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Exploring the buildings and pavilions of Meles Zenawi Park, Ethiopia

Nahom Teklu Bekele

The campus park for the Meles Zenawi Foundation in Addis Ababa, designed by artist Olafur Eliasson’s practice Studio Other Spaces with Sebastian Behmann, features discrete architectural marvels connected by winding paths

View of the landscaped courtyard of the Meles Zenawi Foundation’s Guest House.
View of the landscaped courtyard of the Meles Zenawi Foundation’s Guest House. Credit: Studio Other Spaces

Juxtaposed against a surreal cityscape vista from the foothills of Mount Entoto, covering 65ha of land nearly 2,700m above sea level, surrounded by wild, untouched forests, Meles Zenawi Park is located at the most northerly edge of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. The park, named after the country’s former, late prime minister, is a cameo of architectural and landscape marvels; transparent, honest, and inclusive socio-political stories of the state of Ethiopia embedded into them as you wander its winding garden paths.

It was designed by the Berlin-based architectural practice Studio Other Spaces, co-founded by architect Sebastian Behmann and the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, and consists of a 2.4km-long pedestrian path dotted with two building types: pavilions and campus buildings for the Meles Zenawi Foundation. Pavilions are accompanied by well-sculpted patios, social meeting spaces, and gardens in the landscape, portraying key events of Ethiopia’s recent history. The campus, meanwhile, comprises five stand-alone buildings, each with different design concepts, materials and creative interpretations. This campus houses the foundation’s administrative quarters with workspace, office, library and meeting hall buildings. In this way, it has subtlety rather than pandering to any monumental aspects. Garden walks offer those distinct yet beautifully aligned ‘stories’ side-by-side; all rendered through architecture, landscaping and the nature beyond.

The park opens its welcoming arms to visitors with its first and charismatic architectural encounter, The Outlook, which successfully maintains and even transfigures into the recent Ethiopian political history, with its location tangential to both the rural and urban contexts.

Its highly prevalent and rhythmic conifers of indigenous African juniper and the other natural landscaping act as harmonising tools stretching across the park, which offers a breathtaking and visceral experience of nature for visitors while its paths sequence for them the life of Meles Zenawi.

In totality, the park is read and experienced as an eloquent apotheosis of reverberations of Ethiopia’s recent socio-political history, dancing alongside architectural and landscaping ‘amusements’, all set within heavenly surroundings.

  • The Outlook interior and oculus.
    The Outlook interior and oculus. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Outlook interior view.
    The Outlook interior view. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Outlook exterior view.
    The Outlook exterior view. Credit: Studio Other Spaces

The campus

‘Each building has a topic’ – Sebastian Behmann

The Meles Zenawi Foundation campus is a collection of five individual buildings, making up a sequence of routes and vestibule spaces between them. The five architectural elements synchronise perfectly with the site, both defining paths evolving from them and subscribed to them. These paths have shaded adjacencies, their rough stone-finished pavements stretching across the 2.4km-long park campus.

The Outlook

The Outlook is the face of the park and the very first encounter with a bold and circular shaped form, a terracing amphitheatrical courtyard. A wide-open roof aims to capture a majestic vista from within the park to the mesmerising cityscape of Addis Ababa.

This building is eye-catching in its circular shape, with horizontally bamboo-grooved lines of curved concrete and a bright earthy colour visually merging into the immediate surroundings. Its sculptural nature creates an eloquent play of solid and void spaces, while also privileging The Outlook as the most appealing, contiguous, and symbolic representation of the park.

The Outlook creates a successful spatial play with the openness, embracing, and co-existing aspects of the nature around its vicinity. It welcomes and enables social gathering and sociability by providing a gentle reception and meeting space, accompanied with facilities, above and below ground level, such as a café, exhibition and conference spaces.

  • The Guest House courtyard.
    The Guest House courtyard. Credit: Studio Other Spaces
  • The Guest House exterior view.
    The Guest House exterior view. Credit: Studio Other Spaces
  • The Guest House internal room.
    The Guest House internal room. Credit: Studio Other Spaces

The Guest House

‘The Sun can be a design tool’ – Sebastian Behmann

The Guest House is a single-storey transit space between The Outlook and the main body of the park, with a central courtyard garden populated with indigenous vegetation.

Inspired by local vernacular and the colour palettes of houses at Harar in Eastern Ethiopia, the Guest House is characterised by its vibrant freestanding walls demarcating a central oasis, boldly open to the sky. Masonry walls have a suitably rugged texture in different bold colours, each playing amazingly with the ferocity of the local sunlight. 

A series of porous and concentric walls creates the appended spaces of the Guest House, forming a circular corridor, residence units, and mini communal spaces. This building abstractly melts to the modest slope of the site and, in this way, it seems like a form of ‘architectural plant’. As a result of its generous openness and controlled porosity, it also simulates visitors, giving the feeling of being inside and outside at the same time and allowing immediate yet subtle views to the outside from almost anywhere inside.  

  • The Office Building exterior view.
    The Office Building exterior view. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Office Building desk areas.
    The Office Building desk areas. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Office Building circulation zone.
    The Office Building circulation zone. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Office Building in its setting.
    The Office Building in its setting. Credit: VOGT Landscape

The Office Building

The Office Building is a three-storey building created as a result of the site’s upward, slight and ascending gradient, weaving a spiral building form with a central walkway. With extensive glazed walls, the office building maximises the engagement of the administration spaces with the park by connoting values of openness, democracy, cooperation, and inclusion – the generic principles of the foundation.

Glazing gives the office building a particularly contemporary look while also enabling workspaces to be easily moved and customised. The spiral walkways welcome and extend the materiality and patterns of the campus paths to the building while radially flanking dynamic office spaces. The pattern implies the administration building has a social agenda with the public, challenging the traditional, hierarchical status quo of administration buildings.

  • The Research Centre internal view.
    The Research Centre internal view. Credit: Studio Other Spaces
  • The Research Centre in its setting.
    The Research Centre in its setting. Credit: Michael Tsegaye

The Research Centre

The research centre is a set of five, wide circles in plan, extruding upwards and outwards to all conjoin at upper level. It is a massive and sculptural manifestation – an unusual and vivid building with super-imaginative interior spaces that are powerfully illuminated.

Its bold and organic bulbous form, mantled with pigmented stone pebbles, grades from black-grey at the bottom to a yellowish, earthy-coloured top. Its lower level has a central cave-like patio while the first-floor contains a research and social space, topped by a majestic rotunda with top and side openings.

Looking from here, the roof form resembles the akebia quinata, also known as the chocolate vine, with five circular openings to pull in natural light. The Research Centre feels highly internalised in nature and it is remarkable for its daring form and organic expression; formed of highly contextual materials and with a specific and unique interior ambience.

  • The Library circulation area.
    The Library circulation area. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Library external view.
    The Library external view. Credit: Studio Other Spaces
  • The Library stacks and reading areas.
    The Library stacks and reading areas. Credit: Michael Tsegaye

The Library

The Library is a three-storey spiral building with a dominant central staircase, full of planting, which coils up the building. Next to it is a dynamic spiral and stepped floor that will create adjacent library spaces for both readers and visitors. The building has an open space on the rooftop that provides a panoramic vista, offering space for outdoor study or social activities.

The central spiral way sculpts a cylindrical void for lighting and ventilation and air conditioning when called for, opening up centrally towards the sky. In doing so, it also engenders feelings of hope and enlightenment, both highly pertinent knowledge values.  

This building has a brutalist look due to its louvred concrete facade, which chamfers across the perimeter with three lines of encircling openings.

  • The Park public toilet area.
    The Park public toilet area. Credit: Brook Teklahaimanot
  • The Debate Pavilion.
    The Debate Pavilion. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Education Pavilion.
    The Education Pavilion. Credit: Michael Tsegaye
  • The Constitution Pavilion.
    The Constitution Pavilion. Credit: Studio Other Spaces

The Pavilions – the memorial paths

‘Storytelling through discovery’ - Sebastian Behmann

The seven Pavilions are abstract installations dotted across different parts of the park, connected by a 2.4km-long memorial path passing through groves of African juniper and other tropical plants.

The path is intended to sequence and narrate the childhood, education and service of Zenawi. The story unwinding along the paths and the pavilions mainly focuses on the socio-political conditions of his time and assumptions about the growth and development of the nation during this period. 

The Observatory is a visitor gathering place, the beginning of the memorial trail, and a landmark pavilion. It has four pillars from where shadows fall from a skylight via an oculus on the roof. This pavilion has an optical device, Kaleidoscope, for visitors to experience fragmented panoramas of the east, north, west, and south of Addis Ababa.

The Education pavilion is aimed at showing the global significance of education and knowledge, all under the full canopy of an Erythrina abyssinica tree. It emphasises the role of learning, and know-how in establishing aspects of Zenawi's persona. The Debate pavilion is a stone-bench encircled pavilion of concentric circles, whose floor is made of tamped earth materials from all over Ethiopia. It signifies the role of discussion, discourse, and debate for developing thinking and ideation maintained throughout Zenawi's life.

Struggle is the fourth pavilion; a concrete intervention within a hillside. It has a wide table, and seats formed of 17 segments of wood set in an 'adversarial' layout, intimating the 17 years of Zenawi's revolutionary struggle. Transition is the fifth pavilion, offering the confluence of two paths, made of stone and wood. This indicates the role of understanding the past – the means of experience and wisdom while harnessing movement towards future progress.

Constitution pavilion is the sixth, formed of rhythmical yet irregular stone blocks popping up in an amphitheatre format. These serve as seating areas facing the central circular space and indicate equality in a circular, democratic form while reminding visitors of the efforts of the late prime minister’s strive towards prosperity through connection to the law and the constitution. The Nursery is the final pavilion. It has majestic lighting due to its tree-like wooden structures and open, transparent roof. This pavilion engenders future optimism, providing a space for the controlled growth of young plants.

Meles Zenawi Tomb

Zenaw's’ final resting place is a stone cave with a circular entrance, hollowed-out inside, easily identifiable by its mausoleum look. Its roof is a gentle terrace of local plants and vegetation, which silently furnishes the tomb; peacefully and calmly respecting the place and indeed the reticent nature of the late prime minister.


Area 65ha
Location Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Start of construction 2013
Client Meles Zenawi Foundation
Architects Fasil Giorghis and Kidus Hailesilassie
Landscape design Vogt Landscape Architecture
Adviser Brook Teklehaimanot
Contractor Varnero 
Stonework Quartet Art Studio

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