative is built upon three fundamental pillars: practice-based learning, community, and empowerment. It encompasses various activities and initiatives designed to support these pillars. For instance, students can participate in international internships, fostering an exchange of ideas and experiences. Additionally, the initiative emphasizes the documentation of historical buildings, preserving their rich heritage. Furthermore, exhibitions are organized to showcase the outcomes of these endeavors. These initial activities serve as the foundation for the three pillars, promoting a holistic approach to education, fostering a sense of belonging within the community, and empowering individuals to make a positive impact on architecture.

Magnus Ericsson: In Sweden, we have the IASPIS residency program, which has nine studios, four for Sweden-based and five for international artists in visual and applied arts. The residency program has a primary aim of facilitating international exchange and fostering the exploration of artistic work. It provides a platform for artists to engage in both practical and theoretical endeavors, allowing them to delve into various aspects of their creative practice. Through this residency, artists can collaborate with peers from different cultural backgrounds, exchange ideas, and gain new perspectives. The program also supports the development of cross-cultural understanding and promotes the dissemination of artistic knowledge on a global scale.

Addis Mebratu: Allow me to present to you the essence of Kebena House and shed light on its current and future aspirations. The concept behind Kebena House is not a static or predetermined entity; instead, it is a dynamic and evolving idea that has taken shape over time and continues to evolve in the present. Recognizing the subpar quality of construction within the city, there is a pressing need to elevate it and address the underlying issues. We firmly believe that achieving this goal requires consensus and collaborative thinking. The question then arises: how can we collectively move towards a shared vision and understanding? This is where places like Kebena House come into play.

Kebena House serves as a platform for fostering collaborative thinking in the realms of art, architecture, and urbanism. Its primary aim is to create a meaningful impact on the construction of better buildings, cities, and environments. To achieve this vision, we focus on three key components: actors, programs, and sessions. These components are essential for nurturing collaboration, facilitating knowledge exchange, and driving innovative solutions.

• Actors: The term “actors” encompasses various entities, including architectural firms, the public, and policymakers. These diverse stakeholders play crucial roles in shaping the built environment and influencing urban development.

• Programs: At Kebena House, we offer a range of programs to provide inspiration, education, and mentorship to professionals in the field. We carefully curated these programs to deliver valuable content that benefits the broader professional community.
• Sessions: There are two notable sessions at Kebena House that stand out. The first is the “Mid-Level Architect” session, which focuses on sharing experiences from seasoned and senior practitioners. This session provides a platform for mid-level architects to learn from the wealth of knowledge and expertise of their more experienced counterparts.

The second notable session is the “Kebena House Charrette.” This session brings together the local community to start design ideas through discussions and active participation. It serves as a catalyst for collaboration, enabling community members to engage in the design process and contribute their insights toward shaping contextually relevant solutions.

Through these distinct sessions, Kebena House aims to foster knowledge exchange, skill development, and community involvement, ultimately contributing to the advancement of the architectural profession and the creation of sustainable and inclusive built environments.

Maheder G/Medhin: Personally, throughout my upbringing and educational journey, I developed a strong awareness of social circumstances. This awareness was further enriched by my international trips to Kenya and Tokyo, which provided me with a fresh perspective. These experiences shed light on the disparity between our current condition and the international standards, serving as a profound eye-opener.

After establishing our practice, Yema Architecture, and gaining a decade of experience, we realized the importance of involving other actors in the discussion. We recognized the limitations of having a one-sided conversation solely among architects about the built environment. Instead, we envisioned a space where all three stakeholders, namely architects, the government, and the public sector, could come together to foster a shared understanding and engage in meaningful discussions. This realization led us to the concept of creating a platform that encourages dialogue and collaboration among these stakeholders. By facilitating a multidirectional exchange of ideas, knowledge, and perspectives, we aim to bridge the gap between different perspectives and foster a common understanding. Our goal is to establish a space where architects, government representatives, and the public sector can collectively address the challenges and opportunities in the built environment.

We achieve our objectives through a multifaceted approach. First, we employ an “informed analysis” method based on urban studies and research, allowing us to gain deep insights into the urban landscape and identify key challenges and opportunities. This knowledge forms the foundation for informed decision-making and effective urban development strategies.

Second, our “youth tsunami” program focuses on individuals under 30, aiming to enhance their skills and create job opportunities in the fields of architecture and urban development. By nurturing their talents and providing mentorship, we empower the younger generation to contribute to shaping our built environment.
Third, we actively take part in social dialogues through events like the Architects Association and UN-Habitat dialogues. These platforms facilitate the exchange of perspectives, sharing of best practices, and discussions on pressing issues in architecture and urban planning. Through informed decisions, youth empowerment, and collaborative efforts, we strive to drive positive change and create vibrant, people-centered cities that benefit everyone.

Tinsae Tsegahun: At Alebel Desta Consulting Architects and Engineers, we value the significance of the process alongside the final output. This principle forms the core concept of ZigZag Space, an emerging Center for the Arts and crafts community. We designed ZigZag Space to foster creativity, promote experimentation, and serve as a platform for community initiation and engagement. It provides a supportive environment for artists and artisans to collaborate, learn, and showcase their work. Drawing inspiration from African and Ethiopian traditions, ZigZag Space also aims to promote cross-cultural education by offering a multidisciplinary space. Our vision for ZigZag Space extends to supporting local craftsmanship and promoting knowledge enhancement.

Tatiana Letier Pinto: I am delighted to see the emergence of spaces that encourage architects to think beyond conventional practices and explore new possibilities. These innovative spaces serve as a catalyst for creativity and provide a platform for architects to expand their horizons. By challenging the traditional notions of architecture, these spaces inspire architects to be creative and push the boundaries of their craft. The existence of such spaces helps to redefine the role of an architect and showcase alternative paths within the field. It is empowering to see that one can be an architect in a non-traditional sense, opening up exciting opportunities for architectural exploration and contributing to the evolution of the discipline.

several participants expressed positive comments regarding the increasing awareness of the architectural profession. They highlighted the beneficial impact of “new realities in architecture,” which allows the inclusion of individuals from various creative sectors, such as entertainment, marketing, and fashion industries. This acknowledgment underscores the expanding reach and influence of architecture beyond traditional boundaries. Rahel Shawl concluded the session by emphasizing the significance of vision, discussion, inspiration, and empowerment. It is not solely about producing; we must also strive to multiply our impact. Until next time, stay creative, explore, and inspire!

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© July, 2024 Ketema Journal

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