Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I'm just excited I used 'proboscis' in a sentence!

Grab your passports, sauce guzzlers, and let's take an architectural field trip!  It is a long way away.  Bring extra sauce for hydration.

I really have no idea what 'sauce' is in this scenario.

Regardless, welcome to Ethiopia!   Specifically the Southwest corner.  Here's a map cuz if you're like me (a dumb American) you don't know where that is.  But we should because very nice buildings are happening there.

I am died.  The Dorze people are known for their distinctive dwellings that are completely unique to them and pretty fuckawesome.  That is a technical term I pulled Arch Daily.

More great travel pics at Line Shape Color
They are also known for having the best weaving in Ethiopia so right now the Dorze are batting a thousand for the design team.  I'm not even on the field in regards to such complicated design activities so I'm waving my giant foam finger for them.

The buildings are made of basket-woven shell of bamboo and then finished with 'false banana' leaves.  Fake bananers be good for sumthin.

Who doesn't love a process shot?!  I'm a little blown away by the amount of leaves that are involved.  Fortunately there aren't any windows to work around.
Here  Separate partitions for the animals, I believe.
The entire structure is surprisingly large measuring about 25-30 feet tall.  Based on my calculations that's about seven square miles of leaves.  The reason they are designed so tall is for more than just a great chandelier.  The walls sit directly on the ground and termites eat the building from the floor up.

You'd think this would create massive structural problems but in fact it just causes the homes to get shorter.  They start out so tall so they can shrink over decades.  That's right, they build in their own aging solution.  The homes get shorter and cuter over time.  It's like they're the Benjamin Buttons of architecture!

And they do last decades - sometimes up to 100 years.  If the termite problem does get overwhelming or they want a new view the entire building can even be moved with the help of some friendly neighbors and lots of rope.

Here I love the landscaping around the perimeter of the homes too. Perfection.
But damn, the termites seem friendlier in Africa, right?  I have to get termite treatments every eight years so my house doesn't cave in on itself and leave me in dust but in Africa you have decades.  DECADES.  Africa might have killer bees but we have asshole termites.

My favorite part about the structures is that they have a very anthropomorphic quality.  Once you see the face you can't UNsee it.

The "eyes" are the air vents and also release the smoke from the cooking/heating fire.  The "nose" acts as the entrance vestibule and can be very large (like the very first picture) and then as the entire structure shrinks the nose gets smaller and they cut the doorway larger.  

I found out that the "face" does have an explanation that's not just related to function, however.  This region of Ethiopia used to have lots of elephants so the homes pay homage to them with their grey skin and large proboscis.  AND NOW I LOVE THEM EVEN MORE.  

You can't UNsee it now either!  Look at its wittle head!  

I'm not sure if that little anecdote is true or something they just tell the white people taking pictures but I love so it's true.

And you better get in your elephant love now because I heard Tim Burton is going to be directing a new Dumbo so get ready for Johnny Depp to piss all over your childhood.  Childhood memories of hysterical sobbing over that movie but whatever.

After you finish writing an angry letter to Disney, I highly recommend you take a look at this video tour of a Dorze home for a more complete picture.  The guide shows his grandfather's 92-year-old home in case you thought I was lying about their ages.

However, I should admit I have weird feelings about getting a tour of a home currently inhabited by people.  People who are just outside the door...  Is it just me?

Now, I'm guilty of stopping in the road and taking a picture of someone's home and I'm blogging about the Dorze so maybe I shouldn't be the moral compass here.  But are these little tours just catering to rich tourists or maybe it's like some version of colonial Williamsburg except not colonial but CURRENT?  Or are the people that open up their homes to tourists the design bloggers of Ethiopia?  Maybe they WANT to show off their houses.  

I'm not saying I don't want to see them but I am aware that I saw pictures of the same two structures (three pictures up) over and over again.  I'm not sure I know the correct answer to these questions and maybe I should pull out my books on vernacular architecture more than once a decade.  *cough*  I was almost smart in college...

Regardless, I hope tourists are absolutely throwing money at them for every last bit of their beautiful weaving.

Now I feel kinda uncomfortable about the implications of vernacular architectural tourism so let's look at some more baby elephants until we are obliviously comfortable again!

Baby elephants welcome in my home anytime!


  1. A friend of mine wants a miniature pig. I'm going to suggest she go with a baby elephant instead.

    1. Yes. Baby elephants seem very reasonable to have as pets! Also, I bet their trunks can help with hard-to-reach things.

  2. Accept and embrace your role as a moral compass. Now please design some windows for these Dorze sructures. Who likes to live in darkness?

    1. It's pretty hot in Africa so maybe me?

  3. Good lord, those elephants are insanely cute. I can't even deal.

  4. But where are the links to the textiles?! I demand you link to them. I mean, I could google, but then I would find reality and that would make me sad since I'm guessing it's fifty-blankity-billion and you can only get them through fucking Anthropologie who's paying $1/blanket. Or maybe I'm just cynical today.

    Anywho, that is some aces engineering. Will have to show Hub 'cuz the Dorze are motherfucking champions. A shrinky-dink building that will outlast me? Good stuff.

    1. I did not even google the textiles because I'm trying to stay focused! They were just mentioned in all the research I did for their homes while generally describing how accomplished the Dorze are.

      Shrinky dink house... pure gold!

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