The African Building Platform

Cover Feature

Romel Headquarters

Addis Mebratu Architects
Article: Nahom Atakilt
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Picture yourself on a lively street, surrounded by an array of electric shops. The atmosphere is filled with buzzing energy as the dazzling lights from their displays compete for your attention. You’re on a quest to find the perfect electric lamp and exploring a multitude of options. Along your journey, you come across a massive 15-storey tower with an alternating three-dimensional facade that stands proudly amidst an array of villa shops. As you gaze upwards, a remarkable sight unfolds before you. Not only do you discover an exquisite collection of lamps spread across three storeys, but you also notice something intriguing about the building itself. It appears to mimic the shuffled deck of cards, with alternating balconies jutting out gracefully on the left and right at each level.

The Romel headquarters building, near St. Urael church, is a remarkable establishment primarily operating as a product showroom, showcasing a wide range of electrical equipment that serves as the cornerstone of Romel’s business brand. Additionally, the building houses administrative offices and various departments crucial to the smooth functioning of the establishment. The upper floors of the building are currently being transformed into a collection of hotel apartments catering to the international market.

Romel, a renowned brand in the market today, traces its roots back 19 years ago when it first emerged as an electrical brand. Focusing strongly on electrical equipment and related items, Romel quickly established itself as a prominent player in the industry. The new headquarters building serves as a lasting symbol of the brand’s reliability and commitment to excellence. By projecting an image of trust and credibility, Romel aims to solidify its position as a market leader and strengthen its presence in the industry.

To turn this vision into reality, Romel CEO, Mr. Melaku commissioned Addis Mebratu Consulting Architects and Engineers for a multi-storey building on an empty lot near St. Urael Church. At the forefront of the client’s vision was the desire to create a building that embodied the essence of Romel’s brand, featuring an exceptional showroom to display ROMEL’s distinguished line of electrical equipment and goods. This dedicated showcase within the building would serve as a focal point, capturing the attention of visitors and further bolstering Romel’s reputation for excellence. The client recognized the significance of cultivating a productive and enjoyable work environment, emphasizing the need for modern offices equipped with recreational facilities.

Designing Romel’s new headquarters posed a unique challenge to the architects. The site allocated for the building was narrow but deep, requiring careful consideration of space utilization and functionality. Traditionally, showrooms were conceived as expansive spaces, with ample room for customers to navigate and choose from an array of items on display. The limited frontage of only 14 meters, coupled with a significantly larger depth, necessitated a departure from the traditional showroom design. To provide Romel’s customers with a delightful shopping experience, the architects had to reimagine the concept of a showroom and devise innovative solutions. After lots of discussions, the architects came up with the “stacked showroom” which, as the name indicates, stacks up the wide traditional space into vertical layers. While this approach offered benefits like segmented product offerings, it posed drawbacks in terms of a potentially disjointed customer experience. However, the architects addressed this by considering the showroom as a cohesive experience connected through interactive circulation and open-down voids. The design team also crafted the recognizable alternating balconies to add depth and visual interest to the façade. This intentional architectural choice not only elevates the building’s appearance but also sets it apart from the multitude of similar multi-storey structures that are prevalent throughout the city.

Upon entering, you encounter an expansive lobby with generous ceiling heights. A staircase to your left, veiled behind vertical louvers, invites you to ascend to the upper levels. As you climb along, you will catch glimpses of the first level, capturing your attention and setting the stage for an extraordinary experience in Romel’s showroom. This level is dedicated to various lighting equipment including outdoor, industrial, and a variety of modern gadgets set against a well-lit white background complemented with cement-tiled structural elements. As you explore the space, you notice a striking feature—a large void that cuts through the floors, creating a sense of openness and connection. This deliberate design choice serves multiple purposes. Firstly, the void serves as a visual link, enabling customers at different levels to connect and interact with each other across the showroom. Secondly, a grand staircase gracefully winds through the void, serving as a central pathway between the floors. The open-down creates an airy and spacious atmosphere, while the staircase becomes a focal point, guiding customers through and providing a sense of flow within the showroom.

Stepping onto the second floor, you are transported to a classically themed space. Chandeliers and ornate lamps hang from the high ceiling, casting a warm glow that illuminates the room with a touch of refined charm. You will also notice the void that cuts through the showroom expands in size to accommodate the view of the cashier’s desk on the first floor. Ascending to the third and final floor of the showroom, you will find a collection of modern lamps with simple, sleek lines, providing a striking contrast to the classical elegance displayed on the lower level, offering a diverse range of lighting options to suit every individual’s taste. The interior design of the showroom ensures a consistent aesthetic across all floors, where each level is uniquely themed. This approach creates an engaging and diverse experience for shoppers while maintaining a sense of cohesion throughout. Specifically, the deliberate choice to maintain a neutral appearance in the showroom’s design is aimed at preventing it from overpowering the showcased light fixtures, allowing them to take center stage.

Further upwards, the 5th floor is dedicated to the administrative functions of Romel General Trading, accommodating a diverse range of departments that contribute to the company’s operations and overall management. Beyond this level, from the 6th floor to the 15th floor, the space transforms into a collection of hotel apartments brimming with recreational amenities, including a rooftop squash court. Originally intended as pool offices, the concept for the floors transformed due to market considerations, leading to the decision to develop them into hotel apartments. This change presented its own set of challenges, which Bold Design successfully embraced alongside its interior designs for the rest of the building.

“The building was initially designed as a showroom and an office space. We completed the interior design and purchased and installed the finishing materials before the hotel apartment idea arose. Redoing the design was very challenging due to the existing column positions and windows. It was difficult to create a functional floor plan with a standard hotel room size for several hotel rooms. The revised design required several technical adjustments, including new plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and firefighting systems. All finishing materials were also replaced to match the new design. It is also important to mention Romel’s capacity to import specified materials from Chinese suppliers which gave us the chance to play with unique materials on the design and helped us to be creative without limitation” Bold Design.

After undergoing revisions, the building now features an array of guest rooms spanning from the 7th to 13th floors, with an average of 10 rooms per floor. Ascending to the 14th and 15th floors reveals additional amenities, including a gym, an open bar, a squash court, and a designated area for steam saunas and massages. Lastly, the top terrace proudly showcases a helipad, ensuring convenient aerial access. The client’s original vision for the building included specific features designed to enhance the space. Among these features were the squash court and the gym. The squash court was conceived as a creative use of the rooftop area, while the gym was intended to promote a healthy and active work environment. “Usually, rooftops on Addis Ababa’s buildings are not utilized, and we also noticed that there are a few squash courts in the city. Hence, we suggested the squash court idea to the architects, and they accepted it with enthusiasm and incorporated it into the design. Additionally, we also considered the potential for aerial access, envisioning a future where clients could arrive by helicopter. To accommodate this possibility, the rooftop was structurally designed to facilitate helicopter landings” Mr. Melaku.

In conclusion, the Romel headquarters building stands as a prime example of effectively representing a valuable brand through creative architectural experiences. The building’s design successfully navigates and utilizes site constraints, transforming them into opportunities for innovation. The infusion of visionary ideas from the client further enhances the building’s distinctiveness and aligns it with the brand’s values. The result is a structure that not only showcases Romel’s exceptional electrical equipment but also creates memorable and immersive experiences for visitors. Now that you have explored the building in its entirety, I can’t help but suggest a detour. How about a quick squash play session on the rooftop court before we make our way down to buy that perfect electric lamp?

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© July, 2024 Ketema Journal

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