This complex serves one of South Africa’s most important missions abroad being the seat of the African Union and provides for both bilateral and multi-lateral functions. The complex also houses staff housing and recreational facilities all built to the required level of security yet hospitality required of a representative building.
The brief was to use the chancery to express South Africa’s commitment to and importance in Africa while recognizing the significance of Ethiopia in Africa’s cultural, political and spiritual history, and as important to reinforce the diplomatic bond between the two countries. In particular the design was to explore the potential of cultural heritage as a generator of economic development and bonding.
The chancery complex consists of the main building of around 5000m2, a staff recreation centre and three staff residences. The regulations and restrictions of the region allowed the building to only rise to a height of ground plus three levels and thus explaining the horizontally spread.
Situated on the corner of a busy and noisy street the complex is largely introverted with an internal atria and courtyards providing privacy for various functions. These atria and courtyards not only light the spaces in the building but aid in air movement and natural ventilation of the same.
The monolithic mountain churches of Ethiopia with their small openings inspire the buildings massing and volumes. The internal flow and overlap of spaces both horizontally and vertically provide exposed and abrupt spaces that occur throughout the design and create a deny and reward effect to any use of the space. There is almost a different experience at any single point in the building
External materials are local pink granite and a thathritic stone abundant in Addis but laid to different coursing to create drama and surprise while black Zimbabwean granite is used as accents.
The building is enveloped in a silver veil as an overall sunshade, designed to screen the sun and the diplomatic affairs in the public areas. Developed in collaboration with South African award-winning artist Usha Seejarim the veil consists of a stainless steel mesh with pop-riveted depictions of Khoisan rock art. The Khoisan believe that the rockface is a veil between this and the metaphysical world. It is also inspired by the Ethiopian silversmith tradition of various crosses. This shows the how the different traditions have been merged in one design to achieve an aesthetically sound façade. Also In this way the design is an attempt to layer the great rock traditions of the Ethiopian churches and rock forms and material cultural heritages of both Ethiopia and South Africa’s indigenous people.
This is one building that presents an image of Africa in the modern times. It is not romantic about the past or futile in depicting modern design.