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Friday, September 23, 2011

Ethiopia: Meskel Square is getting a face lift

By Mulugeta Demissie

Meskel Square is set to have a radically new look according to plans made under the Beautification, Park and Cemetery Development and Administration Agency. The agency has recently made official its plan to radically change the appearance and usage of the square – backing a design that has vehicles traveling under the surface of the square leaving the ground level free for pedestrian usage. The new design was created by three Ethiopian architects who were one of the seven entrees in a competition instituted by the agency to create the best new design for Meskel square. The three winners were awarded first rank and 80,000 birr. The new design is expected to cost 500 million birr, not including fine details.
The new design was conceived under the concept that the square could be made into a place that was more valuable and functional to non-vehicle users. Currently the square is simply a crossroads for cars coming from six different directions with only some small part of the square being used for recreational and sporting activities. Even the part that is used in this way can hardly be considered a pleasant space because of the noise and smoke of passing vehicles. Under the new design people will benefit from the square with the space being available for all sorts of recreational activities. However, there will also be a space at the top of the square, available for vehicles for use on holidays and for public ceremonies. Fire accident vehicles and vehicles of VIP personnel can use the upper part of the square on these special occasions. Another concept of the design was that the space should be made useful for everyday activities and not just for special occasions.
The brief given by deputy manager and the core process owner Tegegne Tofu was that the new design should include a library, cafe and restaurants, statutes which are registered by UNESCO, designs which can express the cultures and traditions of the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia, and sport activity areas. Yonas, one of the designers, told Capital that the walls will be decorated by statutes which will promote the nations and nationalities of Ethiopia and “Ginbot 20”May 29. In addition, there will be a water feature that will follow the wall going from Bole up to Saint Joseph school. An exercise area, public bathrooms and shaded seats for those who sit in the space provided will be included.
The design integrates the new train root that is planned to pass through Meskel Square under the Growth and Transformation Plan. The train root will connect “Tore Hailoch” and “CMC” areas, and will pass through Meskel square, but will travel underground through the square in the same way as the cars.
The new Meskel square area will have two major gates which will be similar in design to the gate of the exhibition centre that is currently there. Even though the details of the design are not finalized it is known that the new design will have many seats and green areas and that the walls behind the seats will be similar with those now in place but will have decorative features such as statues incorporated into them.
According to the deputy manager and core process owner the final design details will be given to the Addis Ababa University of Ethiopian Institute of Architecture Building Construction and City Development. If the university is unable to do the job, the agency will give the job for international auction.
The designers and the agency believe that the building will be completed in three years time so long as the materials are supplied on demand.
Meskel square, that is the largest square in Ethiopia and has a long history. At the time of Emperor Haileselassie the square largely used to mark the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian holiday, Demera, celebrated on September 26. But following the fall of the Emperor on September 12, 1974 the square was renamed as Revolutionary square, commonly known as Abiot Square. The square took its current shape in 1976, its purpose has been extended since then and in 1991 it was again renamed Meskel Square.

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