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Centenary of the birth of the architect A. Mezzedimi, conference by Jacopo Galli: “Aspirations and Contradictions in Shaping a Cosmopolitan Africa: Arturo Mezzedimi in Imperial Ethiopia”

The conference is organized in the framework of the Cultural and Scientific Cooperation Agreement between the ICI in Addis Ababa and the Iuav University of Venice, and in collaboration with the EiABC – Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (Addis Ababa University) to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the architect Arturo Mezzedimi (1922-2010).

The life and career of Arturo Mezzedimi (1922-2010) are the rare tale of an immigrant who conquered the main stage of his adoptive motherland. This paper reconstructs the trajectory of a young technical surveyor who became the semi-official architect of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie. From his apprenticeship in Asmara’s Italian bourgeois society to the construction of “Selassie’s gifts” to Eritrea, Mezzedimi reached the highest levels of achievement, building City Hall and Africa Hall (the first headquarters of the African Union, and now the permanent the permanent headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa – UNECA), and shaping the modern face of Addis Ababa as the moral capital of a continent. The paper reassesses Mezzedimi as a cosmopolitan global expert with a gift for interpreting Haile Selassie’s ambitions to mix European modernity and resilient Ethiopian traditions. This process of cross-pollination led the Italian architect to interpret Ethiopian millennial history and future aspirations while acquiring a self-taught professionalism that allowed him to design and build more than 250 constructions at an impressive pace of hyper-production.

Jacopo Galli (Crema, 1985) is an associate researcher at Università Iuav di Venezia. He obtained his Ph.D. at Università Iuav di Venezia with a dissertation titled “Tropical Toolbox. Fry&Drew and the search for an African Modernity” (later published by Lettera22). His research interest for African cosmopolitan modernity led him to be curator of the architectural section in the exhibition “Africa Big Change – Big Chance” in La Triennale Milan and CIVA Bruxelles; to edit the book “Arturo Mezzedimi. Architetto della Superproduzione” (with Benno Albrecht and Filippo de Dominicis) and to act as the project manager for the Makoko Floating School II project by NLE Studio that won the Silver Lion at the 2016 Biennale di Venezia.

  • Organized by: IIC, Universita` Iuav di Venezia
  • In collaboration with: Amb. d'Italia, EiABC - AAU