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Notes from Kumasi

Leaving Accra we departed for Kumasi– there was a change of pace in this dusty Ashanti city. Flying in, the low-rise collection of housing and settlements spreads across the horizon. The city has a hotter, inland climate, but the KNUST campus has this relieved somewhat by its lush mature vegetation. A visit to the recently restored KNUST Staff Club and walk around the campus to the ‘central area’, gave a good feel, and introduction to KNUST.

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KNUST Senior Staff Club House, designed by Cubitt

The following day united us with more visiting staff from University of Edinburgh and we set off on an extended excursion to various buildings in Kumasi city. Fry and Drew’s Prempeh College and Opoku Ware schools, are visited first and present us with a first hand view of this couples’ best exemplars of institutional tropical modernism. Visits followed to Nickson’s Anglican Cathedral, a towering structure, with less external architectural sophistication than F+D’s educational oeuvres, but provided interiors that successfully captured the spirit of high Anglicanism in its light-filled interior.

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Anglican Cathedral, Kumasi, designed by R. Nickson from 1950

A dusk-tinted view of the campus concluded the day’s visitations, its welcome calm was a good antidote to the ‘busy-ness’ of the town. The buildings at the ‘Tech’, as it is colloquially called, sat sedately in their lush tropical setting, showing off Scott and Cubitt’s earliest university campus in Africa.

The historic ‘central’ administrative area of Kumasi formed the focus of the next day. The post office and Ghana electricity building suggest they are examples of late ‘PWD’ post war architecture, whilst the historic memorial to the West Africa Frontier Force, soldiers who fell in WW1 in Abbysinia (Ethiopia) and Burma (Myamaar) give us pause for remembrance. Walking up towards the military museum we find that although it is closed, we can still pay officially for a visit and take the chance. More than an hour later, we are overwhelmed with the sheer military-related history this deceptively small former garrison fort contained. As a colleague commented, “this gave [me] the context” to this city.

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Kumasi GPO, designed by PWD?

Visits to the Asawasi and Fanti Town districts, the latter adjoining the Cathedral area, gave good examples of early housing layouts in Kumasi designs by known planners in some cases. At Fanti Town we inadvertently came across the’ coffin district’, and attempted a stop at the Bantana district of the town to photograph circular hut housing we had identified the day before. The military museum guide had confirmed that these historic huts still provided accommodation for the army. As the garrison was still camped at the site we could not investigate this much further.

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Notes from Accra Part 2

Our journey continued with visits to Tessano ‘East’ which had a few remnants of the original site and service planned estate, best exemplified by the police station and a few administrative blocks, which often defined the colonial housing plan layout. A visit to the University of Ghana, at Legon followed. Designed in the late 1940s by Harrison Barnes and Hubbard, the leafy campus sits upon on a hill, high above Central Accra. The campus architecture has a curious oriental aesthetic which defines the its identity, with a number of significant buildings including the Balme Library and the Main Hall. In the African Studies department we joined our British Academy project associate, Dr Irene Appeaning Addo, for a very productive meeting.

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Tisano East Police Quarters

 

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The Grand Hall and Tower at Legon University, Accra

A trip to the Korle Gonno Housing Estate followed, using then new drained highway over the Korle Bu inlet and past the University of Ghana Hospital. The Korle Gonno Estate demonstrated a very early example of decant housing as from conversations with an older resident of the estate it was found out that many of the original residents had been moved from the Jamestown area of Accra to Korle Gonnu, a few miles down the coast. The estate was more intact than Tessano, with a number of the original buildings still evident.

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Korle Gono Housing Estate: regulated street patterns and services

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Korle-Gono Model, c.1920? Photograph held in the National Archives, Kew, UK.

A walk around the “Ringway” estate ,where we resided took us to the “Osu” layout and a road which had a pair of suspected James Cubitt-designed residences . A second visit just before departure from Accra confirmed this, although their external facades had been significantly altered. The pair of residences are now in use by the diplomatic corps.

Building on our Ghana theme I’d like to share an excellent paper recently published by a good friend of the TAG blog, Dr. Lukasz Stanek from Manchester University.

 “When seen from Labadi Road, the buildings of  Accra’s International Trade Fair (ITF) appear among abandoned billboards, scarce trees that offer shade to resting taxi drivers, and tables where coconuts, bottled water, sweets, and telephone cards are sold next to the road.

 The buildings neighbor the La settlement, where streets meander between houses, shops, bars, schools, and shrines,  while on the other sidof Labadi Road, at the seashore, luxurious housing estate is under construction next to upscale hotels that overlook Labadi Beach. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s leader after the country achieved independence (1957), initiated the fair as a prestige project, but it was opened on 1 February 1967 by Joseph Arthur Ankrah the chairman of the National Liberation Council, who led the putsch that toppled Nkrumah in 1966. Once conveying a sense of radical moder-nity, the buildings have suffered from underinvestment and insufficient maintenance, but most of them are still in use, rented for exhibitions that take place every few months, for political rallies, and for religious services.
From 1962 to 1967, the Ghana National Construction Corporation (GNCC), the state office charged with design, construction, and maintenance of governmental buildings and infrastructure in Nkrumah’s Ghana, designed and con-structed the ITF. The designers of the fair were two young architects from socialist Poland, Jacek Chyrosz and Stanisław Rymaszewski, who worked with the Ghanaian Victor (Vic)  Adegbite, the chief architect. Chyrosz and Rymaszewski  were employed by the GNCC on a contract with Polservice, the so-called central agency of foreign trade, which mediated the export of labor from socialist Poland.
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“Made in Ghana Pavilion” 1967, International Trade Fair, designed by Jacek Chyrosz, Stanislaw Rymaszewski and Vic Adegbite

 

 At the GNCC, they worked together with Ghanaian architects and foreign professionals, many from socialist countries. This collaboration reflected the alliance of Nkrumah’s government with socialist countries, which was demonstrated at the fair by the exhibitions of Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Hungary, and Poland (Figure 3). At the same time, the Ankrah administration used the fair to facilitate Ghana’s reopening toward the West. Hence, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), two major allies of Nkrumah, were absent.

 By contrast, the two pavilions not to be overlooked were those of Great Britain, Ghana’s former colonial ruler and its main trade partner, and the United States, which granted Ghana loans for its many infrastructural projects in the 1960s, in particular the Akosombo Dam, financed jointly with the United Kingdom and the World Bank. India was represented as a member of the Commonwealth rather than as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, since Nkrumah’s attempt to position Ghana among Egypt, India, and Yugoslavia as one of the leading nations of the movement was abandoned after the change of the regime. Collaboration among African countries was particularly favored, not as a way of carrying on Nkrumah’s vision of pan-African union but with a more modest aim, that of the stimulation of trade among African countries. Displays representing African countries were gathered in the round Africa Pavilion at the end of the ramp through which visitors entered the fair, before they moved on to Pavilion A (the “Made in Ghana” pavilion) and the pavilions rented to other countries and Ghanaian state firms.”

Notes from Accra

Iain Jackson and Ola Uduku have spent the last two days in Accra catching up with 20th century architecture, and meeting with contacts as part of the British Academy funded ‘From Colonial Gold Coast to Tropical Ghana’ architecture project. Tuesday 23rd February was spent visiting the Ghana National Museum complex, the gem in the crown being Denys Lasdun’s prefabricated dome shaped museum, currently closed for refurbishment. The imagination and vision of the building were still clearly there in our viewing of the stripped down structure ready for conservation.

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Our next stop took us to Nickson and Borys’ Children’s library building nearer to Central Accra. This had been sympathetically restored, and again was a great demonstration exemplar of ‘West African Modern’ and the developmental vision of the departing colonial government to establish libraries that were open to all citizens. The upper area remained devoid of activity but had potential to be a great multipurpose programme space.

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Children’s Library

The final visit of the day was to Joe Osae-Addo’s Archi-Africa – TuDelft Berlage Architecture school studio, in Accra’s Jamestown neighbourhood, on the urban fabric of everyday life in Accra. The impromptu crit we were invited to take part in was an enjoyable experience and the schemes were full of promise.

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TU Delft and Archi-Africa in the newly converted Jamestown Studio

Day two involved visits to Jamestown – as a walking visit this time to take in early 20th century colonial PWD, and also warehouse architecture in the neighbourhood. A visit to Adabraka also yielded a few examples of early PWD worker housing, which was followed by an afternoon visit to Achimota School, which conveyed the height of the colonial education project with architectural symbolism and style. A few later additions to the campus by Nickson and Borys and other’s also fitted well into the College’s narrative of colonial imperialism and privilege. The final visit for the day was to Scott House, which lived up to its deified tropical modernism status, whilst the Western Tessano neighbourhood had transformed into an upper class gated area, that unexpectedly gave us a glimpse of an earlier [likely Cubitt?] designed semi detached housing unit, currently undergoing a further 21st century upgrade..

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One of the few surviving examples of its type in Adabraka

We will be moving onto Kumasi on Friday and will update from there early next week.