Dencity 2017: Special Mention

Arrival Market

Entry by: Arnout De Schryver


One third of the world’s population is currently on the move from village to city. A move that started from the existence of the modern human, accelerated shortly after world war II and recently accelerated even more.

In 1950, 309 million people in the developing world lived in cities, by 2030, 3.9 billion will. Since 2008, exactly half of the world’s population lived in villages, most of them in Africa and Asia, including all of the poorest people in the world (families that earn less than 1$ a day). But this is changing fast. By 2050 cities will need to absorb 3.1 billion people more. For the first time in history of humankind, the population of rural areas will stop growing and even decreasing with 600 million by 2050. Some critics claim that by the end of this decade the entire world will be urbanised like the western world, this marking an end point in the constant urbanisation since the existence of humankind. History learns us once humans are urbanised they almost never return to rural area’s again.

Rural migration is not different in Addis Abeba. Hosting 30 per cent of the urban population in Ethiopia, with an annual urbanisation rate of 4,89 per cent (2015): the capital of Ethiopia and its diplomatic centre of Africa, Addis Abeba is one of the fastest growing cities of the African continent. Addis Abeba is forecasting a serious urbanisation. UN Habitat estimates that by 2024 the population in Addis Abeba will triple from its approximately 4 million inhabitants (2014) to approximately 12 million inhabitants (2024).

As a city bordered by steep mountains, geographic growth is on the contrary limited. Other and dense building typologies are therefore necessary to provide a resilient answer that can accept the ongoing demographic growth.

Every day numerous of rural migrants arrive in the so called slums, favelas or bidonvilles. Emerging markets inside the city centre, its informal settlements and the millions of transactions happening on a daily base are an inherent product of this great urbanisation. It is no shame for a city to have informal settlements and emerging markets on its streets. In fact it shows economic and social development. A study about this issue by the world bank (2009), concluded that the fastest way to poverty reduction and economic growth for developing countries is by providing sufficient investments and infrastructure for the rural migrants inside the city. But the challenge in Addis Abeba is not only to invest and improve the current situation but how to allow and embrace the serious population increase in order to create a balanced economic growth and poverty reduction. Can architecture contribute to the complex social and economic puzzle in urbanisation by providing a resilient urban infrastructure to reduce the very often difficult steps in urbanisation?

The project is situated in one of the most complex and layered neighbourhoods in the centre of Addis Abeba: the Merkato area and provides several strategies in order to create a different, positive direction for the wider community. The Merkato area is acting as a central arrival platform for urbanisation and the project will focus on the rural migrant and its importance for a city in growth. The project aims to answer the question:

This project can embrace steps in urbanization and provides the infrastructure for a shoecleaner, a streetseller, a shopowner and a house, without reducing the amount of improvisation and improves the health, inhabiting and waste disposal conditions.

To date, the Merkato area witnesses a drastic change. Due to its central position in the city both, national and international developers are currently buying significant parts of the Merkato area to build posh, westerns inspired shopping malls. The average lease price raised from 1990 to 2016 with an astonishing 9941 per cent from 3 541 birr/m² (+- 145 EUR) to 355 555 Birr/m² (+- 14 500 EUR), prices equal to New York and thus making it impossible for any local associations, or even NGO’s to obtain any land by auction. The Dubai fever hit Merkato as never before and is creating a severe threat for the former shop owners and rural migrants using the market as a platform for urbanisation.

Unfortunately, a great amount of those investments are ignoring several vital steps in the process from rural to urban. Massive investments are not effective and urbanisation is made even more difficult. The conclusions by the world bank study seems to be forgotten.

The re- development of Merkato should not only go through massive top down investments forcing the commercial value through the sky. Authorities fail to realize that economic growth, poverty reduction and modernisation is most effective by well thought investments that do not ignore the essential principles of urbanisation.

Urbanisation is built on the logic of a bootstrap: a self- starting process that is supposed to proceed without any external input. A basic infrastructure or a strong backbone can be provided. An infrastructure that allow and embrace the self-maintenance process of urbanisation.

The Concept

A layered context asks for a layered, but simple architectural proposal. The proposed infrastructure will be developed from two different directions. A basic top down investment invested by NGO’s, the government, or both and an organically grown bottom up investment by its users (rural migrants).

The basic top down investment will be a clean structural grid, built with a mix of prefab concrete elements and “in situ” poured concrete. The structural principle and material choice is based on the local knowledge and cheap but strong, easy at hand materials. The scale, dimension and organisation of the structural grid is based on several strategies that we maintained in order to provide an infrastructure that indeed allows and embrace the self-maintenance process of urbanisation.

1.Spatial organisation: The project investigates the existing spatial organisation of the context from its urban scale till the scale of one shop or house. The infrastructure on its turn is designed by a way that this existing spatial organisation can be maintained. Since the Merkato works as a very efficient “machine” it was important to maintain this organisation.

2.Informal economy: Shoe cleaners, onion ladies, etc… they are all part of the Merkato. The project indeed accepts the importance of informal economy for urbanisation. The infrastructure provides the basic backbone for this informal economy, from benches for the shoe cleaners till platforms for the street sellers.

3.Harvesting the city:
By maintain and even strengthen the existing solid waste collecting network, by providing the infrastructure for a constructed wetland and by providing the infrastructure for dry ventilated latrines, the project indeed proposes three different strategies to reduce the environmental impact for Addis Abeba.

4. Small scale principles: The structural grid can be built in five independent phases where the centre (the central staircase) of the infrastructure is the first phase and where four other parts of the infrastructure can be connected to this central core like epiphytes. This makes it possible that the temporary relocation of the former land owners is kept on its minimum.

The position of the columns is defined by a small scale, and locally very popular (Arkebe) shop. The columns of the structural grid can by this be used as the formal borders for the shops and houses. This is on a scale that fits perfect with the local shop owners.

5. Ruralising the urban: The project investigates the organisation and traditions of rural houses. The infrastructure embraces the same organisation and traditions (like cooking outside) and emphasises the importance of rural traditions in the urban context. The structural grid (the urban infrastructure) provides a basic platform that allows bottom up development by its users. The infrastructure can be seen as the formal backbone that allows informal growth. The basic rules are given, the incredible amount of creativity by its users can be maintained.

6. Different appropriation:
In a variable context such as Addis Abeba it is important to provide strategies how space can be appropriated in a different, “non planned” way. Political situations, social relations and the context is always under the constant pressure of change, so space, and the use of space can change too. Can the infrastructure react on this un-planned type of different appropriations? In section and plan we investigated different “un-planned” scenario’s and how the infrastructure can change or react on that.

About the entrant

Arnout De Schryver was born in Belgium and recently graduated as an architect at KU Leuven (Faculty of architecture). His master dissertation focussed on a specific site in Addis Abeba and he travelled during 2015 and 2016 several times to Ethiopia and Addis Abeba. Arnout’s master dissertation project is done within the framework of the Streetscape Territories research framework, led by Professor Doctor Kris Scheerlinck. Streetscape Territories is the name given to an international research project (KU Leuven, Department of Architecture) that focuses on the transformation of the urban fabric and considers its streetscapes the protagonists.

Arnout is currently a freelance architect working on projects of different scales. From February 2017 he will start as a guest teacher at KU Leuven as part of a design studio focussing on Addis Abeba and its infrastructure.