“When looking at housing, one needs to consider two aspects: firstly the physical condition, and secondly the process. These are two different needs, and housing addresses both: it is a product – a commodity, and at the same time it is a support mechanism for people to do their activities.”

—Elias Yitbarek

Ato Feleke and his wife W/ro Meselu live in a small kebele house in Addis Ababa’s Kirkos district. Together with their four children, they share a small single-storey hut built in eucalyptus and loam. The inside is divided into two rooms by a curtain; one side is for sleeping, the other for living and cooking. Along the dirt road through the informal settlement, three more huts are arranged around a small private courtyard. The first belongs to grandmother W/ro Yeshihareg, and the second – a tiny space of about three square metres – is rented out to a student at the local university. The third used to be the children’s room but now houses two injera ovens, where Meselu bakes 200 of the traditional flatbreads per day to earn a living for the family. Feleke works as a security guard in a nearby bakery.

The courtyard plays a central role in the life of this small community. The climatic conditions in Ethiopia allow fluid use of interior and exterior spaces in a kind of continuum. The gibbi is not only circulation and connection space, but also living room, bathroom and office. Here, Meselu sells her injera to the neighbourhood; her clients all know each other and the family, treating the courtyard as their own space. It is this network of clients, friends and neighbours that makes life for Ato Feleke and his family possible, and is the reason why he would turn down the opportunity to move into a newly built condominium.

Even if the physical conditions of Addis Ababa’s informal settlements are very poor, the social networks as well as spatial and cultural values developed and embedded in these areas are worth preservation and study. In fact, we believe that any new development should be based on the values rooted and cultivated in exactly these parts of the city. Disappearing Spaces documents the use and meaning of space in the informal parts of Ethiopia’s capital through the example of Ato Feleke and his family.

Accompanying the family for one day, the observer is introduced to new definitions of multi-functionality and privacy. Through small adjustments in use and furniture, the main room of the kebele house and the courtyard serve all daily functions for the inhabitants, who clearly number more than the family of six. Locality and social networks define life in this informal settlement, proving the old Ethiopian saying that “it is more important to have a good neighbour than a distant relative.”


Ato Fasil Giorghis
Chair Holder
Chair of Conservation of Urban and Architectural Heritage, EiABC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Dr. Elias Yitbarek
Chair Holder
Chair of Housing, EiABC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Special Thanks to

Wro Yeshihareg Kassa
Ato Feleke Abebebaw
Wro Meselu Masre
and family


research and movies by
Felix Heisel and Bisrat Kifle

supported and financed by
Ethiopian Institute for Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC)

produced by
next studio plc.
Josef Mayerhofer