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introduction Edit

The project responds to the housing challenge of rapid urbanization, and develops a purposefully incomplete structure that is both affordable and rapid to assemble.

Within this process-oriented project, close to 90% of the building components including prefabricated concrete elements and lightweight eucalyptus frames are produced by local micro and small-scale enterprises. The approach creates the opportunity for skilled employment and capacity building, and also allows homeowners to complete the construction themselves, installing building components and finishes according to their needs.

This initiative started as an academic experiment with the aim to create a low cost housing typology that is easy to build. As part of the academic program, “Welcome to Africa” aimed at strengthening ties between Germany and Africa; the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development – EiABC-, the Bauhaus University Weimar and the University of Juba in South Sudan- joined efforts to build this prototype in Lideta- Addis Ababa. 

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technical drawings Edit

cultural and social context Edit

Addis Ababa is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa; this growth takes place mainly in slums and informal settlements where infrastructure and access to services are limited or nonexistent. [1] In Ethiopia, about 79 % of the population live in slums and by the year 2050 the country will have to accommodate 61.5 million urban dwellers.[2]

The Sustainable Incremental Construction Unit- SICU- is oriented to respond to this vertiginous process of urbanization. Born as a collaborative academic initiative, which merged theory and practical –hands on- work[3]; it is an exploration of alternative and easy to build housing solutions. In the first part of the project (the design stage), the students and academics from EiABC, the Bauhaus University Weimar and the University of Juba, seeked to combine theoretical knowledge with locally available resources; innovative construction techniques with local modes of living. Therefore, the output of this research was built and tested on the site. Other participants involved were local institutions and the inhabitants of Woreda 04 in Lideta. The objective was to create links between students, researchers and communities as an opportunity to combine and implement their different capacities. As well as to propose an alternative to the current governmental housing projects. The second part of this process consisted in building the unit; its design brings together the information and data collected during workshops, interviews and fieldwork. A beta model was built and tested in the EiABC lab to evaluate the structure and time required for full construction.

Thought as a ´hands-on´ assignment, around 42 students came together to build the SICU in Woreda 04 for nine days. [4] This was an opportunity for sharing knowledge, as Dirk Donath (architect, Bauhaus University) puts it “the house was a learning tool”[5] since most of the builders had little or no previous experience in construction. The “unfinished” two storey house has an open space in the ground floor, intended for commercial or working space, while the domestic activities are organized on the upper floor. It is up to the user when and how to expand the house which can be extended by 28sq. Incrementality is given by the possibilities of expanding the housing area vertically and horizontally as well as for its easy construction and replicability. About 90% of the unit´s components are prefabricated and produced by micro and small- scale businesses[6], an opportunity to catalyze the local economies. To communicate the methodology used and to propose different paths to replicability, the process was documented in every stage. This is showcased in a manual (including floor plans and details) “for simple and straightforward construction”[7] which is currently available here ( under a Creative Commons license.

The SICU- Sustainable Incremental Construction Unit is the second product of the Concept – Test- Realization CTR- Project executed by the three Universities in Ethiopia, Germany and South Sudan. The third experimental unit MACU- Mobile Automated Contemporary Unit will build on the SICU in order to “deal[s] with integrating new digital planning and manufacturing techniques into participatory design”[8] for dense and emerging urbanities in Ethiopia and South Sudan.


materials and building techniques Edit

The components of the SICU can be modular elements produced on site such as the concrete footings and columns for the ground floor. The walls combine materials such as wooden boards and rubber sheets from tires; the roof is made of corrugated metal sheets and the stairs are prefabricated steel. The objective is to use available materials as well as to recycle as much as possible.

As an academic experiment as the participants call it, SICU was able to bring together various wills to materialize a design that is easy to build with unqualified labor, that uses low cost prefabricated elements that can be assembled in few days. A unit of 65 sq m has an estimated cost of 135.320 birr, that is USD 6332 (this budget excludes the cost of toilet facilities)[9]. These are valuable assets when it comes to build in an environment that is rapidly growing such as that of Addis Ababa.

However, the construction and design of this prototype seem to be introverted. In the words of Dirk Donath “we would have done well to go out and explain the project to the people in the neighborhood a few more times”[10]. Initiatives like the SICU are indeed very important to address the challenges presented by rapid urbanization. “It should be clear here that SICU is not an all time modernist gesture of urban solutions. It is still an ongoing experiment but with great potential and a definite alternative for the context of Addis Ababa.”[11] Sustainability cannot focus only in technologies or materials or budgets; it needs to integrate the one factor that can make it successful: people´s agency.



[1] The estate of

[2] ibid

[3] SICU Project

[4] 4th Holcim

[5] ibid

[6] Incremental

[7] 4th Holcim



[10] Ibid.




The State of African Cities 2014 Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions., UN Habitat, 2014

4ht Holcim Awards 2014/15. Available at:

Incremental construction Low- cost modular housing scheme, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Available at:


SICU- Project. Available at


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earth and climate Edit

Addis Ababa has temperatures that vary between subtropical and mountain climate. Due to the variations in altitude and the winds, the city´s climate can have a variation of 10C between different areas.


Project details
Project name: Low-cost modular housing scheme
Description: Incremental low-cost modular housing scheme.
Category: emergency shelter
Design: Bauhaus University, Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building, Construction & City Development (EiABC), Addis Ababa University, Afro-European Engineers
Building status: in use
Construction period: 2014
Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Coordinates: 9°1'33.2'' N, 38°45'49.4'' E
Tags: local resources, community, low budget, slum, incremental development
Project ID: 210
Published: 8 February 2012
Last updated: 2 April 2016
(images have individual licenses)
CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
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