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August 1, 2022

Navigating urban narratives and green alternatives #2, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023

by rwondimu

Navigating urban narratives and green alternatives #2, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023

This past month in Ethiopia has been a time of reflection, learning, and asking many questions for me. My conversations with many architects, family members, and the community have often been my method for getting to know my home again. Although I was hoping that everything I continue to learn about would be something positive, I have been able to learn about the difficulties people live through on a daily basis. For some time, I had found the outreach work challenging because it had been difficult to securely book some time to talk to the organizations that I had believed were highly relevant. However, my work gained a positive trajectory when I was able to attend the annual conference for the Ethiopian Architecture Association on July 23, 2022.

The Ethiopian Architecture Association hosts a panel discussion and an election ceremony annually. However, this panel was happening after three years of discontinuation due to impacts of war and Covid. Therefore, this panel was also a time of reflection for the community. The panel started with a moment of silence and prayer for the victims of war that’s still happening across Ethiopia. From the way everyone immediately stood up, it was easy to see that there was this moment of collective grievance and pain. That became one of the points of conversation for the conference. 

This conference was a very eye-opening experience for me because I went in with the hope of making connections and sharing ideas on sustainability topics. However, that was only a small portion of what I was able to attain and learn from. The first topic of the conference was post war construction. In the hope and belief that one day, this war will come to an end, the discussion was on how architecture can play a role in reconstructing and building new health care facilities, schools, residential places and more. For me, it was a reminder that it is a time of grievance as a country and that people were actively looking for ways to contribute to the better future.

Although there were a variety of topics that were mentioned such as architecture’s role at a time of covid and what the association has done, a project that caught my attention more deeply was called The Ethiopian New School Project. It is a project on developing design prototypes for over 1200 new public schools based on the latest technological advances and environmental considerations. Therefore, the designs were a variety of prototypes developed based on their climatic and locational conditions with heavy considerations of water systems, energy access, and comfort. I was immediately excited to figure out who was responsible for the environmental consulting aspect of it. I was later informed that there aren’t many groups responsibly dedicated to the environmental aspect of the project.  However, I was able to obtain the contact information of the few groups that could be of significant value in discussing environmentally conscious projects.

Ethiopian New Schools Proposal

Following the conference, I have been able to connect with two groups that have been pioneering discussions surrounding architecture and urban development. One of them is Architecture Werhawi (Architecture Monthly) and the other one is The Urban Center. The two groups also often collaborate on a variety of projects. I was able to send my proposal where teams from each group will be able to review my proposal and hopefully collaborate. 

On a personal reflection, I believe that this experience has taught me that circumstances on ground have been and continue to be difficult for people. The consequences of war impacts people on the daily through personal stories, inflation, and unattainable living expenses. The unemployment rate and low wages have been discouraging for many recent graduates. That, however, makes me believe that there is a role for the green industry to play here. The fact that a new type of industry might create new employment opportunities, encourage utilization of local resources on a more industrial level, and make water and electricity more easily and widely accessible is a good enough reason to discuss this topic. Therefore, this experience has empowered me to facilitate this conversation further.

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