Asmara: Balancing Conservation and Development
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This master thesis is product of the work done during my last semester at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), spring 2011.The report is based on the preliminary work done during the fall semester 2010, and a one-month long stay in Asmara, Eritrea, in February 2011.Writing my thesis in Asmara has been made possible through an initiated collaboration between NTNU and the Department of Infrastructure in Asmara. The project involves three students from the Department of Civil and Transport Engineering and five from the Faculty of Architecture and Fine Arts at NTNU, all writing our master theses on different fields of focus in Asmara. Eritrea is the youngest nation of Africa, with less than 20 years of independence. Its history is turbulent and the present situation is also challenging in many ways. Development is a need in most sectors, but the building and improvement of basic infrastructure and housing for the growing population is a priority. The country’s history as an Italian colony has influenced the capital city of Asmara greatly. A large number of buildings influenced by modernist architecture can still be found in the city center. These buildings are part of a national heritage that have seen international interest over the past years, and can prove to be a great resource for Eritrea in the future. However, in order to be so conservation work is needed. The problem formulation is divided in two parts: 1. Mapping of previous and present conservation work in Asmara in order to identify relevant challenges. 2. Provide theory and tools connected to rehabilitation. Linking this information to Asmara through illustrative use and examples. Gathering information for the first part was an important part of the work done during my stay in Asmara, and this and the work connected to it has been absolutely necessary in order to suggest plausible approaches and ideas connected to the conservation and development work in the city. The future of Asmara’s Architecture was first openly discussed in 1995 through the first Asmara Urban Forum. In 1997 The Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project (CARP) came into being. This new initiative of the Government and people of Eritrea aimed at preserving cultural heritage.With respect to Asmara’s built heritage, the aim was to establish a clear strategy for preservation, including the formalization of a Historic Perimeter (HP). In 1998 the Municipality took drastic measure to save the historic integrity of the city centre and imposed a moratorium to new projects within the HP. Although the moratorium introduced in 1998 was supposed to be temporary it has lasted for 13 years. With next to nothing being done within the set boundaries of the HP the need for a solution and action is more urgent than ever. The experiences and results from the CARP were mixed. Many things were achieved in terms of mapping and creating a foundation for further work.However, the more concrete results did not occur, and some of the expectations of the beneficiaries, the DOI, were not met. A new initiative with the European Commission (EC) as partners, the National Heritage Project, are currently being implemented and hopefully some of the shortcomings of the CARP will be fulfilled through this. The overriding objective for the city center is to preserve the spatial and functional characteristics, and this is described as part of the land use strategy for the Greater Asmara Area (GAA). The strategy is to conserve its present character regarding the mix of land uses, the main characteristics of built form and the spatial continuity of the urban fabric. The DOI strongly expresses a wish to encourage rehabilitation within the HP, as the area is large and represents a big challenge. The current priorities for the municipality are focused on affordable housing, basic infrastructure, public transportation and providing health and educational services, see figure below. The way things are done today leads to a decentralization that is very unfortunate for the future of the HP. It is obvious that all functions and activity revolves around the location of people and hence their needs and demands. With all this activity moving away from the city centre and demanding the few resources present in the municipality, it is hard to imagine how developing the existing built environment in the city centre will be a priority. Turning this trend around by using the inherent resources and existing infrastructure the HP has to offer is a possibility worth looking into. Prioritizing a functional and vibrant city centre in front of the fantasy of a“correctly conserved” one is the only way of stopping the on-going decay. Further development of already existing functions and choosing functions that benefit the inhabitants is the right place to start. This secures the feeling of ownership and hence future interest in maintaining the built environment. Rehabilitation is proposed as an approach that often is suitable for this purpose, and several tools for assessing existing buildings in order to reach good decisions are given along with a number of examples from other places. To demonstrate the use of both presented principles and tools a case study is done on an existing old slaughterhouse in Asmara. The building is part of an area housing the bus terminal of the city, which is proposed upgraded. This area upgrading is the subject of the master thesis of three of the architect student from NTNU. This gave us the possibility of linking parts of our master thesis, and enabled me to provide a case study involving anold building being conserved as part of a larger work that considers many aspects connected to both the building and surrounding area. The case study on the slaughterhouse demonstrates that old buildings can be kept and integrated into larger development projects. The building represents an initially unrecognized resource that through rational and economical measures can be transformed into a functional building, representing both the proud past and the prosperous future of Asmara and Eritrea.