The African Building Platform


KEK’s The Urban Center

An inclusive and creative space born out of the popular radio show Kebet Eske Ketema
Maheder G/Medhin
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The Urban center is an inclusive and creative space born out of the popular radio show KEBET ESKE KETEMA (ከቤት እስከ ከተማ) which started on 25th December, 2007 focusing on Architecture, Engineering, Construction and urban life.

Kebet Eske Ketema is one of the CSR initiatives of Yema Architecture, a consulting company based in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. YEMA, founded in September 2007, initiated its Urban CSR initiative three months into its establishment and powers Kebet Eske Ketema with finance and personnel. One of KEBET ESKE KETEMA’s objectives is to create and produce locally initiated global knowledges in all aspects of urban life.

When it marked its 10th year on the radio on December 2017, to address the need of a physical space to maximize the Urban dialogue and change the information it gathered through the years into Knowledge, KEK started its initiative “The Urban Center”.

The Concept was implemented after discussing with experienced individuals from the fields of Architecture, urban planning, engineering, economics, management, marketing, governance, political science, environmental science, related fields and beyond to mature the concept and its implementations.

The Urban Center is a flexible social, educational and professional space designed to
provide a platform of discussions, discourses and collaborations for urban citizens from all walks of life for educational inter disciplinary engagements with provisions of entertainment . It offers a flexible and diverse environment suitable for the ever-changing needs of the urban community by providing comfortable, inviting and universally accessible spaces.

It is located at the heart of Addis Abeba near Meskel square across St. Estifanos Church on the Ground floor of the Women’s federation building also known as Village Cafe. It has ample parking space and all public transportation routes are close by.

The concept of the design was to create a flexible and changeable space configuration by bringing back the “original” look and feel of the space and equipping it with technology for contemporary needs to a space that was closed for years and left to rot and deteriorate.

By bringing its core spatial qualities, accentuating the space with locally available and recycled Material the 365 sq. M space was arranged to become an open and accessible space with a dialogue / discussion / discourse hall, an exhibition gallery, a co-working / co-creating space with a library facility packed with rare books and publications, An audio visual studio, meeting rooms, a Café and restrooms with dedicated room for the differently abled aka (PWD).

Experimentation on locally available and commonly used materials was one of the pillars of the design concept. The ceiling fabric experimented to gain good acoustic characteristics was made by hand in collaboration with an architect producing fabrics for interior finishes while the stool covers were woven by hand from newspapers by a company founded by a mechanical engineer.

Concrete test cubes, paper tubes from industrial parks and advertising companies, formwork panels and epoxy floorings are used to define and articulate the spaces by combining with glass, aluminum and steel. The Luminaires in the main hall were made from recycled materials sourced from “Minalesh Terra”. Indoor plants selection and gardening was commissioned to an architect who is running a landscaping company.

The Urban Center’s mission is to contribute to the advancement, understanding and knowledge of the urbanization of Ethiopia in general and Addis Ababa in particular by co-producing ideas in its physical and virtual spaces. It also strives to provide practical recommendations and solutions to major urban challenges that we are faced in with today and potentially face in the future.

Undertaking different researches, TUC forwards tailored solutions and add value to the betterment of the urban life of citizens. Marrying quantitative data with spatial data, it aims at creating an organized and updated database on urban topics and undertake analysis based on well documented time sensitive data. It relies on instating a collaborative working system with different actors but also relies on a platform it has created to uphold discussion and debate forums. It also makes use of different media such as its radio show, social media platforms and other conventional communication media for wider outreaches.

The Center has become the preferred destination for urban dialogue and discussion by local and international Academic institutions, professional associations, cultural centers, development partners and enthusiastic members of the public. From the Urban debates to Gender discussion with thousands of participants and presenters ranging from a high school student to local and international university professors, the events have been enjoyed by many including Ministers, ambassadors and opinion leaders. The center has organized, collaborated and hosted many events and workshops in addition to the daily gatherings in its co-working/co-creating space and library.

Until the State of emergency following the Covid – 19 pandemic was declared, the first 18 sessions of the Architect’s ወርሃዊ, ‘because the city cannot’ workshop and “Generating Ideas for cities” by the AEA are some of the major events organized in collaboration with the AEA and other partners. Few of them were sponsored by The Urban Center.

Six Urban October talks and discussions in collaboration with UN Habitat on planning, waste management, transport and housing with movie screening of 2 international acclaimed movies were some of the highly attended events.

Some of the Workshop and events hosted featuring international academic institutions were:

  • The Urban Age extended session by LSE featuring world Rahul Mehrotra, Philipp rode and Jose Castillo Harvard on Sustainable Building concepts, Alternative Housing Development by TU Delft, Water Urbanism by Colombia, and Materiality by EiABC. Podium Design Charrettes at Meskel square and decolorizing Architecture exhibition By KTH with Raas Architects were two of the exemplary participatory events that were held at the center.
  • Research finding like Urbanization dynamics in Ethiopia by Africapolis and Urban Transport and logistics by Ramboll were presented at the center too.
  • Talks related to construction were organized to give an experience sharing platforms for architects, engineers and contractors. World renowned firm Westway architects presented the BGI building; a design and build project with Elmi Olindo contractors.
  • Ethiopian engineers and architects residing abroad presented architectural and engineering projects and technologies to the industry during the different sessions held at TUC.
  • Art related activities like “Addis video Art Festival”, “Capture Addis photo exhibition” and “Tibeb Be Adebay” chose the center for their discussion and displays. British council conducted a series of events for the Creative Industry. The space was used for book launching and TV programs recording sessions.
  • Activities apart from Architecture and Urbanism were held at the center ranging from gender activism workshops with exhibition to Social justice talks. Talks in Fashion, data driven decisions, visual communications and Arts were held at the Center.
  • Entertainments like Movie screenings and Q and A Sessions in collaboration with DSTV and music and Art shows by Goethe Institute were few on the Arts and Culture activities held at the center.
  • As a future focused center, Youth related initiative like “Job Opportunity Gifts” were organized to assist young graduates, in construction related fields, in their transition from graduation to work by providing them basic life skills and to link some of them with the industry to be employed.
  • Two “Job Opportunity Gifts” programs were successfully completed with the financial support of YEMA Architecture and the knowledge support of many professional partners of TUC.
  • Two sessions of “Introduction of the architecture and engineering professions” were given to High school graduates who chose to attend architecture and engineering programs.
  • To contribute to the knowledge pool of the country and positively respond to the rapid urbanization in Ethiopia, the research wing of TUC is designed in an agile setup. TUC has prioritized the issues and is engaging with private and public actors to forward a tailored response with its data driven processes.
  • The research wing of TUC is managed by a pool of professionals from various fields and is led by an experienced Planner / Architect who marshals young and dynamic Architects, planners, analysts and project managers.
  • The Center has produced and published various Urban and social related studies, suggestions and solutions. It has provocatively produced “Social Engagement against Covid – 19” and “spatial planning possibilities “and is currently working on different urban insights.

The space is universally acceptable and is equipped with an elevator to be used by the differently abled. It has interactive projector, high speed Wi-Fi, and clean and spacious rest rooms.

The center is run by the joined hands of experienced and seasoned Architects / Planners with the dedicated and dynamic young professionals with passion and contagious positive energies.

From concept development to substantial completion the process took 14 months to change a “closed” and “damaged “space to the current use and look.

The design, supervision and construction was carried out by the different departments of Yema Architecture.

The co-working / co-creating spaces can be used with a nominal day pass fee for individuals with free Wi-Fi and a pre reserved meeting room. When the center is not hosting events, the main hall and the audio-visual space can be rented for events and meetings.

The Center is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm.


A month later, we continue our coverage of the Meskel Square project

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© September, 2023 Ketema Journal

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