With a site-integrated, passive solar design, the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia pays homage to the surrounding nature and cultural diversity with an inherent sensitivity to place. Surpassing functional constraints, the structure’s design quietly supports security while placing emphasis on experience, encounter and efficiency.

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Architects Dick van Gameren and Bjarne Mastenbroek used the site’s existing topography to integrate the embassy’s main building into the landscape. Surrounded by a dense eucalyptus grove, the structure rests along sloped terrain on an east-west axis. Combined with highly insulated concrete walls, floors and ceilings, the orientation captures natural solar and thermal processes to heat, cool and ventilate, minimizing dependence on mechanical systems.

Like the country that surrounds it, the embassy building reflects a convergence of cultures. The texture and tones of the walls and roof mimic the red-ochre earth of Ethiopia and regional architecture like the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. On its roof, a garden of shallow pools and raised islands suggest the low-lying landscape of the Netherlands.

As a stunning example of a building concept that responds to its cultural and ecological surroundings, the Royal Netherlands Embassy design has been honored with a 2007 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The award recognizes distinguished architecture that encourages social development, restoration, re-use and environmental responsibility in the Islamic world. Dutch architects Dick van Gameren and Bjarne Mastenbroek share the award with Ethiopian firm ABBA Architects.

+ Aga Khan Award for Architecture + Aga Khan Development Network + Royal Netherlands Embassy