The unifying power of beer
The new headquarters of the BGI Ethiopia brewery, owned by the French wine and beverage group Castel, brings together different worlds and global practices. The building, which extends for a length of 100 metres along a major road in the centre of Addis Ababa, was constructed adjacent to the production facility by an Italian company, which in turn commissioned Rome-based Westway Architects to develop a project that would come up to European standards and regulations.
To achieve the strong sense of identity sought by the client, the architects imagined a façade that would recall the head of foam formed when pouring beer, as if to «photograph the formation and movement of the bubbles and the transition in colour from gold to amber», explains architect Maurizio Condoluci. The effect is created through the use of colours, materials and design. The arrangement of the windows, based on a detailed study of the internal functions and a suitable window/floor surface ratio, brings a touch of dynamism to the dark elevations and the contrasting golden colour of the window frames and perforated diaphragms, whose diameters recreate three sections of a beer bottle. All the elements were designed and produced in Italy, then transported by sea to Djibouti and then on by road to Ethiopia. «The type of façade was chosen according to the method of transport and kind of journey it would have to make. Porcelain slabs from Lea Ceramiche’s Slimtech collection guaranteed one-third of the weight and could be used to create a system allowing for constraint-free installation with exposed fixings. We chose the same dark colour as the Basaltina stone to make the façade look like a single, continuous backdrop against the glowing windows.» The slabs were pre-cut in half lengthwise (50×300 cm) and shipped together with the pre-bent and coloured finishing sheets and Alucobond window frames, which started out as complete open sheets. This decision facilitated transport and speeded up construction times, as the workers were trained on site to perform further cutting of the customised porcelain slabs and to reassemble the other elements. The architects tried to find a balance with the customs and traditions of the local installers and with the available materials and technologies. In particular, the reinforced concrete structure was designed to take account of the large temperature variations and achieve a good level of thermal comfort solely through the presence of the ventilated façade. For the vertical sunscreen at the entrance, a kind of full-height portal referred to as «The Ethiopian gate», Condoluci explains that they took inspiration from a photograph depicting the dramatic entrance carved out from the rock for an underground church in Lalibela. To ensure good levels of health and hygiene in the interiors, one of the key requirements of the project, tiles from Lea Ceramiche were also installed in the communal areas of the reception, stairs and bathrooms.