A growing horizontal stem of affordable housing in Menen, Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa grows faster than the city can absorb. Thus, the Ethiopian Government promoted a full-scale project: the Condominium Blocks. Rhizome proposes an alternative design which is rooted within the site, technically feasible, economically competitive and flexible in time and materials.

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The governmental housing project faces the matter of density and provides a fast construction process, but three main problems can be highlighted: high production cost, import of foreign technologies and building configuration that does not match with the social context. This brought about a clear research question: How can the different socio-spatial layers that characterize the fabric of the Menen neighbourhood, be reinterpreted into a low-rise project able to reach the same density of the Condominium blocks? How can the project be feasible and promote itself as flexible standardized system?

The backbone of our project is the idea of residential compound, a physical and social structure composed by three elements: two incremental housing blocks and the circulation system. These are clustered together and can rotate, mirror or attach to each other creating a series of spaces that compose a hierarchical sequence of community spaces. This enacts a holistic strategy that bridges multiple scales, from the main urban streets, to the intimacy of the compound and, eventually, to the most private space of the dwelling. Every cluster is independent, allowing the entire project to be built in phases and to develop through time organically integrated in the surrounding physical structures. This avoids disruptive spatial and social breaks between old and new structures and communities. Furthermore, the project can be built using two different construction methods that offer more affordable solutions than those currently used in the governmental housing programme. The project could be standardized and rapidly built using a concrete structure. Alternatively, it can be built using a rammed earth building system. The former requires material importation, technological structure and specialized skills while the latter is more affordable and sustainable, using material and techniques that can be found in-situ and can involve the population in the building process. The design approach developed in our project makes it a feasible and competitive alternative approach to the condominium blocks in matters such as cost, time, labour and skills. In botany, Rhizome is associated to the growth of the plants’ underground roots. Likewise, our project stands for a continuously growth of an interconnected sequence of spaces that stems from a unique simple element: the residential compound.