“This is a recycling centre, where whatever we throw out in our households is getting transformed into something useful. This is also a production centre. I cannot imagine any other part of the city, which is filled with such a productive kind of citizens. More importantly, most of these people here have not gone to a TVET college or university. They have to learn their skills here. So this is also a training centre. Not only technical; this is a training centre where ruralites learn the basic skills of becoming an urbanite. So this is also a transformation centre. And, this is also a place where people live. So [Minalesh Terra] is a real city model where everything is happening.“

—Zegeye Cherenet

Together with his wife and two children, Ato Gizachew lives in a small hut on the periphery of Addis Ababa. He works as a kuré-yalew, a trash collector who roams the streets of Addis Ababa in search of anything reusable. His consistent daily routine leads him first to Minalesh Terra in the morning, where he shares a small shop with colleagues. After changing his clothes he continues on public transport to Bole, his territory. The city is clearly divided into collection areas. Every one of the about 5,000 kuré-yalews has specific streets assigned to him or her. Once there, Ato Gizachew starts calling out. This call announcing his presence to homeowners gave the kuré-yalews their name.

Gizachew buys almost anything on the doorsteps of the houses he visits daily: light bulbs, metal scraps, fabrics and so on. Packed into rice bags, the items return to Minalesh Terra – the “What do you have to offer? centre” – where they get resold to different manufacturing shops in order to be transformed into something useful. In the course of a few days, these items re-enter the cycle, sold to the owners of small neighbourhood shops as “new” products.

This recycling process is not only a source of income for many families in the city; it has also appropriated a significant amount of space. From Minalesh Terra, an area within Africa’s biggest open-air market, Merkato, outward, the network of kuré-yalews spans all of Addis Ababa. The system is an informal answer to the lack of formal trash collection. It keeps the city relatively clean and provides products for daily use for all households and income to almost half a million city dwellers.

Recycling Spaces documents the use of space allocated to this recycling system in Ethiopia’s capital. Based on the daily routine and experiences of the kuré-yalew, this film aims to address universal questions of informal citywide infrastructural systems that provide services to the formal and public sectors.


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

Prof. Dr. Dirk Donath
Chair Holder
Chair of Building Construction, EiABC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Dr. Heyaw Terefe
Chair Holder
Chair of Theory and History of Architecture and Urbanism, EiABC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ato Zegeye Cherenet
Former Chair Holder
Chair of Architectural Design, EiABC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Special Thanks to

Ato Gizachew Takele


research and movies by
Felix Heisel and Bisrat Kifle

supported and financed by
ETH Zürich
Future Cities Laboratory Singapore
Asst. Prof. Dirk E. Hebel

produced by
next studio plc.
Josef Mayerhofer