The Dutch embassy in Ethiopia lies on the southern outskirts of Addis Ababa, in a eucalyptus grove set amidst urban sprawl. The main building, an elongated horizontal volume of 140 by 15 metres, cuts across the sloping terrain on an east-west axis. A driveway passes through it at first-floor level, separating the ambassador’s residence from the chancellery.
Pigmented the same red-ochre as the Ethiopian earth, the walls, floors and ceilings are all composed of the same material, creating the effect of a cavernous space in concrete. While this is reminiscent of the rock-hewn architecture of Ethiopia, the roof garden, with its network of shallow pools, alludes to a Dutch water landscape. Other contemporary Dutch themes are expressed in the building’s programmatic diversity, transparency and daring cantilevers – the totemic sight of the cantilevering roof marks the entry porch at the eastern end.
The compound of the embassy in Addis Ababa has been in use by the Dutch since the 1940s. The brief called for a new chancellery and ambassador’s residence, along with the renovation and extension of the existing villa (which now serves as the deputy ambassador’s house) and the addition of three staff houses. As the project developed, a small school building and a new gatehouse were added to the programme.
The project was commissioned in 1998 by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of a special programme to construct new embassy buildings that represent contemporary Dutch culture while paying due respect to the country in which they are based. Especially in Third World countries, the desire to respond to local culture, climate and sensitivities makes collaboration with local professionals a prerequisite for a project.