This major civic complex combines administrative and recreational buildings and is located in an elevated position on Churchill Avenue in central Addis Ababa. It includes municipal offices as well as cultural spaces such as a theatre, cinema, restaurant, bars and a library. One of city’s modernist landmarks, it was built for Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie I during the great construction boom which engulfed Addis between the mid-1950s and late 1960s.
So closely does the building embody the emperor’s political efforts to instrumentalise modernisation (including architecture and urban development) to consolidate his absolutist hold on power, that the architect who designed it, Italian Arturo Mezzadimi, says it has become known as one of the most notable ‘works of the regime’.
The central tower evokes traditional Ethiopian monumentalism, such as the great obelisks of Axum, which are fused with modernist monumentality. The building thus represents the material collision between an ancient imperial order and the cutting-edge global architectural fashions of the 1960s.
Interestingly, in contrast to Addis’s buildings of state hidden behind fences and designed to intimidate the populace, the openness of the building to both observation and participation has been said to represent an effort to paternalistically embrace, rather than intimidate, the city’s citizens.
Photo: Courtesy of Archivio Privato Mezzedimi
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