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Lalibela, apart from being one of the highlights of the Ethiopian historical landscape, is also also one of the highlights of its sensational natural landscape .In the midst of the never ending terrain on the outskirts of lalibela is Chul Amba, a hill to the north with an altitude of 2800 meters above sea level with a 3600 panoramic view. This made the site (chul Amba) the town’s sunset terrace where the villagers take their afternoon walks to watch the magnificent views and the breathtaking sunset. On this hill is where Ben Abeba (“Ben”, in Scottish, meaning hill and “Abeba”, in Amharic, meaning flower thus “hills of flowers”) was conceived. Two features played a great role in the conceptualization of the project: the spirituality driven from lalibela’s historic and religious background and the spirituality driven from the awe-inspiring landscape of lalibela and especially of the site. In a trial to transform these into a built form, the hill as a womb or a primordial mound was sought for where nature with all its components (fire, earth, wind& water) and glory is celebrated. Arranged around the highest point of the hill, deliberately left untouched, are terraces located at different levels with all-round panoramic views. Atop the hill, at the highest point of the site, sheltered in the meandering mud, steel and concrete skin crowned with a skylight (a reminder of the cave sanctuaries of the ancient Ethiopian temples), a fountain or “primordial spring” is introduced, giving out to a river, going down through the lower levels guiding the circulation ramp and then making a 3 meter fall to the cut-in pond around which the masonry cave lavatories are located. All the levels are accessed with ramps bringing to life the feeling of being in the landscape, interrupted in every corner by terraces to give amazing views of the surrounding. The main ramp (the wind), situated in the centre, winds up on its own axis to access all levels, shoots out of the shell ending up at a watch deck 8 meters up with 3600 view of the surrounding. The lobby bar and main restaurant terrace are located on the first level and are linked by a floating garden. The Terrace (fire), hovering over the steepest side of the hill, gives a breathtaking view of the magnificent sunset, with its “Tree roofs” also serving as sunset terraces. On the lower levels are the main kitchen, the open kitchen, grill area, the open restaurant and cave restaurant (earth) all with astonishing views. The two fire courts in the open terrace serve as major social focal points where visitors gather around in the evenings with their “gabis (local blankets)” sipping “Teg(local wine)”, symbolic of the heartwarming night times of the villages. A great leap was also taken in involving local construction materials (wood, stone and mud), craftsmanship and construction techniques thereby knitting the built environment with the social and cultural fabric of its setting.
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