The ubiquitous white Isuzu truck is packed high with mattresses, construction materials, plastic water containers, or one of many other commodities imported to Merkato from the port of Djibouti.

Contemporary architectural discourse on the African continent tends to either celebrate mid-century European interventions, or, exoticize notions of ‘informality’ within the rapidly transforming urban contexts, to the exclusion of critical elements. We propose to analyze buildings and urban formations in their own mutable terms—giving equal importance to material interventions on the city introduced by architects and non-architects, developed against, and outside of, oppressive regimes. The marketplace is a site of radical collaboration, where the aesthetic and programmatic demands of the city are not limited by notions of taste-making and exclusivity. We are interested in the magical narratives that have been superimposed on these everyday environments by ordinary people. The buildings in Merkato multiply existing commercial activities vertically, while the residential condominiums of Kariakoo have been altered to perform as storage spaces, servicing the commercial activities below.

The complex intersection of multiple subjects presented by the two marketplaces demonstrates spatial and economic entanglements that should not be reduced to simplified parallels.
Nevertheless,there are echoes that can be traced across both nations, cities and marketplaces.
The colonial fragmentation of the city of Dar es Salaam is registered at the scale of the city block in Kariakoo.

Two Markets implements a framework of Animist Materialism, defined by Harry Garuba as “a continual re-enchantment of the world”, to expand the understanding of these marketplaces beyond what is possible via Western architectural discourse. Animist Materialism forces a reckoning with our disciplinary contradictions and tools, exploding the singular vantage point of the foreign elite into a collection of subjectivities. The work of contemporary African artists, beyond the discipline of architecture, provides a pertinent reference for reconsidering how we can represent cities through an animist unconscious. These drawings collapse multiple histories, artifacts, and systems into a relationally ascribed constellation. Two Markets is not an attempt to establish a Darwinian narrative of how these marketplaces ‘evolved’ towards modernity. It is an attempt to understand these sites as reflexive spaces that simultaneously recreate their histories and pre-possess their futures.

Type: Research

Location: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia & Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Year: 2019

Team: Emanuel Admassu, Jen Wood, Louna Bou Ghanem, Yonas Bereded, Tori Deutch, Maheder Gebremedhin, Keyan Hansen, Peter Heller, Armias Hilemariam, Karin Hostettler, Gweny Jin, Flora Lucas, Kevin Onjiko, Theodore Rweyemamu, Giacomo Sartorelli, Jingru Tong.

Metal Fabrication: Nine and Two Thirds

Photography of Merkato: Zacharias Elias Abubeker

Photography of Kariakoo: Nicholas Calvin

Graphic Design: James Goggin, Practise

Advisors: Rahel Shawl, Dr. Daniel Mbisso

Supported by: The Design Research Seed Fund, RISD Architecture