_Spaces / The documentary series
The movie series _Spaces documents selected elements of Addis Ababa’s city fabric, which seem essential but could be lost for future generations soon due to the city’s current rapid transformation. This cinematic research aims to highlight objective values of the informal city through subjective story telling in combination with expert interviews, aiming to influence tomorrow’s decision making through today’s education.
Addis Ababa is in transformation. In 2011, the city administration announced to redevelop all “informal” and “unplanned” parts of the city by 2020. Therefore, that same year, Felix Heisel and Bisrat Kifle began the research initiative _Spaces to record a century-old way of living in Addis Ababa, following the strong believe that the informal sector can offer important lessons about the use and social role of architecture. The underlying social and cultural networks and their spatial fabric are the context that could and should be regarded as the starting point for the development of a sustainable future city. _Spaces addresses this context in what is now a six-movie series discussing housing and public space, rural-to-urban migration, conservation, recycling and landownership in the city of Addis Ababa and Ethiopia at large. However, many of the questions raised are applicable in developing territories with similar conditions around the world.
The series consists out of 6 documentary movies:
Disappearing, Emerging, Originating, Supporting, Recycling and Materializing Spaces.
Felix Heisel is an architect and academic working towards the systematic redesign of the built environment as a material depot of endless use and reconfiguration. At Cornell University, he holds the position of Assistant Professor at the Departement of Architecture and directs the Circular Construction Lab at Cornell AAP. Heisel is also partner at 2hs Architekten und Ingenieur PartGmbB, Germany, an office specialized in the development of circular prototypologies. He has received various awards for his work and published numerous books and articles on the topic, including Addis Ababa: A Manifesto on African Progress with Hebel, Wisniewska and Nash (Ruby Press, 2019), Cultivated Building Materials with Hebel (Birkhäuser, 2017), Lessons of Informality with Kifle (Birkhäuser, 2016) and Building from Waste with Hebel and Wisniewska (Birkhäuser, 2014). Heisel has been teaching and researching at universities around the world, including the Berlage Institute; the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Developments; ETH Zürich, both in Switzerland and Singapore; and Harvard GSD. His extensive research on informal processes led him, among other publications and design proposals, to establish the documentary movie series _Spaces in 2011.
Bisrat Kifle is an architect currently engaged in teaching and research work at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development in Addis Ababa. From 2008 to 2009, he taught design studios at the ETH Zürich in the chair of Marc Angélil, where he collaborated on different research projects, including the Addis_Urban Laboratory. Bisrat has designed various neighbourhoods while working for the Grand Housing Programme in Addis Ababa in addition to practising in his own office, which won the prize for best affordable low-cost housing in Ethiopia in 2011. In the same year, he co-initiated the research project _Spaces.
Addis Ababa, unlike many other African cities, has a history and city fabric to learn from. Even if the physical conditions of the informal settlements are very poor, the social networks, as well as spatial and cultural values developed and embedded in these areas are worth the preservation and study. In fact, we believe that any new development should be based on the values routed and cultivated in exactly these parts of the city.
The movie “Disappearing Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space in the informal parts of Ethiopia’s capital. Looking at one typical house for the duration of 24 hours, one can notice how a single room can serve for most daily functions. Interviews with the inhabitants and experts give further insight into the topic.
To date (2012), the AAHDPO completed around 100,000 units on more than 120 different sites – 2/3rd of them in expansion areas – out of which nearly 70,000 are handed over to end users so far. This grand housing program has increased density in several parts of the city, at the loss of traditional ground-floor networks.
“Emerging Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space in the redeveloped parts of Addis Ababa. Looking at one typical condominium for the duration of 24 hours, one can notice how its inhabitants changed the spaces according to their accustomed needs and traditions. Interviews with the inhabitants and experts give further insight into the topic.
Addis Ababa is a city of migrants. Considering that Addis Ababa’s history reaches back only a century and most of the inhabitants of the informal areas of the city are rural migrants, the spatial arrangements of the traditional tukul actually forms part of Addis Ababa’s understanding of space. Based on the claim that traditional and cultural habits, religious and social patterns and income generating mechanisms should be the basis for new developments in Ethiopia’s capital, this movie tries to understand the origin of such conditions.
The movie “Originating Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space in the rural areas of Ethiopia. Looking at one typical tukul for the duration of 24 hours, one can notice how a single room can serve for most daily functions. Interviews with the inhabitants and experts give further insight into the topic.
Small and micro businesses in Addis Ababa are start-ups for many inhabitants, especially migrants coming to the city. A ‘listro’ (shoe shiner) defines his business area by setting a shoe shining box down on the ground. He then brings a chair to claim the space. In time, a plastic shade covers the customer’s seat. As the space defines itself, side businesses emerge, like the selling of tobacco, candies, chewing gum and so on. At the streets of Addis, daily, public space turns into private and vice versa.
The movie “Supporting Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of street space in Ethiopia’s capital. Based on the life’s story and experience of one selected listro, this movie tries to tell a generic experience of thousands of migrants in Addis Ababa. Looking at one spot in the area of Piazza for the duration of 24 hours, one can notice the importance of micro economies as part of the public realm. Interviews with the listros and experts give further insight into the topic.
Throughout the years, Addis Ababa, informally, developed a sophisticated recycling system in all parts of the city. “Kuré-Yalews” are roaming the streets in small neighborhoods, collecting anything that might still be useable from households. Sharing resources, they rent taxis collectively to transport their goods to Merkato’s “Minalesh Terra”, where different “workshops” immediately start to reuse and transform them. In the course of a few days, these items are returned into the cycle, being sold to the owners of small neighborhood shops as “new” products.
This recycling process is not only the source of income for many families in the city, it also keeps Addis Ababa clean to a certain extend. Most importantly, this cycle also appropriated space for recycling in the city throughout the years, which is now endangered by the current transformation of Ethiopia’s capitol.
The movie “Recycling Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space allocated to this recycling cycle in Ethiopia’s capital. Based on the daily routine and experiences of one selected Kuré-Yalew, this movie tries to tell a generic experience of thousands of inhabitants in Addis Ababa. Interviews with the Kuré-Yalwes and experts give further insight into the topic.
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-shine house”. Material collection and preparation might last for a few weeks before the specific night. Once everything is in place, neighbors and specialists help and erect the structure within a few hours.
The movie “Materializing Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the construction of such a chereka bet. The story is based on the erection of one specific structure, including the preparation in the days before the event. Interviews with the builders and the “owner” tell the story of such houses. National experts give additional information on the context.