11 November 2012

Ethiopia: United Bank Picks Winning Design for 800 Million Br Headquarters

Eskender Woubetu & Partners Consulting Architects, came up with the winning design for United Bank's future headquarters, which the latter estimates will cost up to 800 million Br to build.

Conducted for the last five months, the design competition came to a close last Monday at the Hilton Hotel as top three finalists, second runner up Gereta Consult; first runner up K2N architects and the winner, were announced.

United had officially launched the competition on July 9, 2012, inviting architectural firms to present a design for a 30 storey building, with additional four floors underground for parking, on the 3,338 sqm piece of land it had acquired in 2012 on a spot across Addis Abeba University College of Commerce in Senga Tera area of Lideta District at Ras Abebe Aregay Street.

Other financial institutions that are yet to be constructed in this area, which is being identified as financial district, are Nile Insurance, Nib Bank, Dashen Bank.

Following the current trend of those financial institutions building headquarters, United chose to hold the design competition through the Association of Ethiopian Architects, (AEA) which conducts evaluation through its member juries. Jury members were each paid 20,000 Br for conducting the evaluation of the competition, according to an association member.

Previously Awash and Zemen Banks had chosen architects to design several of their buildings including their headquarters using juries from the AEA.

Seventy-one firms and individuals had bought the Terms of Reference. Out of these 41 submitted entries for the first round which involved presenting a schematic design - the highest number witnessed in such competitions so far.

A jury of eight picked seven entries for the second round which involved presenting a detailed design and a three dimensional model. This jury was composed of six voting members and two non-voting ones from United Bank, to consult on the process

The seven architects were given a month and a half to prepare and present their designs.

The designs were evaluated based on function which includes space organization, sustainability, plot usage and techniques; form including style, scale, composition, urban character, and symbolic attributes; and compliance which includes planning requirements, code and security requirements and accommodation requirements.

The models of all seven designs were presented at the Hilton in the presence of the Bank's shareholders, high management officials, almost all presidents from other banks in the industry, and the guest of honor, Mekuria Haile, Minister of Urban Development and Construction, who announced the top three finalists.

All finalists placing before third place were handed 25,000 Br each. Gereta consult which is a staple at such design competitions, was awarded 70,000 Br, for coming in third place, while K2N construction won 100,000Br.The design by this firm had many nods of approval from the crowd when presented, despite losing out to eventual winner.

"While the design was striking and managed to stand out, it failed to comply with some of the planning regulations issued by the administration," one of the jury members told Fortune.

The winning design on the other hand had complied with such standards in addition to having several strong points including strong space organizations, especially on the ground floor, sustainable plot usage, and an outside plaza to contribute to the overall beauty of the city, according to Mistere Solomon, Chair of Competition and Exhibition at the AEA, a lecturer at Addis Abeba University's Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC).

The design was also commended for providing access from all four sides of the cross road, on which the plot is located, during its presentation at Hilton Hotel.

Shouts of jubilation were heard from representatives of the firm, as the winner was announced.

"It is a great opportunity for us, and most of the guys that worked on it except for me are young so it is encouraging for them," Eskinder Woubetu, founding manager at the firm along with Tadele Fanta told Fortune.

The firm established seven years ago, has six employees in total aside from the managing partner.

"Putting urban planning and usage of plot into consideration, has helped us win" Eskinder told Fortune. "As the plot is situated on a crossroad, it has the potential to be a landmark, and we had tried to incorporate that into our design."

This was recognized by jury members during the competition.

"From now on people will no longer say meet me at mortgage bank or at Aurora, but United Bank," Mistere had said at the meeting much to the delight of Berhanu Getaneh, United President who gave her a warm handshake afterwards.

The three dimensional model was done using mica taking upto the last minute to be completed, and has in total cost around 30,000 Br, according to Eskender. But it was worth it for Eskinder and partners as they have now gotten a 140,000 Br award for the design, and will get even more if negotiations with the Bank work out.

It is unclear yet how much the firm will ask for the design, if United goes ahead with its initial pick.

Usually architects ask between one to three percent of the total cost of the building for their fees," Mistere told Fortune.

Sometimes in design competitions it is written in the Terms of Reference, what percentage of the total cost the company is willing to pay a designer, but United had left it open for those competing to put forward their own fees, through financial proposals.

These will be opened next week according to Berhanu Getaneh, president of United Bank. Once the winner is picked the Bank has an obligation to carry through with negotiations until the end, unless there is a major disagreement, according to the bylaws of the design competition.

"We are delighted with the result and the fact that we now have a professionally picked design," Berhanu told Fortune.

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