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Finding the synergy of architecture, sustainability, and urban development in Ethiopia, Ruth Wondimu, MArch 2023

Hi everyone! With time flying by so fast, there has been so much for me to share. 

The final few weeks of the fellowship were the most productive, insightful, and joyful parts of the fellowship. The fellowship finalized in the panel that became the ideal synergy of my architectural education, interest in sustainability, and urban development topics in Ethiopia. 

Working towards finalizing the panel involved multiple coordination, cooperation, and outreach with various unexpected challenges. To explain this further, I will divide this journal into three parts. The first part is what I would consider the planning phase. The second one involved various outreach activities and the third one involved the execution of the tasks.

In the first phase, my team and I had struggled securing partnerships in methods we had assumed would be successful. We had been dependent on using emails, phone calls, and social media channels to reach out to multiple groups we wanted to partner with. However, our concerns with the timeline led us to taking a more assertive approach. We started heading into various offices without an appointment. Although we were weary of the consequences, we were surprised to see a different professional culture where people preferred to have the conversations in person. Since then our trajectory towards conducting the panel became exponential. 

We were first able to find the ideal space and partnership for the event at a multidisciplinary organization called The Urban Center. Although the space came with the organization that would provide us  the community outreach we needed, it also came at a cost. Therefore our next step was to find sponsorship. The need for sponsorship led us to find more of our ideal company, Kefita Building at Rock Stone development, whose members became our partner, sponsor, and panel member. With our panelists in order and space secured, we were ready for the next phase of our project.

The second phase of our project involved multiple content creation and outreach. Although sustainability and green architecture are terms that are used often, there is a certain level of vagueness in their meanings. Therefore, to set the tone for the conversation, we decided to create and share the following content that provides the definitions and examples we were thinking about. I also further used these same slides for a presentation that preceded the conversation at the panel. 

While sharing the above content, it was also very important to cater to each panelist’s expertise when devising the questions. Therefore, much of our time was also taken up with developing the following document that contains the questions and related contents of the panel. This document allowed us to stay on top of our topic and to have a very successful engagement with the audience. 

In the final stage, which is about the last week and half of the panel we focused on outreach and finalization of the content. In this process it was very interesting to see how different skill sets come into play. For instance, although my architectural education had allowed me to learn some of the software that graphic designers would use, I was struggling with the layout and intricacy of the poster. Then, one of the members of green Ethiopia, Dawit Yitref, was able to take the concept notes and turn it into a professional poster that had surpassed what we had imagined. The poster, attached below, was then distributed through various social media channels allowing us to register 91 people ahead of time. 

The day of the panel unfortunately started with two disappointing news. The first one was when one of our panelists informed us that they will not be able to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. The second one was when the national TV channel informed us that they have overbooked events for the day and that they might not be able to cover the event for us. Throughout the day we worked tirelessly calling every media channel, camera crew, and host we could find to no luck. Finally, a close friend of one of our members, Sintayehu Teferi, was able to capture all the important moments. 

As soon as the time for the panel got close, people in large numbers started coming into the space. We had our panelists, our photographer, and our attendees ready. This was an exciting moment for me personally because I could see my parents and friends in the audience. I could see the people I look up to on the stage with me conversing on issues that I am extremely passionate about. The concepts of locality, context, equity, and more were always a part of each question we raised. The answers that came from the panelists were some of the most insightful and diverse set of knowledge I had acquired. 

Based on the document mentioned above, the questions were divided into topics of Energy, water, material, equity, measurement. Through each of the topics our panelists Adiamseged Eyassu, Elias Ayalew, Yasmin Abdu, and Fitsum Gelaye shared their expertise. 

Adiamseged Eyassu, project director of Rockstone Ethiopia Real Estate, shared his experience in developing a green high end residential building in Ethiopia. He was able to explain the systems, technologies, and methods Kefita utilized in order to be able to design and build a green building. He also went further into the possibilities the future can hold in looking into affordability and accessibility in the industry of green building. As someone that was working on a building that was in the process of a green building certification, his insights were inspirational for the professional community  in the audience.

Architect and lecturer, Elias Ayalew, was one of the panelists who gave the most contextual examples in the methods local architects and construction professionals utilize to produce green buildings today. He was able to share his expert knowledge on the challenges and opportunities the industry faces in making green buildings. His examples ranged from high risers in the middle of the city to small huts in some of the most climatically difficult areas in Ethiopia. He was also able to define what green building means to him and how having an in-depth understanding of context is important in approaching these issues. 

Fitsum Gelaye, who works as Programs and Engagement Consultant at Resilient Cities Network, had many insightful examples and knowledge to share especially at the urban scale. Her insights ranged from challenges Addis Ababa has with informality and lack of basic resources to the challenges other african cities are facing. As someone that had worked with water for most of her career, she further emphasized her points related to water conservation, mitigation, recycle, and the heavy intersection between the architectural and urban scale. During our equity portion, her quote that is read as the following, became one of the highlights of the evening. 

“A city is as resilient as its most vulnerable community”

Yasmin Abdu, who is a researcher and architect, was also one of our insightful panelists who was able to share her knowledge on advocacy and community engagement. Her points mainly spanned the relationship between every topic and its implementability on a community level. Her examples were on research conducted on the effects of sustainability related topics that impact the community at large. She further demonstrated her ideas through government led projects as well smaller initiatives that integrate community advocacy with sustainability. Finally, she emphasized that the desire to integrate community engagement in making decisions should be amongst the main discussion points on any project that comes forward. 

The panel was then followed by a question and answer that was just as fruitful and engaging. The panel that we had intended to be a total of two hours took a total time of two hours and forty five minutes. Nonetheless, most of our audience was still there supporting us, engaging with our topic, and continuing to converse at the networking session. 

As I got on the plane back to RISD for my final year as a grad student, I realized that this experience is one that I will cherish for a very long time. It is an experience I learned so much from, an experience I developed connections I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, and an experience that stationed itself  in the place I will always call home. For that, I am very thankful for RISD and the Maharam Fellowship.


Thoughts, Santiago Alvarado, BFA Industrial Design 2022

As a brown person, as someone who is of indigenous descent but facing the after affects, ongoing violence of colonization. Let me begin by coming to a mutual understanding with you of what exactly does this mean to me.

I will say again who I am to remember where I begin to know where I go. I am a Quechua person who’s been assimilated as a byproduct of colonialism and U.S. imperialism. Essentially my abuelos in Peru wanted a “better life” and went to the city (Lima), that was corrupt by instability in government (U.S. imperialism + the after affects of spanish colonization). Then because of the instability of Peru and Lima, during the Shining Path era, my family thought the next “better life” would be the U.S. They move to New York, then Connecticut and now my body exists and takes space on Narragansett land.

It means I was not raised in a community of Quechua people aside from my immediate family. My family’s knowledge keepers have tried to assimilate to U.S. colonialist and imperialist cultures and values to protect my family. This doesn’t work. It’s an ongoing struggle to try to come to terms with the reality that you will never be on the same level as those who the hierarchical institutions was created for. It a discussion-conversation-argument-fight my family and I have presently. Why I feel so far away sometimes. The dissonance in understanding of the systems that we are forced to exist within (colonial, capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative systems).

These systems and the people who created them, have a designated place for you and that place is beneath. A system built on coloniality will never recognize the invisible objects that are designated to uphold them. It is important to remember that in the eyes of the colonizer you will always be seen as an object. A token. A commodity.

For colonialism to hear your voice and actually listen, that system must acknowledge every piece of control upheld. Every heinous crime and act it has instilled on nonconsenting bodies, that relies on your existence within it. If they admit this though, everything falls apart. They lose control, lose power, and this is devastating to anyone who is trying to keep the pieces of decay at bay. Grabbing at bones that are turning to dust and calling it a body that works.

You then, are the hand and the pin of a grenade, you are the explosion, everything and nothing. Potential energy encased in a rulebook and that you don’t/didn’t/can’t have words to speak your tongue (yet/still). That you you are expected to play the role and fit the part. Be the thing. These bodies.

To try to exist like this, to meet white expectations is to stick your body beneath theirs, to fit as legs of a table that those above will eat on. There is no seat at the table for you. There never will be. If there is, they have made you believe being a chair is the equivalent of being a person.

In colonialism, you are better seen and not heard, because if they listen they have to acknowledge that every piece of control that relies on your existence diminishes their own power. The solution lies within breaking the table.

This writing of course, exists within said institution, and as such is both for my peers and myself who are existing within this system. It is also for those who aren’t here in this room with me, to the people who aren’t playing the game of academia.

People who didn’t get it, didn’t want to get it. Academia to clarify, is a game– one that was made to make folks feel smart and boost ego, withhold knowledge, push intellect to create hierarchy above you and everyone else who doesn’t get to write this script.
You cannot decolonize a colonial institution. To do so is to undo the institution itself. This relation of submission serves the hierarchy of the institution, and accepts designation, taking away self determination of a sovereign self.


Potential New Beginnings, Investments for Continuity, Visibility – Abena Danquah, B.ARCH 2023

What an experience this journey has been! In this post I will be highlighting one of my last interviews with Mr Kwesi Ntiamoah, a Kente weaver who has been involved in the trade for decades! I remember walking into the Accra Arts center, asking any artisan who was willing for an interview or to learn more about their trade. When I got to this stand with Kente fabrics, from the wrappers to sewn clothing, there were about three men guarding the area. I asked if I could interview them about the cloth and their process, and one of them told me to wait for 5 minutes. He exclaimed that I was in luck, the man who actually wove them was in the back and he’d call him at once. This was a great amount of luck because most of my encounters at the center had been with people who were selling the crafts on behalf of the artisans themselves.

Through our time, I got to know how Kwesi had gotten into the trade, having been introduced to weaving by his father and how much of an impact it’s had on his own life and journey. He shared how the industry could generally do with some more support, and more so that being in training of the artisans and them being invested into. That was a new perspective for me because with most interviews, we’d focused on how the work of the artisans was being patronized and supported from the side of the customers or those interested. What hasn’t really been taken into much consideration has been the encouragement on more people actually getting into the industry as artisans themselves. More and more, people are not encouraged by the difficulty that comes with being an artisan or artist in Accra, from the lack of investment in their craft to the unpredictability of the trade without a strong network or support system. While my experience has focused on how to gather more support and interest into the work of these artist and artisans, another important angle to consider also is how can more people be encouraged to pursue their interests in being an artist or artisan with the existing financial and socio-economic barriers or concerns that are currently causing disinterest.

Mini Interview where Kwesi shared his thoughts on the industry and his personal craft.
Looking through Kwesi’s Fabrics and Works


I’ve made wonderful encounters through this experience and learnt so much from the artisans I’ve met. I do wish I had met more female artisans as while I did encounter a few working in the industry, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet as many at the forefront of the crafts/ artisan work per se. Despite the summer experience coming to an end, I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of much needed personal and general curatorial journey, working towards the visibility and empowerment of more and more artisans and artists in Accra and beyond.

What’s next?

I will continue to work with the Diaspora Affairs Office, wrapping up on the database successfully and exploring the possibility of working with the artisans collectively in the near future.


Familiarizing Ourselves with Teaching Material- Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, BFA ID 2023 and Mei Zheng, BFA ID 2023

Familiarizing Ourselves with Teaching Material- Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, BFA ID 2023 and Mei Zheng, BFA ID 2023

Written by Carmen

Hello everyone! I’m excited to share the journey Mei Zheng, my internship partner, and I have gone through during our Maharam Fellowship this summer. We’ve decided to write the blog in tandem to provide both of our perspectives with clarity.

Week 1 & 2 – 

We began the internship with one remote week in order to familiarize ourselves with some of the past lesson plans that HYPOTHEkids have done to serve as points of reference for our own lesson plan. We met with our supervisor, Liv Newkirk, who is the Program Manager for HYPOTHEkids’ Bio-force program, for the first time on Zoom. This was helpful in transitioning to our in-person interactions the following week.

We were introduced to the HYPOTHEkids headquarters in West Harlem, NYC and met the lovely staff. We finally got to meet with the Director Christine Kovich in person after having been in contact solely through zoom and email. Liv Newkirk familiarized us with the program we were intended to teach called the Pathways to Graduation Program, which I will explain next.

The Pathways to Graduation Program: 8 week program for newly immigrated students who come with varying levels of English proficiency to earn their GED (High School Equivalency Diploma) which is supported by the NYC Department of Education (DOE). The students vary in age from 16-23 years old and the cohort was composed of 25 students. There was a 2 week rotation starting at the Beam Center (located in Red Hook, Brooklyn), then our 2 week rotation through HYPOTHEkids, followed by another 2 weeks with Solar One, and to end with two weeks back at Beam Center for the students. This was a collaborative program with the three non-profits as well as the NYCDOE. For the first few weeks of our fellowship, we had to prepare the lesson plan since we were taking the lead for the HYPOTHEkids 2 week rotation that happened from June 5th to July 14th 2022.

It was fascinating to learn about the collaborations that occur in non-profit spaces. It is something I didn’t know occurred but I’m glad they do because they create more enriching programs and experiences for both the organizers, facilitators, and beneficiaries. 

Week 3 – 

It was proposed by our supervisor, Liv, to focus our lesson plan on using heart rate sensors with Arduino hardware/software. In preparation for that, we were able to join an Arduino and coding class taught by Liv that is under one of the high school internship programs that HYPOTHEkids organizes. The classes are taught at Columbia University’s Engineering building which is a few blocks away from HYPOTHEkids’ headquarters. We wanted to familiarize ourselves with the Arduino software before teaching it in our intended lesson plan for the Pathways to Graduation Program. It was interesting to find similarities between the design and engineering methods of thinking, because we do end up using similar terms but then have different definitions. For example, as Industrial Designers we do not necessarily have to worry about our products working if they are “looks-like” models but for Biomedical Engineers that is what comes first.

While we were at Columbia, we observed the Bioforce students who were learning how to code which was helpful in getting ourselves familiar with a classroom environment that would be somewhat similar to ours in the following weeks. 

Below are some images of our attempts at using Arduino:

June 30th, 2022 – First Visit to the Beam Center:

We were invited to see the final projects of the Beam Center’s first rotation on Thursday, June 30th. We got to meet the students before officially teaching, which was nice to see how they interacted with each other and how they introduced themselves to the guests when explaining their personal projects. The prompt was to make Identity Boxes using an Arduino code that allowed some of their elements in their dioramas to move such as a paper robot head, the sun, a llama, a ferris wheel, their flags, etc. It was heartwarming to see what they chose to include in their boxes. Some of the guests that came to see the student work were members of the DOE who I imagine came to see how the new programming was going.

Some students included pictures of their family, aspirations they have in life; one of the students wanted to become a nurse so she included images of medical professionals; another student loves to dance so she included a rotating silhouette of a ballerina in the center of the box with her family in the background overlooking the sunset. This moment was impactful to me because some were open to sharing their stories about why they are in the program and in the United States and some were away from their immediate family so they missed them. I truly appreciated their sincerity and trust through our conversations that were guided by their identity boxes. This influenced the way we were going to structure our classes in terms of trying to relate the topic that we would be teaching to their lives for them to have a personalized experience or at least know that we understand where they are coming from and want to meet them where they are collectively.

What’s Next?

We look forward to sharing insights on our first weeks of teaching in the next posts. It was lovely meeting the students at the Beam Center in that type of environment before our formal teaching.