New Research Paper: I. Jackson, O. Uduku, I. Appeaning Addo, R. Assasie Opong, “The Volta River Project: planning, housing and resettlement in Ghana, 1950–1965”, Journal of Architecture, vol 24 (4), 512-548.
This paper investigates the housing schemes proposed in connection with the Volta River Project, Ghana, in the mid-1950s to early 1960s. The Volta River Project formed part of Kwame Nkrumah’s vision for Ghana’s modernisation and industrialisation in the wake of political independence. Three associated worker housing schemes demonstrated somewhat contradictory design and construction methods, from high specification, extensive amenities, and comprehensive servicing, through to self-build ‘core’ houses amounting to little more than single-room dwellings.
Core House at New Ajena, Ghana. Built c.1961, photographed in 2017
The paper traces the complex and controversial history of these schemes, supplemented with findings of several field trips to the settlements in question, to unravel the value of the ‘Core Houses’ approach. The most successful project to incorporate indigenous agency and true collaboration was the semi-formal ‘Combined Area’ housing at Akosombo, a positive model for shared agency and collaboration in planning, housing, and facilities delivery. Sitting alongside the carefully manicured plan of Akosombo, with its regulated market, excellent health care and desire to set high standards of cleanliness, the Combined Area has not only provided homes for the lower-paid and labouring workers of the town, but has developed over time into a settlement where professionals and retired government workers are also now residing, not out of necessity but by choice. By actively developing their own homes, shared spaces and amenities there has developed a strong sense of ownership, community, and identity. The success and level of attachment to this settlement clearly extends beyond its material presence and through the shared experience of helping to cultivate a place of one’s own.
On 20th June 2019 Unilever kindly hosted (with additional support from the University of Liverpool) a workshop showcasing the amazing material that can be found within business archives. It was a really great day to learn more about how different researchers are using the collections and the great work by archivist who make all of this accessible to the public.
Keynote by Valerie Johnson, Director of Research, The National Archives
Business archives – a bit of a passion killer?
Valerie Johnson opened her keynote by highlighting that business archives are often seen as dull and uninteresting – to the point she was once told by a conference organizers that he had not expected her research talk about business archives to be so interesting. Nothing could not be further from the truth. For almost any subject of interest to researchers, business archives have materials, as companies were often spearheading new developments (e.g. technology), were embedded in social and cultural trends of the day (e.g. the culture of imperialism), design history (e.g. in the Board of Trade archives) to name but a few.
In a whistle stop tour through a wide range of archives, Johnson illustrated the history of women at work through an architectural map in the ING Barings Archive, and the representations of empire in the textiles archive of John Lewis, and the United Africa Company trademarks at Unilever Historical Archives.
Johnson closed by reiterating that business records offer magnificent materials and insights into society, technology and attitudes of the past, not just the records of business operations in the narrow sense. So she closed with highlighting the importance of:
Putting the passion back into business archives!
Snippets from archival research
The day continued with wide-ranging research presentations. The morning opened with Jeanette Strickland introducing the audience to William Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers (one half of the original Unilever), a formidable businessmen and somewhat of a micro-manager.
This was followed by Frank Thorpe, University of Liverpool, talking about advertising and beyond. His presentation is based on his doctoral thesis that investigates the changing attitudes towards personal hygiene, or “BO”, and how
products like deodorant were gendered and stigmatized at times. At Unilever, he
has researched uncatalogued material, but also used a range of online newspaper
archives to understand the context within which these adverts appeared.
Ronnie Hughes offered a different view on Port Sunlight, the location of the Unilever factory and archives, where the workshop took place, by asking a key question:
What must it have been like to live in someone else’s utopia 100 years after they died?
Walking through Port Sunlight village in the morning before the workshop, this is not unlike the question we asked ourselves – would we actually like to live here,
as beautiful as it is? As a heritage site, it has a very distinct and unique
feel, which is unlike other neighbourhoods. Hughes highlights that he has asked
communities questions about what their perfect place would look like before
starting this research project. He blogs at A Sense of Place.
Prof Matt Reed finished the morning session by outlining his search for the ‘origin story’ of the collaboration between Unilever and the University of Liverpool, which dates back to 1906, which was “multi-faceted and sporadic.”
Lever donated money to a number of departments, including Civic Design and town planning. The Department of Industrial Chemistry was particularly well aligned with Lever’s business interests. Reed finished with a reflection of the value
of searching archives versus the self-taught googling that passes for research
outside of archives.
The afternoon sessions kicked off with Dr Rory Miller’s exploration of why David Fieldhouse’s Unilever Overseas is missing a chapter on Latin America – apparently he fell out with his research assistant. 25 years ago, Miller first visited the Unilever archives to find out what was actually available on Unilever’s business in Argentina and beyond. Perusing the directors’ visiting reports, he outlined how Argentinians rarely bought Lifebuoy soap other than to wash their dogs.
In her talk about the design process, Dr Lee Wright highlighted the potential importance of archives for the design practice and the sourcing of design ideas. In her teaching, students reference the past through images they source from Pinterest, highlighting the significance of social media sites in mediating our visual understanding of the past.
The day closed with two fascinating talks, the first by Prof Iain Jackson about the development of urban architecture in Accra, Ghana in the mid-twentieth century. While the National Archives had more material on the European settlements of Accra, within other archives, such as the United Africa Company collection at Unilever, mercantile areas such as Jamestown are much better documented. Some of his collected images are available in an online book available via issuu.com (search “Accra”) here.
The workshop closed with Claire Tunstall describing their mission and how the archives has to serve many different stakeholders: internal divisions, brands and communications, outreach with schools, partnership with museums and universities and, of course, the Port Sunlight Village Trust, as well as researchers.
Hopefully, more such events, at Unilever or other major archives, will take place in the future. The workshop did not just have great presentations but also offered great opportunities to meet a wide variety of people interested in using and promoting archives.
10 am Registration Tea & coffee
10.20 Welcome, introductory remarks and housekeeping
– Claire Tunstall and Jeannette Strickland
10.30 Keynote Dr Valerie Johnson, Director of Research & Collections, The National Archives “What’s the use? Your research and business archives”
11.15-12.30 Session 1 Chair: Prof Stephanie Decker, Aston University
11.15 Jeannette Strickland, Department of History, University of Liverpool, “Finding William Lever, the man behind the myth”
11.30 Frank Thorpe, Department of History, University of Liverpool, “Beyond the ad: filling gaps and finding new gaps”
11.45 Ronnie Hughes, Department of Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology, University of Liverpool, “Looking for Utopia”
12.00 Dr Matt Reed, Strategy Director, Materials Innovation Factory, University of Liverpool, “Turn every page”
Tours of Unilever Archives available at 12.45 and 1.10
2.00-3.00 Session 2 – Chair: Dr Valerie Johnson, The National Archives
2.10 Dr Rory Miller, formerly Reader in the Management School, University of Liverpool, “The Missing Chapter in David Fieldhouse’s Unilever Overseas: Unilever’s Expansion in Latin America in the Mid-Twentieth Century”
2.30 Dr Lee Wright, Senior Lecturer in the History and Theory of Design, Liverpool School of Art and Design, Liverpool John Moores University, “The value of archives and their potential to impact current design practice”
3.20-4.20 Session 3 – Chair: Jeannette Strickland, University of Liverpool
3.20 Prof Iain Jackson, School of Architecture, University of Liverpool, “Traders, speculators, taste makers: the United Africa Company in Ghana”
3.40 Claire Tunstall, Head of Art, Archives & Records Management, Unilever plc, “The research potential of Unilever Archives”
4.20 Summing up and closing remarks
4.30 Optional post-workshop drink at the Bridge Inn in Port Sunlight
This is a move that will destroy traditional livelihoods, as well as damage the historic built environment. It will drastically change not only the tangible fabric of this historic town, but also impact the fishing methods, market traders and community that’s reliant on the sea.
Since 2011 I have been researching the history of Ghanaian architecture and urbanism, and have been particularly struck by its impressive collection of heritage structures and associated narratives.
The harbour at Accra’s district of Jamestown was built to provide shelter from the heavy surf that pounds this part of the coast. The breakwater and pier were equipped with railway tracks, gantries and cranes to handle the large produce exports following the cocoa boom of the early 1900s. The wealth created from this trade saw some fine buildings being built. An array of warehouses, stores and villas survive (some very precariously) in Jamestown to this day.
The shallow waters of the harbour utilised smaller surf boats who ferried the goods in and out to the ships anchored in deeper water. The creation of new ports rendered the Jamestown harbour superfluous by the 1950s and it was no longer used for international trade.
While this profoundly affected the livelihoods of the surf boat owners, as well as the economic prosperity of the Jamestown area, it has still remained an active harbour, returning its focus to fishing. New canoes are still built on the beach, nets are made, repaired and dried, and a large, if casual, fishing market trades off the shore.
Although described as a beach, it’s still a working harbour rather than a place for leisure. Businesses, residences, schools, places of worship and bars have all been established on the beach and a large population considers it their home and community. The place has a very different feel to the rest of the city. It has an intimate connection to the sea, dictated by the tides, rituals, songs and danger that accompanies all fishing communities.
It is “informal”, sometimes appears anarchic, and while not suitable in its current format for freight shipping, its potential for commercial development has caught the attention of the municipality and international investors.
Earlier this year a billboard was suddenly erected on the beach displaying an “artist’s impression” of how the beach is to be developed. It’s a disturbing image in many ways, showing the beach completely cleared of its inhabitants. There’s also a large car park and a series of somewhat bland sheds or factories. There is not one single canoe in sight.
The proposal (and its backers) see this site as a convenient place to construct a new factory for the mechanised processing of fish. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as an idea. But the current proposal would not only occupy a prime site with historical significance: it would displace a large community along with their heritage, skills and traditions.
There are four main considerations that have not been addressed by the current proposal. And with the beach already being cleared of its residents and traders, time is running short.
Seafront heritage site: A shoreline development with an historic waterfront requires sensitive and appropriate proposals. A failure to deliver this undersells the site’s potential. It is not appropriate for a factory and car park to be placed on this important plot.
It is hard to imagine any other international port city using its most important natural features in this way. The attractive view over the ocean offers lots of possibility for this site. Reducing it to a fish-gutting production line is shortsighted and lacks ambition.
Community discussion and liaison: The settlements and businesses located on the beach are “informal” (like most of Ghana’s economy). But this must not discount or invalidate their contribution to future development. No one is more invested in this place than the current population, part of the minority Gā community, with their own language and traditions, who have lived and traded here for centuries.
Individual fishing boats and their small hauls may not be the most efficient or lucrative methods of extracting the bounty of the sea. But they bring many advantages. The main traders (and controllers) are women affectionately known as “mammies”, who set the prices and manage supply.
This matriarchal system has been largely responsible for ensuring a strong community. Whilst these traders are fiercely competitive, they care for each other and their lives. Memories and stories are inherently bound to this place – the proposed factory would completely undermine and destroy this market and cohesion.
Mechanised production would also result in fewer employment opportunities. The power would be taken from market traders and fewer fishermen would be required.
Fish stock: Environmentally the mechanised processing and trawlers would be disastrous for the fish stock. The existing method marries periods of fallow with festivals, allowing the sea to recuperate and replenish. There is a rhythm to the current fishing method that responds to the seasons and traditions. It is unlikely this approach will be respected by the new process and the factory’s profit driven approach.
Tourist potential: The first place tourists visit when arriving in Ghana is usually Jamestown and the harbour area. Its two former slaving forts and the historic mercantile core of the town, coupled with the array of festivals and events, have so much potential as revenue creators.
They must be treated as rare commodities, not as cheap development plots. If this district is gradually eroded, its natural features, historic charm and engaging community dismissed, then what else is there for visitors to see in Accra?
In the last six months eviction processes have started to clear the beach. This is an earnest plea for this proposal to be rethought – and for this fascinating part of the city to be regenerated in a way that celebrates and respects the history and people of Jamestown.
Thank you to Prof. Ola Uduku of Manchester School of Architecture for reviewing the ‘Sharing Stories from Jamestown’ exhibition. The exhibition has been extended to run until the end of June 2019. Below I’ve uploaded a 360 degree panoramic view – you can ‘click and drag’ the film to have a look around….
Iain Jackson’s exhibition co-curated by Allotey Konuah-Bruce and Joe Addo opened to great acclaim on Saturday evening at the Jamestown Café, venue, near Ussher Fort. Curiously the café it was confirmed by local elders who attended the opening is accurately in Usshertown; the exhibition launch providing a great forum for these questions to be aired and for detailed discussions to be had.
Historic photographs and maps of ‘old’
Jamestown buildings have been placed next to those which show their age,
condition and use, in ‘contemporary’ Jamestown have been displayed in the lower
gallery of the Jamestown Café, which itself features in the exhibition as Tarquah
house, the dwelling and warehouse of one of Jamestown’s wealthy local
merchants, who had originally had it built. The exhibition represents a true
joint collaboration between Iain Jackson and Allotey Konuah-Bruce who have formed a close and productive working relationship as they have spent the…
You are invited to our Exhibition, ‘Sharing Stories from Jamestown’, opening on the evening of Friday 17th May 2019 at Jamestown Cafe, High Street, Accra. All very Welcome! The exhibition will run until 13th June.
We’ll be exhibiting vintage photographs, plans and drawings from over ten archives and private collections that have been gathered together here for the first time. To accompany the exhibition we’ve also produced a catalogue that attempts to explain and contextualise the images, and to tell the history of Accra’s development, planning and architecture. You can read the digital version below. We’re indebted to Allotey Bruce-Konuah for expertly setting out the catalogue.
We will include more photographs and 360 degree footage of the exhibition as soon as it is installed.
Maxwell Fry, the architect and planner of Ibadan University, considered the campus to be the highlight of his career, although he confessed that he found the Kenneth Dike library elevation too ‘lace-like’.
It is an extraordinary structure and we’ve covered it on the TAG blog previously, as well as printing a 3D sectional model of the structure. Taking a more retro step, I’ve now produced a hand-drawn (rotring, ink wash) front elevational drawing of the building (minus the small reading room on the RHS and smaller structure on the LHS, for clarity).
The drawing stretches over 2 x A1 sheets and has been scanned, pieced together, and the blue ‘sky’ added in Photoshop. I’m going to follow drawing with some additional studies into various libraries in Ghana – especially the Children’s Library in Accra (Nickson and Borys); Sekondi Regional Library (James Cubitt); Koforidua Library (also by Cubitt); KNUST Library (?) and the iconic Bolgatanga library by Max Bond.
New Buildings in the Commonwealth edited by Jim M. Richards in 1961 pulled together many articles from earlier editions of the Architectural Review. It formed an important set of essays, photographs and illustrations with each geographically themed chapter written by an architect familiar with that part of the world. Maxwell Fry wrote the West Africa section and he selected some of the best buildings from the proceeding decade to feature in his piece, including some lesser known works from relatively unknown architects.
The opening project for the Ghana section was a housing scheme from Accra designed by the Public Works Department Chief Architect, G. Halstead with architects-in-charge D. A. Barratt and W. J. Clarke. Very little is known about these architects, apart from Halstead worked with S. Bailey (townplanner) on the new layout of Tamale in 1953..
The Accra housing project is a very carefully designed set of 24 apartments arranged across three blocks. Each dwelling faces into the courtyard space and are one room deep to maximise cross ventilation. Each house also has its own private balcony/court for sleeping outside and cooking.
The formal arrangement and sloping roofs are all carefully arranged and the quality of the build is exceptional. I’ve wanted to see these houses for some time now and it was a special moment to see them come into view as I made my way from the 17th Century Danish ‘Christianborg Castle’. The houses were constructed as ‘Junior Staff Quarters’ for people working at the Castle (which was then used as the Prime Minister’s Residence) during the early years of Ghana’s independence.
The houses remain largely unaltered from the original design, albeit lacking some basic maintenance. I spoke to a number of the current residents and they very much enjoy living here. The sense of community is strongly felt, and overlooked internal courtyard adds security. Parts of Community 1 at Tema have a similar feel but don’t quite achieve the ‘walled city in miniature’ qualities of this project. It marks a significant shift from the compound and ‘village-housing’ projects built elsewhere at the time, and continues to offer many clues for how we might design inexpensive housing in Ghana today.