A Symbol of Urban Renewal
The project to build the headquarters of beer manufacturer BGI Castel in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, presented a dual challenge. On the one hand, the building had to project the image of a successful company that has helped drive the economic development of the country. On the other, the new architecture had to relate effectively with its context and provide an innovative thrust to urban renewal. Founded almost a century ago, BGI is an international brewery with several facilities and a well-known brand name throughout Ethiopia. The company has also recently entered the wine business.
After changes to its ownership structure in the wake of the very troubled history of this African country over the 20th Century, it is now creating a new headquarters, which must embody several symbolic features. It must be contemporary but at the same time refer to its deep rooted tradition, be a striking piece of architecture but also represent the country’s economic development. Its symbolic importance must also spill over to its surrounds, triggering urban renewal despite a site that not only abuts onto a busy main road (running along the south perimeter) but also faces an overhead city railway station on an imposingly long viaduct. In addition, it sits alongside the company’s production plant, an intricate jumble of tanks, pipelines and silos directly in front of the north side of the new headquarters and clearly visible from inside.
Given the shape of the plot, the architects opted for a tall,
eight-story edifice running along the south perimeter next to the busy road. Although a multifunctional building, most of the floor space will be given over to offices for administrative, commercial and top management functions. There will also be retail space, and the upper two levels will be allocated to a series of different-sized high-end apartments. The longitudinal plan is stepped back from the road at a certain point to circumvent the pubic staircase and lift leading to the pedestrian bridge and city railway station on the flyover. This design necessity has been turned into an architectural feature with the creation of two wings - one to the east, the other to the west - joined by a central block, an obliquely positioned volume serving as a hinge connecting the two wings at all levels. As well as a hinge connector, this is the fulcrum of the socialization and relational spaces. On the ground floor, the atrium is an articulated area offering many sight lines. Accessed from the lobby and reinforced by effective signage and infographics, the vertical circulation leads off to the east and west wings. The same interconnection format is used on all floors: secretarial and waiting areas and small meeting rooms overlooking the south and north aspects. The community areas on the upper floors will provide a gym and wellness area on the sixth floor, and a beverage tasting area on the seventh.
Made up of distinctively different elements, the BGI headquarters presents an expressive and articulated urban frontage. The elevation is an uncluttered, easy-to-read succession of dynamic, elegant forms that sit harmoniously alongside each other. The play of transparent and opaque segments together with the different materials and geometries will add a refined landmark to the urban landscape.
Curtain walls clad with slender fiberglass-backed stoneware slabs form the dark-colored backdrop of the elevations. Against this, creating a play of semi-transparent and opaque surfaces, a stacked series of translucid glass-block lights separate the volumes at each end of the building containing the vertical distribution of the residential floors, and the emergency staircase. On the main façades, tall windows form regularly spaced openings against the dark backdrop, creating an interesting pattern of different elements and figures. The burnished gold window recesses and the openwork effect created by the different-sized perforated aluminum sun-shading panels - whose different sizes refer to the company’s different sized beer bottles - add further highly expressive notes.
The structure culminates in a striking crown: a rhythmic series of pillars and beams behind which can be glimpsed open spaces and the terraces of the duplex apartments, which will be progressively concealed as the vegetation grows.