Global Architecture

Two New Buildings in Accra

How are we to build today in Ghana? What is our architectural syntax and how are we to generate form, meaning and qualities that somehow resonate with Ghanaians today? This is of course a difficult question, and not all architecture has to be reflective of the country in which it is built. Indeed, it is very problematic to think of architecture in terms of geo-political territories, especially when the architecture of the West is rarely presented like this. It is unusual to hear of architecture referred to as European, or Luxembourgian for example, but the architectures (and architects) of the global south are frequently labelled according to country or region of origin (Indian, South East Asian, West African for example – see, furthermore when ‘modern’ architecture is produced in those countries it is labelled as mimicry, inauthentic, or somehow borrowed, imported, or not belonging.

This is the difficulty architects face when working in places like Ghana. However, architects must take a stance and adopt a position. They should be self-conscious of the designs that they are making, and conceive of a direction, or ambition for their work. There were two recent buildings that we visited in Accra that are attempting to deliver a new response to architecture.

One Airport Square

One Airport Square

One Airport Square  (designed by Mario Cucinella Architects) has gone for the attention-seeking approach. A complex façade composition made up of diagonally arranged structure with horizontal fins. The fins and ‘columns’ project from the building’s envelope by almost 2m, acting as a vast brise soleil they provide much needed shade, as well as absorbing heat externally whilst reflecting sunlight light into the building.


Atrium of Airport Square One

Internally there is a large atrium space that holds the circulation as well as bringing light into the deep plan and pulling fresh air through the courtyard. This kind of building works well when set amongst other less adventurous forms. It is also helping to create a new context for that part of Accra, and is distinctive enough to become a reference point and landmark. I just hope it doesn’t become part of a silly form-making game with each bank trying to out-do each other in the quest for the next distinctive shape.


Ecobank, Accra

Another new building that has just reached completion is the vast Ecobank Headquarters located adjacent to the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park. This provocative building was designed by a consortium of Ghanaian and South African architects (, the local and site architects being Mobius, lead by KNUST graduate Augustus Richardson. A lightweight metal brise soleil is used to protect the glass façade where the sun strikes, and a perforated metal jali screen offers solar protection at the lower levels, as well as being used to depict a map of the world, and a larger drawing of Africa.


Augustus Richardson with the model of Ecobank

At ground level the building is clad with limestone firmly rooting it into the earth and forming tactile surfaces. The two forms reflect the public banking space, and the private offices of the bank HQ. The bank is orientated on an axis leading towards the concrete obelisk in Africa Liberation Square, and there is a real declaration of optimism in this building. Mobius are an exciting firm to follow, and Richardson kindly took us on a tour of the bank, giving behind the scenes access. The quality of the finish is exceptional and build quality excellent. Richardson clearly cares about architecture and his city; there is a charged excitement in the way he talks about design (see for more on this).

But what of the building envelope? Is it an appropriate response to design an almost entirely glazed building in Accra?

In 1957 Anthony Chitty gave the opening address to the new school of architecture at KNUST and posed this question,

‘Is a regional architecture, a truly African style, possible for West Africa; for Ghana in Particular? I believe the answer to this question is “yes” : not only possible but desirable, something to be striven for.’

In many ways the Ecobank is the perfect response to the clients wishes – they wanted a modern, international office space to reflect their brand, and clearly Ghanaian architects and engineers can deliver this type of work as well as anyone, but, if we are to be critical, are we guilty of what Chitty spoke about 60 years ago when he demanded,

‘Not just a pallid and mediocre edition of the international style, not just the half considered European solution trotted out to make do here, but a real and living architectural answer to your own local problems, social, technical and political, drawing the maximum from such origins as do exist here, a true Ghana aesthetic.’

I don’t think the Ecobank is at all mediocre, or half-considered, and Chitty was over-playing the Ghana aesthetic idea in light of the nationalist tendencies from the time-  but there must be an approach that can make the architecture of this region specific to this place. Other large projects are rapidly springing up (and unlike the Ecobank) they parade the hackneyed multi-coloured cladding approach that is tormenting every city, whereas Ecobank is clearly searching for something more.

The difficulty is how to scale-up ‘tropical’ design. Tropical architecture stems from the bungalow, barracks, and hospitals – it works well for small-scale low-rise buildings, as the Children’s Library, George Padmore, KNUST Senior Staff Club House demonstrate – it wants to be a ground hugging solution set within leafy gardens and evaporation pools.

A bank today however cannot rely on loggias and verandahs, and rising land values and the ability of buildings to generate substantial rental incomes stimulates the high-rise approach.  This was something that Fry and Drew encountered in West Africa. They worked for the Co-op Bank in Nigeria and placed louvres on the facades of multistory buildings, a technique also used by John Addo at Cedi House in Accra. The library at Ibadan presents another alternative – with its delicate screen and effectively double-façade-cum-circulation zone. Fry found the façade too ‘lace-like’ and pursued something more strapping and formal in later works, such as the library at Girls College in Chandigarh’s Sector-11.


Cedi House viewed from Ecobank roof garden

Fry also set himself the challenge of using a glazed façade in a hot climate, again in Chandigarh. At the Government Printing Press he used glass on the north facing façade only, and included adjustable louvres on the interior to reduce glare. The south facing façade was protected by the walkways and an external aluminium louvre system based on the traditional jalousie reduces solar gain.

There is perhaps just the germ of historical precedent in the two recent Accra buildings – and both reveal a confidence in the city, as well as an ambition to test this type of architecture. The next step will be to put some data-loggers into these buildings and to see how they perform. Their critics might be pleasantly surprised.



Biennial Conference, Centre for European Architecture, Kent School of Architecture (UK)

From Building to Continent: How Architecture makes Territories

Cultural landscape refers to landscapes shaped by humans through habitation, cultivation, exploitation and stewardship, and has influenced thinking in other fields, such as architecture. Generally, architecture has been subsumed within cultural landscape itself as a comprehensive spatial continuum. Yet standard architectural histories often analyse buildings as isolated objects, sometimes within the immediate context, but typically with minimal acknowledgement of wider spatial ramifications. However, buildings may become spatial generators, not only in the immediate vicinity, but also at larger geographic scales. ‘Buildings’ in this case include architectural works in the traditional sense, as well as roads, bridges, dams, industrial works, military installations, etc. Such structures have been grouped collectively to represent territories at varying scales.

In the context of this conference, the term ‘territories’ is appealed to rather than ‘landscape’, for the latter is associated with a given area of the earth’s surface, often aestheticized as a type of giant artefact. Territories by contrast are more abstract, and may even overlap. Discussions in this conference may consider varying territorial scale relationships, beginning with the building, moving to the regional, and even to the global. For example, at the level of architectural detailing, buildings may represent large-scale territories, or obscure others, themselves acting as media conveying messages. How tectonic-geographic relationships are represented may also be considered. Various media, primarily maps but also film and digital technologies have created mental images of territories established by buildings, and are all relevant to these discussions. Geopolitical analysis may provide another means towards understanding how architecture makes territories. Governments are often the primary agents, but not always, for religious and special interest groups have played central roles. Mass tourism and heritage management at national and international levels have reinforced, or contradicted, official government messages. Organisations dedicated to international building heritage, such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) also are implicated in such processes.

Paper proposals may cover anytime period, continuing into the present. Relevant proposals from all disciplines are welcomed.


Conference organisers: Dr. David H. Haney, and Dr. Luciano Cardellichio.

Conference webpage address:


Paper abstracts: 150-200 words in length.

Paper abstract submission due date: 5th February, 2018.

Paper selection announcement date: 31st of March, 2018.

Please send paper abstracts as a Word doc (without images):


Conference dates: 28th and 29th of June, 2018

Location: Canterbury, Kent, UK

Venue: The Cathedral Lodge:

Daily Schedule: to be published

Conference Fee: £140 per person. Includes coffee/tea and refreshments, and buffet lunches on both days.

To pay the registration fee online, please click here:

A conference publication containing selected essays is planned.

Keynote Speaker Lectures:

Professor Lucia Allais, Princeton University (US): ‘Maps of monuments and scales of design: Strategic bombing and the postwar international order’.

Professor Mark Bassin, Södertörn University (Stockholm): ‘Nature as State: Geopolitics and Landscape Monuments’.

Professor Kenny Cupers, University of Basel: ‘The Earth that Modernism Built’.

Professor Tullia Iori, The University of Rome Tor Vergata: ‘Engineering the Italian Landscape: the Autostrada del Sole as Territorial Construct for a New Post-War National Identity’.

The Transnational Architecture Group Blog is 5 Today!

It’s five years since our first tentative blog post. Since that day we’ve posted over 200 articles, calls for papers, and general research updates on all things architecturally transnational.

One of our major research interests has of course been the work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, with the publication of the monograph in 2014 and international conference. But that was just the start. Since then we’ve covered Shama Anbrine and Yemi Salami’s PhD work in Pakistan and Nigeria respectively, as well as Cleo Robert’s PhD work in India. Rachel Lee tested and developed our Timescape App in Bangalore and also published a wonderful monograph (with TAG Press) on Otto Koenigsberger. She was also responsible for a major heritage symposium in Dar es Salam. Ola Uduku has been our most prolific ‘commenter’ as well as providing many research updates on our findings in Ghana and organising numerous workshops on the Architecture of Africa. Our current research project has been sponsored by the British Academy and we’re delighted to be collaborating with Rexford Assasie Oppong (KNUST) and Irene Appeaning Addo (Legon University) on this work.  There is going to be a lot more research stemming from this initial project, not least the cataloguing and archiving of the major drawings collection at KNUST, with Łukasz Stanek from Manchester University.

Other forays have taken us to Thailand and the work of Nat Phothiprasat, as well as to Sri Lanka and the plans of Patrick Abercombie.  We’ve posted abstracts and links to many other papers and projects, not least Johan Lagaes and Kathleen James-Chakraborty’s papers. Killian Doherty and Edward Lawrenson’s film on Yekepa promises to be one of the highlights of 2018.

More recent posts have revealed the rich architecture of the Middle East, including Levin’s paper on Ashkelon, William A. Henderson‘s work at Little Aden,  Ben Tosland’s research into Kuwait, Alsalloum’s moving paper on Damascus and Jackson’s paper on the PWD in Iraq. There’s surely a lot more to investigate here.

It’s been great fun, and here’s to the next five years of exciting research, difficult questions, dusty roads and even dustier archives, and of course new discoveries that make everything worthwhile.

We’d like to thank all of the blog contributors (please do continue to send us your updates, research findings and short articles). Thanks also to our committed readers and for all of your kind comments and emails.

Iain Jackson.


From Sheboygan to Los Angeles: Conference Updates

I was fortunate to attend two conferences this week that traced the research topics I’ve been investigating during the last 20 years. The first was at the John Michael Kolher Arts Centre and focused on ‘Visionary Environments’ [that is, places and objects built by self-taught and ‘outsider’ artists/builders/architects] and the second was the GAHTC investigating how we might teach a Global Architectural History.
‘The Road Less Travelled’ conference/exhibition at JMKAC celebrated the centre’s 50th Anniversary and brought together many of the contributors, responders, artists and scholars associated with this extraordinary set of 17 exhibitions. It forms a radical set of artwork with equally provocative and experimental curating. I’ve previously reviewed some of their earlier displays in Raw Vision Magazine and on this blog here. Three highlights from the current set of exhibitions include the works of Dr Charles Smith, Eugene von Bruenchenhein and Stella Waitzkin.
It was an engaging line-up and full of challenges ranging from conservation, community use, cultural concerns, research methods, and lots on Pasaquan.  Prof. Jo Farb Hernandez’s documentation work in Spain really resonated and she’s gathering more material for a follow-up book. I also enjoyed the podcast/lecture on the Forevertron by Benjamin Walker and The Theory of Everything.
There was a strong connection between these two conferences – both held a desire to reexamine and question the way we think about architecture and art, both in terms of its production as well as in its dissemination and history. GAHTC is working from within the canon [with a desire to change it], whereas JMKAC perhaps doesn’t view its collection as architectural, or as something architectural historians might be concerned with.  Its collection certainly falls within the ‘architecture without architects’ bracket but not in the way that Bernard Rudofsky presented it. Perhaps the common denominator between these conferences is the visionary environment in LA built by Italian migrant Simon Rodia, and now known as Watts Towers. I paid homage to this staggering creation and highly recommend it.
JMKAC has recently become the new home for SPACES archive [previously held in California] that contains some wonderful survey drawings, model and photographic documentation of the Towers, currently on display at JMKAC.
The SPACES methodology and detailed survey work sets the standard in this area, and their collection is being digitised. In many ways GAHTC is attempting to build up an equivalent archive of teaching material. To date, there are over 200 lectures held in its repository, and the ambition is for another 200+ lectures. They are also issuing a number of grants for scholars to develop new teaching resources and material. The three plenary speakers, Philip J Ethington, Stella Nair and Greg Castillo stoked considerable debate on cultural appropriation, settlements that existed on the site now occupied by Los Angeles, and the power of mapping this data. I also enjoyed the module proposed by Alicia Imperiale with its three lectures considering various aspects of mobile architecture, (including one by TAG friend Anoo Siddiqi).

Paul Oliver Obituary by Elain Harwood

Only 1% of houses around the world were designed by architects. Paul Oliver, who has died aged 90, devoted himself to studying the remainder, architecture that was of the people rather than built for them. His books on vernacular architecture ranged from Dunroamin: The Suburban Semi and Its Enemies (1981, with Ian Davis and Ian Bentley) to a three-volume Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (1997), produced with 780 contributors from 80 countries.

An artist by training who became a distinctive commentator on both architectural history and music, especially the blues, he considered himself a generalist, though writing from an architectural background; when pressed, in 1998, he accepted the term “architectural anthropologist”.

His opportunity to develop this perspective came from taking a part-time job as drawing master at the Architectural Association (AA) in London in 1960. When the leading academics Robert Furneaux Jordanand Sir John Summerson both quit, he was left as the principal lecturer in architectural history.

Oliver’s inspiring teaching took two strands. One was the study of modernism, with its emphasis on simplicity, quality and economy. The other was vernacular architecture.

His interest had been aroused when his parents moved to Symondsbury, near Bridport in Dorset, a village with a strong music tradition, a mummer’s play and a close-knit cottage community. Then six articles in the Architectural Review by EA Gutkind, a planner, in 1953 revealed the diversity of traditional building around the world.

The study of vernacular traditions offered ideas on honest construction and functionalism attractive to modern architects, while also contributing to Britain’s emerging conservation movement. An international dimension took hold when in 1964 Oliver was invited to teach at the School of Architecture in Kumasi, Ghana, where his AA colleague John Lloyd was principal. Oliver and his students studied the ways of managing a humid climate and restricted resources, patterns of use and the buildings’ cultural values. His eyes were opened by the housing of the Gurunsi people, compounds with “the formal beauty and logic of pottery”, as he later wrote, which were being swept away for a reservoir and replaced by rows of prefab dwellings that paid no respect to Gurunsi traditions.

Paul Oliver had a lifelong interest in African-American music
Paul Oliver had a lifelong interest in African-American music

The Ghana trip coincided with Bernard Rudofsky’s exhibition Architecture Without Architects at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Although it was important in popularising vernacular architecture as a subject, Oliver was enraged by its emphasis on the buildings as art objects, which he considered patronising. Working with colleagues from the AA, including students from its small department of tropical architecture, he offered a broader cultural perspective in his book Shelter and Society (1969). Further books on Africa, Greece and symbolism in buildings followed.

His greatest love was perhaps sub-Saharan Africa where, under Islamic and Christian influences, architecture predominates among the visual arts. His contributors were architects and anthropologists, but the disciplines seemed entirely separate; only archaeologists took a holistic view, and Oliver considered their approach to be as valid for the present as the past.

He advised on conservation issues in French towns and villages for the Patrimoine Historique et Artistique de la France. The British Council supported research and teaching in East Africa and India, and he worked for the Overseas Development Administration in Turkey, the Balkans, Central America and Mexico. Some projects focused on the vulnerability of vernacular buildings to earthquakes and floods, and the failures of post-disaster housing that had not taken account of the lessons of older cultures.

Oliver became head of the AA’s graduate school in 1971, but left two years later to lead the art and design department at Dartington College of Arts, at Dartington Hall, Devon. He became an associate head of the architecture school at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) in 1978 and founder of the Shelter and Settlements Unit there. His greatest concern was to safeguard traditions in the face of technological change. He believed that the wisdom, skills and satisfaction of human needs embodied in traditional buildings were fundamental to the housing of millions in the 21st century.

In 1987 Oliver took early retirement, though he continued as a visiting professor, so he could devote himself to his research, stimulated by the suggestion of Alyn Shipton, reference editor at the publisher Blackwell, that he produce an encyclopedia of world architecture. His three-volume study was organised by cultures rather than countries, with the first volume explaining general traits, environments, materials and services. Oliver was particularly proud of sections like that for Ethiopia, which was entirely written by local scholars, while gamely taking on himself areas in which no research existed.

A forked post used in vernacular architectural style to support a beam in Taos, New Mexico
A forked post used in vernacular architectural style to support a beam in Taos, New Mexico

Born in Nottingham, Paul grew up in Pinner, north-west London, the son of W Norman Oliver, an architect, and his wife, the former Dorothy Edmunds. His father was keen that Paul should follow him into the profession, but he lacked any talent for mathematics and turned instead to painting.

At the age of 16, Paul entered Harrow Art School, where he met his future wife, Valerie Coxon (they married in 1950), and began a lifelong interest in African-American music. He trained as an art teacher at Goldsmith’s College, London, and in 1949 returned to his old school, the Harrow county school for boys, as art master. There he established a department teaching crafts as well as art, acted as client for a new building, and introduced an African-American music society after the headmaster refused to allow a jazz club. When he left this post for the AA, the drop in his income forced him to write more music reviews.

In 2003 Oliver was appointed MBE. His archive and photographs of vernacular architecture from around the world are held by Oxford Brookes University. In 2015, photographs demonstrating the inclusive and cross-cultural approach that he championed were exhibited in Oxford as Architecture for All.

Valerie died in 2002.
Elain Harwood

originally published in The Guardian:

As a factor of globalization that accompanied the modern colonial and postcolonial period, transnationalism and an emerging landscape of cosmopolitan sites offered women new proving ground outside established social, cultural, and commercial spheres of architecture and planning. In this session, we investigate the significance of transnational mobility, over an open time period, for women as architects, planners, patrons, builders, curators, historians, or other users of the built environment. Whether their movement was based on privileged access to international networks or resulted from forced migration, we find repeated instances of an engagement in debates on regionalism, the vernacular, the everyday, the folkloric, and the anonymous, as expressions in architecture and planning. Seeing these debates as deeply contingent on the subject’s position, this session seeks precision on a problem that has inhabited the fringes of architectural and planning history: the gendered connections between an extreme mobility (understood as conditioned by specific historical contexts) and a theory of the situated. Thinking with Donna Haraway—in particular, her concern with ‘situated knowledge’ as that which is informed by the subject’s position and does not attempt the abstraction of universalism—this session attempts to map mobility and gender onto one another within a set of practices and visions that focused on structuring, building, historicizing, or thinking the undesigned, the unplanned. We see this in part as stemming from the vision of a stranger, a function of vision from a periphery or a territorially interior margin. As Hilde Heynen has discussed in relation to Sybil Moholy-Nagy, the turn to architecture without architects also shifted claims upon expertise, opening the position of expert to a wider pool. This session takes the epistemological question of what knowledge is produced by transnational mobility, and attempts to move beyond the frequent challenges of the archive and historiography, to suggest certain sites of resistance to a ‘canon’ from which many women have been excluded, as well as to the various borders which define architectural expression, authors, and publics. Bringing the work of women architects and non-architects alike into conversation, we invite papers that consider understudied professional figures such as Sybil Moholy-Nagy, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Charlotte Perriand, Erica Mann, Jane Drew, Lina Bo Bardi, Minnette de Silva, Hannah Schreckenbach, Dorothy Hughes, Gillian Hopwood, Ursula Olsner, and Denise Scott Brown, or a variety of named and unnamed groups of women—clients, laborers, refugees—whose transnational travels affected the built environment or its history.

Co-chairs: Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi and Rachel Lee

Submissions: Please submit max. 300-word abstracts to or

Deadline: 30 September 2017

**Deadline 19 May!**

reposted from

OPEN CALL: Rogelio Salmona Fellowship Torres del Parque / photo by Enrique Guzmán © Fundación Rogelio Salmona

Torres del Parque / Photo by Enrique Guzman / copyright Rogelio Salmona

The British Council is seeking applications from architects and designers who have an interest in exploring the work of Rogelio Salmona and other architects and designers in Colombia for the Rogelio Salmona Fellowship.

Applications from practitioners in fields other than architecture and design are also welcome to apply (e.g. art; curatorial studies; history; social sciences or philosophy as well as architectural conservation and restoration; urban planning, architecture or design history or criticism).

The Rogelio Salmona Fellowship, alongside the Julio Vilamajó Residency in Uruguay, follows the success of the Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship in Brazil.

The Fellowship seeks to raise awareness and understanding of the important contribution of Salmona to architecture, culture and society in Colombia and across the region; to widen and deepen the understanding of his work internationally, to create long-term connections between the UK and Colombia, and between British and Colombian designers and architects, providing a development opportunity for talented British practitioners.

The Rogelio Salmona Fellowship is organised by the British Council and coordinated by Más Arte Más Acción, in partnership with Fundación Rogelio Salmona, Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá and Centro Cultural Universitario Rogelio Salmona – Universidad de Caldas.

 The Residency

While in Colombia, the designer in residence will be offered accommodation and access to a network of key contacts. They will be encouraged to visit all of Salmona’s built projects, to study the archive of his work, and to speak with people who have studied his life. A study of the work of other architects and designers, as well as Colombian culture as a whole, is also encouraged. The residency will be split between Bogotá and the Colombian Pacific Coast, and may include other cities in Colombia according to the proposed itinerary by the selected Fellow.

In addition to any specific areas that applicants would like to research, possible lines of enquiry in Rogelio Salmona’s work include:

  • Architecture and citizenship;
  • History and memory;
  • Environment and nature;
  • Craft and materials;
  • Public realm.

Applicants must be able to travel to Colombia for a period of 5-6 weeks between 15 July and 15 September 2017 (arriving in Bogotá before 15 August 2017).

How to Apply

Further information on the Fellowship and on how to apply detailed on the Open Call document.

The deadline for submissions is 16:00 (GMT) on Friday 19 May 2017.