Summer Semester 18
Urban design studio
12,5 ECTS

Cooperation with EiABC Addis Ababa (AA)

Cooperation with Emerging Cities Lab (ECL)

Ute Vees



As a traditionally rural-agrarian country, Ethiopia’s urban population is roughly 20 percent and thereby one of the lowest in the sub-Saharan region. For centuries, the country remained relatively unaffected by colonialization and globalization. The country’s current social, political, and cultural character is to a large extent defined by its continuous isolation throughout history. Today, as a result of intended industrialization processes and of a significant population growth, the East African country is under substantial urbanization pressure. The authoritarian government reacts with an ambitious yet to be developed program that aims to build up to 8,000 so-called urban rural centers over the coming years and decades. It is challenging without a doubt, and it is exciting – at least for urban designers and planners. One way or the other, Ethiopia faces currently a far-reaching lack of capacities, professionals, and tools to tackle the task. Furthermore, there is a huge gap between the local academic debates in the matter and the government’s approach.

In the summer semester 2018, the polycentric city region of Hawassa, located 270 kilometers south of Addis Abeba, served as urban-design studio laboratory to think about how to guide rapid urbanization in the mentioned context, characterized by poverty, environmental devastation, and the lack of infrastructure whatsoever. Ethiopia’s current and future challenges can also be seen as a burning mirror of new urban phenomena. In the urban design studio »Urbanizing Ethiopia. Hawassa«, the complex topic was approached in a research-by-design methodology, developing research-led yet design-based strategies and projects, while understanding the design process itself as continuous and critical research loop. Eight students participated in the studio; six of them were enrolled at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design, and two of them were visiting students from the EiABC-AAU, Addis Abeba. The students worked first in specific topics becoming experts in their fields, and shared later their knowledge by working jointly on one large-scale urban design project.

The work process in the urban studio was characterized by a high complexity and an even higher conflict potential, whereat the students had to switch between global, local, and specific topics and challenges. In order to develop an overall concept, the Ethiopian-German group worked simultaneously on various scales – from strategic planning to specific design projects. One of the key aspects was the design-led investigation of how the development of secondary cities like Hawassa could significantly contribute to a productive and sustainable urbanization process. The goal was not to develop a classical masterplan with land-use plans and building plans. The focus was rather on the green space, the public space, and the open space as well as the on the landscape as structuring elements, and to further link it with stakeholder-based, collaborative design strategies. Job creation, or probably, rather creating the framework that might enable the creation of jobs was another key aspect of the urban design studio.

The semester was accompanied by Ethiopian and local professionals from research and practice as well as from various backgrounds, exposing the studio outputs regularly to a critical assessment. The final presentation took place at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, where one branch of the »Emerging Cities Lab Addis Abeba« is located.

Eight students participated in the studio –  six of them from the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and two of them from the EiABC-AAU, Addis Abeba.