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Fry & Drew

An Update from Takoradi, Ghana Part 2

The docks and rail infrastructure of Takoradi was the impetus behind its rapid expansion from a small village to a major town. Construction commenced after WW1, but before this took place, it was neighbouring Sekondi that dominated the area with its grand houses, trading offices and the plush Metropole Hotel. The Dutch established Fort Orange there from 1670 and the natural harbour provided a suitable place for light vessels to shelter whilst the surf boats manned by the Kru people brought goods and people ashore.

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The Metropole Hotel, Sekondi

There is some rich architectural heritage in this town, and clear evidence of a once prospering settlement full of traders and merchants. Those days are clearly gone.

We started with two schools, the first called Fijai, captured here by the UK National Archives Africa through a lens. Then onto St. John’s, again the vintage photo below shows the clean lines of the school, when constructed c. 1955.

 

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St. John’s School, Sekondi

There have been further additions to the school including the striking church, donated by a Wisconsin family , with its large A-line structural frame,  finely detailed concrete casting, wooden ceiling and pre-cast screening. Next to St. John’s is Adiembra housing estate. There were revisions proposed for Adiembra in the 1944 Town Planning report made by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, but it is difficult to ascertain what impact this report made on the area, if any. However, we did spot some standpipes and washing stations that resemble those proposed by Fry and Drew in their manual, Village Housing in the Tropics, so perhaps this is evidence of their involvement.

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The Church at St. John’s School

We went onto the main street of Sekondi where the Post Office is located. We discussed this building in our chapter in Bremner’s Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire, but were now shocked to see how the exquisite timber counter had been painted in bright blue gloss – destroying the previous display of tropical hardwoods. The rest of the street has only gotten worse since our last visit, with many of the former colonial buildings on the brink of collapse. Absent landlords coupled with a shrinking economy has left these structures vulnerable and economically unviable. Further sad news must be reported, as the modernist Sekondi Regional Library has recently been demolished and replaced with a new library.

Our final visit in Sekondi was to the coastal-road village of Ekuasie, laid out in 1912. This was an early attempt at providing worker housing and adopts the familiar grid iron street format, although far more loosely imposed than similar schemes elsewhere (such as Korle Gono). There are some later and grander additions to this village, including a set of houses from the mid 1950s.

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Ekuasie Housing Estate

We returned to Takoradi and explored the workers’ estate, mentioned in the PRAAD archives as the ‘labourers housing and school’ at the Zongo area. This is still a thriving area, Hausa was heard being spoken and the tiny streets eventually lead to a playground-cum-village square, overlooked by the Islamic school and Mosque.

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Takoradi Zongo School

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An Update from Takoradi, Ghana

We started at the Takoradi Train Station, completed by 1928 as part of the coastal rail and docklands development. The train lines were initially constructed to transport cash crops, minerals and metals from the northern agricultural and mining districts to the awaiting ships, sheltered in the newly constructed breakwater and deep water harbour. When we visited in 2012 the train station was completely derelict and not in use. Today we found it carefully restored and new tracks laid. The plan is to reuse it for a local transport network. We walked up the hill to the small commercial district made up of international banks and a post and telegrams office. The mishmash of styles reveals the incremental development, as well as the fierce competition between the banks eager to differentiate themselves from the competition.

The former European hospital clock tower up on the hill overlooks the banks and docklands, as well as benefiting from the cooling sea breeze.

We drove to the 1920s part of Takoradi, a major new town extension that was built to accompany the docks development of that time. This portion of the town was primarily for the African population, although it also contains the Lasdun designed Bank of Ghana [built 1957]. Lasdun was also the architect of the National Museum in Accra. The bank was vacant when we visited in 2012, but now it stands in a state of complete dereliction, its fine materials and fixings being stripped from the building. This is a real tragedy. It was once an outstanding building, recorded in the Architecture journals of the day and surely one of Lasdun’s greatest works from this period.

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Somewhat downbeat, we bid farewell to the bank, and made our way to the rond-point in the middle of the town. The map was deceiving, as this was built as a major market place – our driver told us it was one of the largest markets in West Africa. It had the feel of Kariakoo market  in Dar es Salaam, and also contains a delightful little PWD post office with its signage graphics still intact.

Adjacent to the market is Amanful Village. Laid out in 1922-3 it is a mixed use area of housing and commercial properties. The basic PWD-type houses and layout remained in place, but more wealthy owners had transformed much of the upper part of the estate to suburban housing.

We then went to the Takoradi Technical Institute, shown above (Left, b+w) in the Africa Through a Lens Collection at the UK National Archives. There is a forcefulness to this scheme that takes the familiar two storey gallery access format, and emboldens into more ‘clunky’ yet determined architectural-structural forms.

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Nearby is the Effiekuma housing and the Effia Nkwanta hospital. The hospital has evolved overtime from a European hospital-cum-sanatorium in the colonial period, to a major health provider today. The careful layering and response to the site contours offers delightful views as well as a most welcome breeze to all the small structures that each have a view of the docks. At the top of the hill is a large brutalist extension that dates from c. late 1960s early 1970s. But who designed it?

The Architecture of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew:

We’re delighted to announce that our Fry and Drew book is to be published in paperback format in a few days time. This should make it a little more affordable and hopefully accessible to a broader audience in West Africa and India…

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https://www.routledge.com/The-Architecture-of-Edwin-Maxwell-Fry-and-Jane-Drew-Twentieth-Century/Jackson-Holland/p/book/9781409451983

 

Notes from Kumasi Part 3

At the KNUST campus the library and Great Hall complex work very well within their elevated landscape setting. The Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn’s muscular grey abstract ‘kente’ cloth brutalist hall and library extension is arranged in a ‘quad’. The complex overlooks the campus, facing a formal axis that leads to the administrative and teaching blocks. The composition is completed on its south flank by an architectural gem, which we discovered is the original KNUST library block. Is this James Cubitt’s riposte to Fry and Drew’s Ibadan Library?

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The Old Library Block

The ‘old’ KNUST library presents an essay in tropical architectural design. Still sitting on its cast, fluted piloti this four storey structure employs screen walling, operable louver windows, and shading devices to both demonstrate and celebrate the possibilities of creating a successful architectural resolution to the needs of passive design. Its forlorn main entrance, clad in travertine, and superseded by the Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn entrance to the East, shows the quality of materials employed in specific areas of its design.

 

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Administration Offices and Meeting Room

Inside, much of the Library building seems frozen in time. Reading carrels lie empty whilst the daylight filled reading spaces, with custom built, empty journal shelves have few readers, and ageing academic book collections. The e-resource room however has been kitted out with desktop computers and seems to be the most used student space in the building. A second “IT” floor was being planned, and the new desktop computers were just being commissioned, in spaces flooded with artificial light, closed to the exterior with floor to ceiling fabric curtains – only this space in the building needed fans for cooling. Meanwhile the offices at the top floor with their no longer used spiral staircase took one to another world of naturally cross ventilated office space, and custom designed insect screens – demonstrating that climate responsive design in the tropics still works. One hopes its on-going transformation doesn’t forget this idea.

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.

3D Printed Model of Kenneth Dike Library

We’ve been playing with a couple of 3D printers [Makerbot and Ultimaker] and testing how they might be used to create a small collection of models to supplement our History of Architecture lectures.

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In the age of ‘Stream Capture’ and recorded lectures including a small exhibition of key case study models in the lecture theatre will hopefully entice the students to attend the live event and will also form an opportunity to further explore light, scale and the qualities of buildings that are not as easily expressed through photographs and orthographic drawings.

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Our first test case used a computer model of the Kenneth Dike Library, Ibadan [designed by Fry and Drew] expertly produced by Jacopo Galli and generously shared with us. The model doesn’t show the entire buiding but a key section enabing the interior to be viewed. The ambition is a for an online library of models that can be downloaded and then printed as and when they are required by faculty and students.

 

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