Meles Zenawi Memorial Park

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2013–21

Located on the northern edge of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, the Meles Zenawi Memorial Park is a vast, landscaped garden mapped out by a long, continuous path. The topography of the site alternates between contemplative gathering points and vistas over the city and the surrounding landscape. Along the path, are a number of key features, including a series of pavilions that are inspired by Ethiopia’s recent history and political developments, and a campus housing the offices, workspaces, and conference facilities of the Meles Zenawi Foundation.

The campus comprises five buildings that exhibit striking, individual architectural concepts – an outlook and reception area; a guest house; offices; a research centre; and a library. The design’s emphasis on sculpting the spaces between and around the buildings integrates the foundation into the landscaped park, and creates an inviting environment for visitors along the campus’s winding and shaded stone path.

In 2013, after Olafur had been working in Ethiopia on various projects – in his position as an adjunct professor at the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design at Addis Ababa University; in workshops he organised with students from his Institut für Raumexperimente; and in projects initiated with Little Sun, the Meles Zenawi Foundation invited Studio Other Spaces to create the Meles Zenawi Memorial Park in collaboration with the local architects Fasil Giorghis and Kidus Hailesilassie. Varnero PLC joined the project as contractor, Quartet Art Studio was responsible for stone work, Transsolar for the energetic concept, Brook Teklehaimanot acted as advising partner between Addis Ababa and Berlin, and Vogt Landscape Architects joined the project for the landscape design of the park and the gardens surrounding each building.

The park, publicly accessible to anyone interested in spending some time overlooking the city and adjacent nature, reflects on the political aspirations of early twenty-first century Ethiopia and Meles’s personal journey. It is a site for difference and debate, and creates a space that not only looks at the past but also encourages visitors to become the protagonists of Ethiopia’s future.

The Park

In 2016 Vogt Landscape Architecture joined the project to create curated gardens along the campus path and individual concepts for the landscape surrounding each building. The path follows the topography of the site and boasts flowers, trees, and stones gathered from all regions of the country, achieving a co-existence of naturally and regionally distinctive traits. In addition, the site features water prominently in a number of settings, a tactile gesture to the resource’s continued importance for the growth of the nation.

The Pavilions in the Park

Stretching along seven commemorative stations on the western side of the park, a memorial trail traces the childhood, education and services of Meles Zenawi, aiming at representing the upbringing and political circumstances of his generation and what it must have meant to grow up in Ethiopia during this period.

The Outlook

This exhibition and reception area occupies the site’s most prominent panoramic point and is the campus landmark most visible from Addis Ababa proper. The structure unites various conference and exhibition functions under one large roof. The Outlook’s expansive rooftop terrace offers sweeping views of both the city below and the neighbouring botanical gardens.

The Guest House

A collection of brightly painted, freestanding walls arrayed in concentric rings outlines the perimeter of the Guest House. While they screen the individual residences from view, the segmented walls allow the park to flow through the communal spaces between them, imparting porosity to the building. The vivid colouration of the rough-plastered wall segments tints the spaces between and within the living spaces, creating different chromatic atmospheres according to the intensity of the sunlight.

The Office Building

As structurally dynamic as they are transparent, the Meles Zenawi Foundation offices are housed in an ascending spiral, with walkways wrapped around the Office Building’s interior and exterior, offering a variety of meeting spaces and adaptable work areas. The pervasive use of glass endows the building with a cross-sectional visibility. The building’s transparency and flowing sequence of spaces express the openness, introspection, and cooperation that drive the foundation’s work.

The Research Centre

Situated in a terraced landscape, the campus’s Research Centre hosts circular workspaces organised around a central meeting place, which allows for ease of communication among researchers. The building’s unorthodox design creates a striking presence within the landscape and, in a way comparable to how sculpture defines space, frames the public terraces cascading out from beneath it.

The Library

The Meles Zenawi Foundation Library is designed as an ascending and expanding spiral, a shape that gestures to the Library’s possible expansion and to the constant growth potential of knowledge. The spiralling floor is sectioned into alternating collection and reading spaces; calmer zones are contrasted with common areas for exchange that are afforded by the spiral staircase at the centre of the structure. The central spiral, with sunlight from above lighting the space, offers a variety of seating and reading arrangements. While the closed, solid exterior suggests the introverted nature of the building’s use for reading and study, a patio at the upper end of the spiral provides an expansive panorama and space for outdoor recreation.

Client: Meles Zenawi Foundation
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Date: 2013–21
Collaborators: Fasil Giorghis Architects, Vogt Landscape Architects