Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Our building in Addis Ababa

The Dutch Embassy in Ethiopia is located in a lush garden on the western outskirts of Addis Ababa. The chancellery and its surrounding buildings were designed by the Dutch architects Dick van Gameren and Bjarne Mastenbroek, constructed in collaboration with local professionals and completed in 2006. The imposing design reflects aspects of Ethiopia’s rich culture while retaining a distinctive Dutch character.

For their design, the architects drew inspiration from Ethiopia’s famous rock-hewn churches. The chancellery interconnects naturally with the compound’s gentle slope, and seems to vanish into the surrounding eucalyptus forest, giving it the appearance of being carved out of the landscape. Its walls and ceilings are pigmented the same red-ochre as the Ethiopian earth and draw their robust and authentic texture from deliberate misalignments in the natural wooden formwork used during the moulding process. Inside, narrow corridors and small staircases are being lit through shafts in the roof and crisscrossing lamps near the floor level, resulting in the Embassy’s cavernous interior reminiscent of rock-hewn tradition.

Concurrently, aspects of modern Dutch design can be found in the monolithic structure of the main building, with its densification of programmatic diversity, its crisp transparencies and its oversailing cantilevers. The roof garden, with its network of barrages, alludes to a Dutch water landscape, transforming into a shallow pool during the rainy season while resembling more a dried-up riverbed during sunnier times.

A sustainable and climate sensitive approach is exemplified throughout the project. The architects limited their use of scarce local resources such as wood and steel, and selected abundantly available concrete as their construction material. Besides its seismic qualities concrete also provides natural insulation, from violent sunlight as well as those cold Ethiopian nights. With the chancellery’s submerged design, the added layers of insulation in walls, ceilings and floors and the use of ventilation holes, a natural environmental control system was created. Due to this smart use of natural resources, no artificial ventilation, air conditioning or heating is needed.

The project also included the construction of the adjacent residence, three additional staff houses, and the renovation of the existing Deputy Ambassador’s villa. Along the way (the project took eight years to realize) a small school and a new gate-house were added to the programme. The architects took care to respect and preserve the landscape’s existing topography along with its original flora and wildlife. Consequently, the compound harbours about 10 Leopard Tortoises, a family of Common Jackals, Large-Spotted Genets, mongoose, the occasional baboon and a grand diversity of indigenous birds. 

In 2007, the architects were awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture for their design. More information about this project can be found on the website of the Aga Khan Development Network.