In its programme “Urban Laboratory – Addis Ababa,” the Faculty of Architecture at ETH Zurich (D-ARCH) is devising practical ways of developing the rapidly growing Ethiopian capital. The findings can also be carried over to other metropolises.

The “Urban Laboratory – Addis Ababa” is a research initiative conducted over many years by D-ARCH and other partners, for the purpose of encouraging the dialogue between North and South. The objective is to demonstrate ways in which the city, and with it the entire nation, can cope with the anticipated rapid population growth ecologically, socially and economically. The researchers expect the Ethiopian population to increase from the current 78m to around 120m in the next 15 years. As the population of rural areas is simultaneously decreasing, this growth is concentrated in the capital city and its surrounding region, which are already bursting at the seams today.

In practice, there is no ideal solution

The research initiative focuses on the topics of population, water, space, buildings/material, capital, information and energy. Here, the main emphasis is not on the static current situation, but on the city as a dynamic system and its development from the 19th century into the uncertain zones of the coming decades. One of the researchers’ premises is that there is no ideal solution for Addis Ababa. The city is too heterogeneous, too confusing and too dynamic. Against this backdrop, the Urban Laboratory uses design methods to demonstrate development scenarios and to study how the enormous ecological, social, cultural, resource-related and technical obstacles can be overcome.

Bringing in know-how locally

One direct result of the D-ARCH initiative is the new “Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development,” which started operating in mid-October 2009 at Addis Ababa University. During the start phase, a specialist from D-ARCH is responsible for managing the institute.

Beyond Addis Ababa and Ethiopia, the research initiative demonstrates generally applicable approaches which open up new prospects for the urban territories of the 21st century that are experiencing ever-increasing growth. Here, the main focus is on sustainability and thus on the quality of life for the population of these centres.