“There are many things we can learn from informal housing: The way, for example, [
the inhabitants] select materials, the way they put together their own resources in terms of labour, money, materials and so on. And the way they use space. If you observe areas where informal houses are dominant, most of the open spaces are used commonly and the inhabitants normally lead a communal life, which is less common in planned neighbourhoods where individualism is the most expressed value. So there are a lot of things you can learn from informal housing. But you cannot recommend it as the solution for the housing problem, [either, as] it also has many problems.”
—Ato Fasil Giorghis

Informal housing construction in Addis Ababa features a very specific “illegal” but common typology, the chereka bet. These houses are built on squatted land during one night, hence the name “moon house”. The thinking behind this practice is that if a house has a roof in the morning and looks as if it has been standing on its plot for a while, it is unlikely to be demolished by the authorities.

In order to protect our protagonist, his name is withheld for this story – and in any case, it is irrelevant. He migrated to Addis Ababa when he was 15 years old and started earning money as a daily labourer. Gradually he improved his skills, and today he works as a carpenter running his own business. After 15 years in the city, he has saved enough money to build his own house, although not through formal mechanisms. On the one hand, he could not have saved enough money to formally lease land considering today’s prices, and on the other, he would not have the legal standing to do so in the first place. However, farmers gladly sold him use rights for a plot of their land on the periphery of the city.

To build the house, our protagonist calls on informal and rural traditions. In the countryside it is common practice for neighbours to come together to help in the process. Material collection and preparation might last for a few weeks before the night of construction. Many of the materials are sourced from established recycling systems, reusing pieces from recently demolished (informal) houses. The main material, loam, is usually available near the construction site. Once everything is in place, neighbours and specialists erect the structure within a few hours, protected by the darkness.

Materializing Spaces documents the construction of such a chereka bet. The story includes some of the necessary preparatory steps but basically covers one night in the periphery of Addis Ababa. The process illustrates the huge potential waiting to be activated in the informal. Skill, knowledge, manpower, materials and capital all seem to be available, but have yet to be accessed by the formal housing sector.


Dr. Heyaw Terefe
Chair Holder at EiABC
Chair of Theory and History of Architecture and Urbanism
Fasil Giorghis
Chair Holder at EiABC
Chair of Conservation of Urban and Architectural Heritage

Dr. Elias Yitbarek
Chair Holder at EiABC
Chair of Housing

Ato Zegeye Cherenet
Former Chair Holder at EiABC
Chair of Architectural Design

Special Thanks to

the courageous protagonist,
his carpenter and local helpers


research and movies by
Felix Heisel and Bisrat Kifle

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

produced by
next studio plc.
Josef Mayerhofer