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Figure 1: A map of Africa showing Ghana’s location on the continent. 2








Figure 2: Map of modern-day ghana showing the various regions that make up the country. 4

PREFACE I emerged from the plane like the air erupting from a shaken can of coca-cola, full of energy and desperate to escape the confines of my seat. Descending the stairs onto the tarmac, I was struck by a wash of humid tropical air and a gust of red soil. Balancing the need to manage my oversized luggage and my desire to look hard, professional, and composed, I staggered toward the airport proper. Scenes of thatched huts, colonial castles, palm trees and bars of gold met my gaze. Akwabaa! Welcome to Ghana, the Gateway to Africa, the painted mural read in a handwritten, raw, 1960’s style befitting my expectations for arts and culture in the dark continent. I continued on. After a short time of processing by the local officials, I was free to go forth into the night, life, and chaos of the capital city. Accra, the city of gated communities, flat screen TV’s, and air conditioned grocery stores. Accra, the city of traffic on paved roads, on gravel roads, on roads of dirt. Accra, the city of opulence, the city of squalor, and the city of cell phone companies. Later I would find myself in Cape Coast, a city some 150 kilometers east of Accra. Devoid of the wealth found in the capital, the texture of life here is different. New buildings are not to be seen among the eroded soil and homes of antiquity. A colonial aesthetic mixes with a more indigenous building style like salt and pepper, filling the blocks like haphazardly placed infill. City planning is hard to identify, save for a few landmark elements. Running down the center of the city is the main road, lined with stores; wares overflow into the street. Salespeople shout at passersby, eagerly vying for the attention of the multitude of pedestrians. Stands pop up everywhere along the way, where one can buy used sandals, old cell phones, and pre-paid mobile cards. Occasionally tourists can be seen here. The white man is a rarity, and it is known that he has money. They rarely stop and buy things that the locals sell, however. Instead, they drift their way down to the coast, where tourism is in full swing. Wooden


boxes and small stores are directed at the tourist, where the salesmen will proclaim undying loyalty to their “dear friends”. Next I took a ‘tro-tro’ through rural Ghana.1 After an hour and a half of staring out of the window at scene after scene of uncultivated jungle, I was at my new home. Finally, I arrived at my destination: Twifo Hemang, a rural village 75 kilometers north of Cape Coast. Here, the texture of life was different once more. Trash and rubble lined the lone paved road slicing its way through the village. The pungent smell of old fish assaulted my nostrils as I passed by the village market, despite its vacancy due to the day of the week. Masonry and permanence appeared to be of even less importance than in Cape Coast. Brightly colored homes and stores lined the street, but just one layer beyond, disintegrating homes of compressed dirt were the norm. Laying just beyond the seemingly arbitrary layout of built environment is “the bush,” homogenous with the endless scene of undeveloped land that I passed through to get here. Twifo Hemang acts like a bubble of civilization, inflated from the road, closing off at its extents to be swallowed once more by the jungle. But life is not lonesome. Friends and family gather excitedly around the lone color TV at the store to root for their favorite football players, shouting proclamations of triumph at their victory. Inhabitants will gladly take time out of their day to direct you to the very best place to purchase avocados, mangos, or cassava tubers. Locals will also gladly stop and talk to their neighbors on the street, exchanging greetings and updates on their family life. Despite the fact that the inhabitants have little by way of material goods, they are not lacking in relationships. How did these three different worlds come to be? How are they each genuinely Ghanaian? While culture, society, and history are intertwined into a single, complex textile, the architecture of the country acts as a channel for understanding these factors. As Nicholas Mirzoeff stated in The Visual Cul1. Tro-tro is the local term for public transit; in practice, they are privately owned vans that act like communal taxis. As many as 20 passengers will cram into these vehicles as they make requested stops along a loosely defined route.


ture Reader, “Most of our visual experience takes place aside from...formally structured moments of informal ‘looking’, but instead occurs in the critically neglected visual experiences of everyday life.”2 Architecture synthesizes history with the transformation of typological, social, and cultural factors. It is for this reason the lens of the history of vernacular architecture must be donned, if this complex country is to be understood. This realization came to me in the summer of 2013 as I was building a library in a rural village in Ghana called Twifo Hemang. I journeyed with a group of 15 students from the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture as the culmination of a two part studio. The first semester was spent conducting research and design and the second semester was a summer abroad physically building our proposal with hand tools. During construction, I came to understand that our design was not resonating with the local cultures and traditions, but I did not know exactly why. As a result, I set forth on a series of independent field investigations in the cities of Elmina, Cape Coast, Accra, Kumasi, and villages in the tropical belt of Ghana to find an answer. I understand now that a thorough investigation of a culture is morally imperative before a designer is able to make a lasting positive impact on foreign soil and the brief research our studio conducted was insufficient. The gears of change are constantly in motion; in a rapidly globalizing world, each turning cog impacts more and more of the whole. It is my hope this investigation will serve as a prototype for future designers and builders. Just like small pebbles can change the course of a river after many years, our buildings, too, can change the course of society for better or worse. Throughout its history, Ghana has been a nation of many ethnic groups. Beginning in 5500 BC, the Ancient Ghana Empire was settled by a collective of tribes called the Benue-Kwa. Pressured by invaders from the north, these people split into groups known as the Yoruba, Igbo, Bantu, and Akan, some of whom still inhabit modern day Ghana. These people diversified, settled, and 2 . Mirzoeff, Nick. The Visual Culture Reader. London: Routledge, 1998. p.7


Figure 3: Distribution of ethnic groups in northern Ghana. Source: Madeleine Manoukian, Tribes of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, International African Institute Ethnographic Survey, West Africa, No. 5 (London, 1952)


created unique dwelling typologies to fit their new geographic environments: the savannah, the rainforest, and the coast. Hundreds of years later, the colonial age introduced a new conflict—Europeans threatened the status quo of the Ghanaian way of life with the introduction of new technology, an alien culture, and plans antithetical to their best interests.3 Around the early 1600s, this conflict brought about two major changes: a new coastal typology hybridizing colonial architecture with traditional buildings and a cohesive indigenous political group—the Asante empire. Under the banner of a common enemy, a kingdom was formed, setting into motion the pathway to independence. Beginning in 1947, a movement for freedom from British rule swept the nation with a man named Kwame Nkrumah at the helm. Not only did this visionary secure independence for Ghana, but he also instituted a sweeping reform in the meaning of nationalism for the country. The new government body had much to say about the history of its peoples, carefully cultivating a unified image and censoring content deemed incompatible to the perspective of the Ashanti as rulers. Although many microcultures in the country were suffocated, a unified cultural identity was formed; it was a culture that was intentionally and exclusively African. 4 The status quo of modern day Ghana is once again in peril from outside forces. A rapidly globalized planet brought about a new type of warfare; no longer a conquest of land fought with swords and guns, it is a battle of cultural and industrial conquest fought with economies, thinkers, and builders. 3. In 1481, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Ghana. 4. A comprehensive history of this period can be found in Janet Hess’s book, Art and Architecture in Post Colonial Africa, Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2006. on pages 17-69. One example of censorship from this period is seen by the amount of control exercised by the Ghana Cinematograph Exhibitions Board of Control. In 1968, 381 films were submitted to the censorhip process. Two hundred and thirteen were rejected. (New Ghana, April 26, 1961, p.2) Or look at the series of documentaries depicting Ghanaian life by the film distribution company West Africa Pictures. After independence, the company was reincorporated as the State Film Industry Comporatoin, which functioned as a method for distributing the policies and propoganda of the Nkrumah Administration.


Foreign influences are sweeping across the country, offering sweet promises of wealth, commodity, and comfort.5 Meanwhile, the resources of the modern age are facilitating a population explosion that demands a change in lifestyle—cities promise more opportunity and Ghanians come in droves.6 Once threatened 5. Reports from mobile phone companies, for example, suggest over 100% market penetration for cell phones, a large percentage of which includes access to mobile data. It is common for a Ghanian to have multiple cell phones in order to cover spotty service in various areas. “Ghana: Mobile Users top 25 Million”, published February 13th 2013, and Mobile Penetration Cross 100% in Ghana, published February 4th 2013, http://business.myjoyonline. com/pages/news/201302/100891.php 6. How does Ghana fit into the global scheme of things? In 1970, the Ghana’s population numbered 8.5 million, 28.5% of which lived in urban centers. As of 2012, there are 25.4 million inhabitants, 37% living in cities. Merely 40 years have brought about a staggering change. 9.4 million people live in urban conditions in Ghana—more than the population of the entire country in 1970! Compare Ghana’s population growth in this time period of almost 300% with 150% in the USA—205 million in 1970 to 313 million in 2012. Rates of population growth are similar in Ghana’s neighboring countries. The population of Ghana’s neighbor to the west, Cote d’Ivore, numbered 5.6 million in 1970 and reached 20.5 million in 2012. Likewise, Ghana’s northern neighbor, Burkina Faso, was 5.6 million in 1970 and hit 17.5 million in 2012. Ghana is also a leader in education. In 2012, it saw a 98.2% completion rate of primary school, compared to 73% in Nigeria in 2010, 91% in Kenya in 2005, or 69% in 2011 for Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Ghana’s literacy rate is at 86% in 2010, which is not as impressive as South Africa’s 98%. But compared to Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole (70%), they are a top contender. Tertiary enrollment is at a regional high as well, with 12% continuing their education, compared to 15% from South Africa, or a 7.5% for Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. In terms of health, Ghana is also doing very well. HIV presence is the lowest in the region—0.3% compared to 0.7% in Nigeria or 1.16% in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Additionally, Ghana has the highest life expectancy in comparable countries. Ghana sits at 59.89 years of age versus 51.42 in Nigeria, 53.48 in South Africa, or 54.85 in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2011, Ghana experienced a 15% gain in GDP compared to 1.8% in the US, 3.5% in South Africa, or 6.8% in Nigeria. Ghana’s resource-driven economy is the second largest in West Africa, ninth on the continent. Ghana is the second largest exporter of lumber and


by gunpowder and steel, now Chinese steel and Western culture stand poised to sweep away the very thing Ghanians hold closest: their identity. Will the country unite once more against a common enemy? Will they come forth with new architectural typologies to fit their new sociopolitical environment? An examination of the three major periods of life in Ghana, characterized by two major shifts, may provide clues about the course of the country’s future. The first major shift was a change in physical environment: the story began around 700 AD. It was the settling of the modern geographic country, the foundation of Ghana’s people and the starting point of discussion. The second major shift began with change in political structure. This period of political change reaches from the introduction of colonialism to the decades after independence, or the late 1400s to 1981. Colonialism brought about the most traumatic period of the country’s history; a foreign influence not only managed to control much of the economic and political forces of Ghana and enslave some of its people, but also instituted many changes in building technology and urban planning. This period of change didn’t end with the withdrawal of the British, however. Post-independence Ghana, especially under the Nkrumah administration, was a period of political reform that brought about a newfound sense of nationalism and much widespread change. Now Ghana stands on the cusp of a new major shift that may determine the course of the future of West Africa: it is a transformation of cultural identity.

gold on the continent and the second largest exporter of cocoa worldwide. In addition, they have an abundance of diamonds, bauxite, manganese, and salt. Oil has also recently been discovered, and the China Development Bank has invested three billion USD in exploration projects with the intent of building natural gas plants, pipelines, railways, and harbor facilities to expedite the exportation process. Ghana’s political stability is a large factor for these statistics. In 2012 alone, Ghana attracted seven billion USD worth of foreign direct investment, second under Nigeria, with coastal cities like Accra seeing the most explosion in development.


THE AGE OF ORIGINS THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF ANCIENT INDIGENOUS ARCHITECTURE Traditionally, the Western world circumscribed architecture in terms of permanent, monumental, public structures which could be documented in time and space. Courses in architectural history were divided by subject matter into a chronology which began with the written word. Preliterate or non literate societies were, until recently, not considered respectable residents on the typological plateau of “civilization� established by Western thought, because written word was used as a critical measure.7 This view is not only shameful, but also dangerously erroneous. By discarding the pre-colonial societies of the African continent as uncivilized or unworthy of study, an entire wealth of history is discarded. Much like the orient or the Polynesian islands, the relative isolation of the early history of the peoples therein has acted as a unique incubator for the evolution of human society. The Western world, although dominant, is only one example of desirable human conditions. African social and cultural life teaches different lessons 7. Prussin, Labelle. Architecture in Northern Ghana; a Study of Forms and Functions. Berkeley: University of California, 1969. p.4


because it has evolved under drastically different geographic and political conditions. Although historically considered to be of low importance, the typologies of African architecture showcase a pure relationship between environment, man, and their rich social structure. As Labelle Prussin stated in An Introduction to Indigenous African Architecture, “By considering a universal frame in which man’s delimitation and enclosure of space not only defines his physical needs but justifies his raison d’etre as well, then all aspects of the man-built environment may be viewed in the context of aesthetic expression and the boundaries of architectural expression can be extended and redefined.” 8 In a society where personal possessions are secondary to the family group, what happens to the architecture? Many African cultures view permanence differently from people in Western countries and Ghana is no exception. Family is above all else; permanence is viewed as a biological legacy. Traditional homes in Ghana speak a meta-language, revealing the size of the group, the relationship between family members, and define areas of responsibility. For example, when a man marries and moves out of his childhood home, the room will be allowed to crumble to earth and be swept away by the wind. Instead of perceiving this erosion as an absence of stability, it is associated with “renewal, rejuvenation, and rebirth”.9 Impermanent buildings in Ghana are of greater importance than the monuments which have stood the test of time because they speak to the process of life. While monuments are the “what”, impermanent buildings are the “how”, cutting through myth and ambiguity, always honest.

8. . An Introduction to Indigenous African Architecture. Philadelphia: Society of Architectural Historians, 1974. p.185 9.

. Architecture in Northern Ghana, p.205


Figure 4: The origins of the people of modern day Ghana are a combination of myth and tradition, passed down from generation to generation among a multitude of people groups with various lifestyles and oral traditions. Figure 4 shows the wide variety of land uses among the people of Northen Ghana. It is not hard to imagine why people groups of varying levels of nomadism would each value different themes in a story of origins. Map source: J. Brian Wills, Agriculture and Land Use in Ghana London: Oxford University Press, 1962



“The origins of the peoples of northern Ghana have long been obscured by the vagueness of social mythology, so often a combination of fact and fantasy.� 10 While the true geographic origins of modern day Ghana may never be fully defined, it is generally agreed that sometime around 700 AD the populations that fill Ghana today settled in the region and formed differing architectural typologies based on their physical environment and their specific social structure. Like all geographic regions, Ghana is filled with many microclimates. These have spawned many minor differences in lifestyle, but the country can be broadly categorized into two regions: north and south, defined as savannah and tropics. Life in northern Ghana means life on the savannah. It is comprised of a long dry season brought on by the biting sand which is blown by the dry, dusty harmattan winds from the Sahara, and punctuated by a brief season of rain. Since daily temperature change may swing as much as 20 degrees celcius, the climate requires an architectural solution to heat the dwelling at night and cool the inhabitants during the day. Although northern Ghana hosts a wide variety of people groups and cultural values, the architectural forms are fairly similar. The typological solution is a round house with thick walls composed of laterite (clay) and few openings. This rounded form also casts a gradient of light upon the exterior, making the dwellings less reflective when the harsh midday sun shines down. In areas bordering the tropical belt, the building construction may also incorporate a structure of wattle and daub to serve as reinforcement against the rain, however, access to wooden building materials can be scarce in the northern region. 10. . p.6 An oratory tradition of passing information down the generations is prevalent in this part of the world. Furthermore, not all people groups agree on their stories. Prussin noted about northern Ghana.


Social structure takes on several forms in the north, therefore, compound typologies and village layout have come to reflect their nuances. Compare for a moment the settlements of the Tallensi versus the Dagomba. In the Tallensi compound, each entrance to a compound is marked by a tree which serves the role of an ancestral shrine, a resting place from the midday sun, and the location of all gatherings and meetings. Each farming group has its own gateway into the compound, which, when coupled as the location for chicken roosts, symbolizes economic independence. Likewise, social hierarchy is expressed in the built form. For example, the most senior wife in the compound will live in closest proximity to the largest granary, and the door will face her quarters. By contrast, the Dagomba residences display more emphasis on communal spaces. Entrance into the compound is through an antechamber. Kitchens for both the dry and wet seasons are communal, which allows for a more spacious feel in the compound, and emphasis is given to the central courtyard. Another distinction of form is granted to the living spaces of young men; their rooms are the only ones which are rectangular, reflecting the sojourn they make to the tropical belt and their exposure to other typologies. Rectangular forms also disintegrate faster than the round buildings and are not maintained with the same frequency, symbolizing the temporal nature of their position as an unmarried man. The form of tropical architecture fluctuates less in form just as temperature swings far less between day and night and dry and wet seasons. Unlike the north, the tropical belt is much more isolated and is far less subjected to outside influences. The inhabitant’s access to wooden building materials and shade from thick foliage define the largest reasons for differences in form. The primary concern for shelter is to maximize cross ventilation, which results in floors raised off the ground with large, louvered openings. Unlike the rounded neighbors of the north, the buildings in the tropics are primarily rectangular, which are much more suited to capturing cross breezes. As a result, most dwellings adopt a square courtyard form where a large open space in the middle serves the general day-to-day activities such as cooking, clean-


Figure 5 and 6: Compare the nuances between the Tallensi and the Dagomba. Although formally similar in plan, variations in culture reveal slight differences. The Dagomba emphasize a more communal social life resulting in a large courtyard and an antechamber for their entrance. The Tellensi by contrast favor economic independence and social hierarchy, building individual gates for each independent family unit in the compound and display status via the proximity and location to the other rooms in the compound. Source: Prussin, Labelle. Architecture in Northern Ghana; a Study of Forms and Functions. Berkeley: University of California, 1969, p.33 and p.59 17

Figure 6: Photo of the typical courtyard style house found in the rural areas of the tropical belt in Ghana. This house was directly across the street from the site of the Library that we built. Figure 7: An example of the haphazard town structure common of rural Ghana. The road acts as an organizing element, clustering commernce along its axis, but one or two levels beyond, things become much less structured. This particular shot is from Twifo Hemang. 18

ing, and socializing while leaving the more private activities like sleeping, bathing, or the storage of goods to the periphery. Roads in the rural tropical belt are much less prevalent than in urban centers and as a consequence, the road, along with one or two market areas for a given town, acts as a nexus for commerce.11 Small wooden stands pop up along the road’s edge. One layer beyond sits a host of rectangular buildings which are used to store and sell larger quantities of wares, generally with one spacious opening that can be sealed during off hours. Perhaps the greatest example of tropical typology is seen in its permutation in the administrative buildings of the Asante empire in Kumasi. As a direct reversal and acknowledgment of centralized authority, exterior porches were faced outward, symbolizing the obligatory participation of regional representatives in a public forum.12

11. Albert, Frants, and C. C. T. Blankson. Studies on Urban Land Use and Urban Growth in Ghana. Kumasi, Ghana: Dept. of Housing and Planning Research, Faculty of Architecture, U.S.T., 1974. p.16 Compare 10% of land used for traffic and transportation as a national average of which only a fraction of which is paved versus 27.9% in Accra. 12. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.93


PART II: THE AGE OF URBAN REFORM Spanning from 1481 to 1966, the Age of Urban Reform in Ghana is defined by the political structure governing the wheels of change. This age is characterized by two eras: the advent of colonialism and the onset of independence. Early history of Ghana was limited by small, fractured political units defined by tribes, regions, and chiefs. In this period of Ghana’s history, a united country emerged under colonial powers, the native Ashanti empire, and finally a self-governed democracy. While European influence brought many atrocities to the country, it also paved the way for modern infrastructure. By peacefully transitioning from foreign rule to self-government and reuniting the fractured pieces of Ghanaian culture, the liberation of Ghana acted as a model for other African nations and still shines as a beacon of hope for the continent today.


European influence began in 1481 when the Portuguese landed in Elmina, Ghana and discovered from local traders the wealth of gold in the region. This led the Portuguese to establish Elmina as their regional capital and consequently constructed a castle in the city in 1482, which still stands as a tourist attraction to this day. Meanwhile, the local Asante peoples existed as a loose empire known by other West African states for the wealth of their traders


Figure 7: Elmina Castle and the Atlantic Ocean. It was built by the Portuguese in 1482, making it the oldest European building south of the Sahara. First established as a trading post, it would later become one of the most important stops in the Atlantic slave trade. Figure 8: Mess hall of Elmina Castle.


and for their military prowess. This was the direct result of their capital city of Kumasi being located at the nexus of a number of trade routes which extended from the Gulf of Guinea and reaching all the way up through the Sahara. Initially, relations between Europeans and Ashanti were mutually beneficial. But by the mid 1600s, the Dutch joined the Portuguese in their their quest for gold, flexing their military might and eventually overthrowing several fortresses. Soon the Dutch were joined by the Swedish, Danish, and Germans, building more than 30 forts along the coast.13 Finally, in 1874 the British gained control of the region with their superior military. Throughout this period the foreign settlers steadily gained more and more influence over the region, increasingly spreading unease among the locals. The Ashanti people were especially unhappy with the spread of foreign power from the coast and many violent conflicts ensued throughout this period. The relationship between Europeans and native Ghanaians was complicated, however. Because foreign weapons and wealth would fuel the Asante empire’s growing power, Europeans were allowed to gain a foothold in the region. The British demand for slaves was insatiable and the Asante found the procurement of humans to trade abundant from conflicts with neighboring tribes and other African states.14 As the Asante fed the European’s growing 13. Due to the abundance of gold, the coastline of Ghana had more fortresses than any other area in Africa. Levy, Ghana. 14. Kwame Arhin stated, “Karl Marx himself could hardly have been more thorough. The Ashantis were after nothing but profit, for which they periodically sacrificed themselves in thousands.” (Arhin, Kwame. The Structure of Greater Ashanti, 1700-1824. Indianapolis, IN: College Division, Bobbs-Merrill, n.d., p.65) This is given in more detail by Ellis in A History of the Gold Coast of West Africa: “The defeat of Denkyera had brought Ashantis into touch with the apparently inexhaustible demand for slaves and gold created by the European traders on the Gold Coast. Their conquest of the peoples between Ashanti and the sea was to a large extent inspired by the desire to trade in gold and slaves without putting money into the pockets of the chiefs and merchants of the intervening tribes. It also enabled them to secure guns and ammunition for their northern conquests, which provided them with more slaves and gold for sale to the


hunger for slaves, both groups mutually grew in power, until 1874 when the British finally broke the spirit of the Ashanti kingdom. A large military force embarked on a campaign through the eastern and southern regions of Ghana, eventually reaching the Asante capital of Kumasi. The city was burned to the ground and the symbol of the king, a golden stool, was destroyed.15 Fourteen years later, a colonial official passing through the area stated, Kumasi...was nothing more than a large clearing in the forest, over which were scattered, somewhat irregularly, groups of houses. The paths were dirty and ill-kept, and between the groups of houses large patches of waste ground intervened, and on these, amidst the tall coarse grass that covered them, were to be seen the remains of houses that once occupied them.” 16 The city would later be rebuilt under colonial supervision, although the glory and opulence of the Asante kingdom would never be seen again. While the first major shift in Ghanaian life was a response to a variety of changes in topography, the second major shift, brought about by colonial powers, was a change in political structure which drove urban reform. As European power spread along the coast and grasped inland, they instituted a series of sweeping changes to city development, organization, and building technology. As Janet Hess stated in her book Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Architecture, “Colonial rule was from its inception characterized by an effort to regulate the structure and organization of the city.”17 Starting in Cape Europeans and also with a protected market in which Ashanti traders could more profitably sell European imports.” (Ellis, A. B. A History of the Gold Coast of West Africa. New York: Negro Universities, 1969, p.97) 15. Levy, Ghana, p.47  16. Freeman, R. Austin. Travels and Life in Ashanti and Jaman. London: Cass, 1967, p.110 17. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.71


Coast, the British moved their capital to Accra in 1852 and left urban reform in their wake. Unfortunately, racial segregation was a large factor in city planning until 1923 when a report from the Devonshire White Paper would find there were no inherent health risks associated with proximity to Africans. Despite this, many neighborhoods of colonial estates exist in prime sites in cities to this day. Domestic order, exercise of power, and street image were often tied together by the British. Strict laws were imposed upon the locals, “The Town Council Ordinance of 1894...imposed taxes on the residents and vested authority in a town council... the elected provisions of which effectively disenfranchised the townspeople and institutionalized an expatriate majority.”18 Among these provisions, the governor reportedly had the power to “compel the cleaning and repairing of all dilapidated or unsanitary buildings, to fine those responsible for unsanitary conditions, and to detain offenders without a warrant until brought before a district commissioner’s court.”19 Although the colonial era left many scars on the face of Ghana, not all change was unfavorable for the Ghanaians. For example, Accra’s position as a global city started at the end of the sixteenth century; the establishment of the Dutch Fort Crevecoeur, the British Fort James, and the Swedish Christiansborg Castle provided the region protection from raiding incursions. This stability enhanced trade opportunities for the people of Ghana, and as a result, they emerged as a commercial force renowned by outlying kingdoms.20 In fact, urban development was a constant work of progress for the colonial powers. During World War II, the British architect Maxwell Fry developed an overall plan for Accra, recalibrating the role of satellite residential areas in 18. Brand, Richard R. A Geographical Interpretation of the European Influence on Accra, Ghana, since 1877. N.p.: PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 1972, p.34 19. Ibid, p.64 20. Acquah, Ioné. Accra Survey and Yarak, Larry W. Elmina and Greater Asante in the Nineteenth Century. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. London: Univ. of London Pr., 1958, p.33-52


Christiansborg, Korle Gonno, South Labadi, and Kaneshie. Post World War II, the explosion of a middle class in Accra, coupled with an influx of European merchants and administrators led to “a further expansion of the city’s governmental and commercial sectors …A vast judicial and administrative complex was established, administrative structures on High Street were expanded, and multistoried buildings—previously confined to the coast—were introduced in the central business district.”21 Despite these changes being motivated by self-serving interests, the entire city benefited from British urban renewal projects. Each city the British inhabited underwent complete transformation, including slum clearance, improvements to sanitation, zoning and control of growth. Formal city structure in some of Ghana’s most successful urban centers is a direct heritage from British occupation. In fact, when the British wanted to move their capital from the coastal city of Cape Coast to Accra in 1852, it had to be done in phases over a period of almost 50 years due to “a storm of resistance from the chiefs and peoples of Cape Coast.”22 Many locals were distressed to see the affluence and influence of the colonial powers move away from their city. The capital of the Ashanti empire is another outstanding example of the benefits received by British occupation. Some time after the burning of Kumasi, a British chief commissioner was posted to the city; it is to his credit that the entire city is organized the way it stands today. The first commercial area of the city was placed in a district called Adum, which came to be known for its Lebanese, British, and Ashanti merchants. Residents of the district bordering Adum were forcibly evicted to make room for a rail line, but more importantly, they were displaced for the creation of the Kejetia Open Air Market. To this day, the Kejetia Open Air Market is the largest in West Africa 21. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.74, Acquah, p.28, and Amoa, Accra, a Study, p.8-12 22. Brand, Geographical Interpretation of the European Influence on Accra, p.18


Figure 9: Adum Street, in the first commercial district of Kumasi following British occupation. Notice the pediments on the buildings reflecting classical forms. Figure 10: The Kejetia open air market has grown so large that it has now swallowed the train tracks that once gave it life. 26

boasting more than 10,000 stores and stalls. Without a doubt, the Europeans benefitted the most from occupying Ghana, but there was also an element of symbiosis in relationship between the aboriginal groups and the colonists. Coastal architecture, coming from the same roots as the tropical belt, took on similar rectilinear forms. Colonialism, however, had introduced a sensibility for permanence and an increase in scale and density. Classical elements like doric columns, gabled roofs, and ornamental lintels were introduced and are still commonplace along major roads in coastal areas. Masonry and concrete became a common building technology as regulations would prohibit new construction in any other material.23 This advancement, despite its obvious advantages, was originally met with resistance from the indigenous people because their pre-existing cultural and gender values were held more highly than a more permanent building material. Men are expected to work in the agricultural domain and women belong in the domestic domain. For a man, it is right to dig, mix earth, and build; for a woman, the carrying of water, provision of food, and the creation of utility items like pottery are customary. Looking into the implications of these responsibilities reveals why Ghanians would rebel at the demand for masonry—a man can dig and collect the materials for making bricks, but the firing of bricks in a kiln is too similar to the domestic task of making pottery to be comfortable for a man to perform. Gender roles are turned on end! A happy medium seems to have been found in villages today—men work the brick press and leave the drying process to the sun. The result is a less durable building material (in some cases the brick can be quite brittle), but the cultural norms and social order is preserved. While the notion of social hierarchy was able to be preserved in the case of masonry, the Europeans’ alien ways were more successful at eradicating existing norms on other fronts. The notion of verticality was held sacred, for example. Ghana, with its less advanced building technology, had a simple

23. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.74


Figures 11 and 12: As more permenant building materials became prevalent in areas of colonial occupation, European forms also were adopted. Two story residences, once the exclusive right of Asante kings, were soon favored in areas of increasing density because they provide a commencial storefront on ground level.


system; two story houses were the exclusive right of the Ashanti kings.24 Imagine the the alarm that must have been felt when the locals walked along the districts occupied by Europeans in their colonial villas! Eventually, this status had to be discarded in favor of increased density, but it must have caused anxiety for some time. Another change was the loss of the courtyard — as the colonial social structure does not emphasize the same communal interaction, the buildings that they erected did not incorporate this local tradition. As a result, urban areas now have a strange salt and pepper mixing of traditional and colonial buildings, even within the same compounds.


Colonial Ghana instituted the first formal economic structure to the nation. It operated under a core-periphery structure due to its high economic efficiency, although it has little regard to equality of living standards among its components. The nation of Ghana still feels the effects of this structure today. The Department of Housing and Planning Research had this to say about the colonials’ structure for the country: According to this policy, only those investments which promised high rates of return were made, accordingly only areas with resources whose exploitation was considered economically feasible were provided with the social and economic infrastructure to facilitate their exploitation...While this policy and resultant conditions began under colonization, the continued centralized form of political administration adopted upon independence reinforced the core-periphery structure since the locus of political power in the core region tended to attract industry into it.25 24. Ibid. 25. Frants, Studies on Urban Land Use and Urban Growth in Ghana, p.110


Figures 13 and 14: City planning, even in large cities like Kumasi, feels disjointed. I found this traditional residential compound between two paved roads busy with commerce. 30

What is the result? Massive disparity of income between the core and the periphery along with worsening conditions in the periphery worked together to cause popular discontent among the outliers. Even today, Ghana is left trying to distribute the benefits of modernization among an underdeveloped majority. Meanwhile, investments in big cities continue to become safer still and more profitable with faster earnings. Solving this problem is a necessity for social equality as well as for the survival of its economy—the core-periphery model is not sustainable for long term growth. Scarce resources are pumped into less productive ends because the centralization of spending promotes the core. The ‘resource frontier’ thus continues to be neglected despite the greater reach that funding would provide there. It is estimated that five times as much money needs to be invested in urban areas on public utilities and social services than it is currently just to maintain existing conditions.26 This is because as living conditions become better, the population increases exponentially, leading to further shortages of housing, food, water, and other necessities. Currently, a buffer is being developed between the city and the fringe in the form of medium density towns—this allows for the development of infrastructure deeper into the country’s resources, providing for more effective utilization of those resources. Meanwhile, the push for the modernization of the agricultural sector is met with roadblocks—the social structure of land ownership is fragmented among many family members and is insusceptible to buyouts. One patriarch does not own an entire plot of land; individual rooms of a building are legally owned by each member of a family. Radical reformatting of the country’s economic structure is a long and traumatic process; thankfully the rapid industrialization of the Independence Era took steps to correct this problem. 26. Ibid, p.113


PART III: THE ONSET OF INDEPENDENCE Kwame Nkrumah was seen as the chief ideologue, theoretician, and leader…an analysis of culture in the independence era would focus upon Nkrumah and similar charismatic individuals of the pan Africanist movement. One can say that, having died… they are no longer individuals; they have become myth; they symbolizes Africa as a whole; they are the dream of African unity.27 It is difficult to overstate the importance of Kwame Nkrumah and the independence era of Ghana. Nineteen forty-seven marked the beginning of Nkrumah’s political career in Ghana as he served as the general secretary to the United Gold Coast Convention, a political group exploring paths to independence. Just one year later, he would emerge as the founder of the Convention People’s Party with a mass following, many of whom hitchhiked around the country to be near him. He was a charismatic leader whose cause appealed directly to the working class, rallying cocoa farmers, trade unions, and women. The invitation of women to participate in the political process at a time when women’s suffrage was new to Africa proved to be a shrewd move; by empowering women active in small scale trade at markets, their support at the local level served as an effective channel of communication and spread his message. Nkrumah proclaimed that Ghana had a need for “self governance 27. Manthia Diawara, African Cinema and Decolonization, p.350


now”28 and this belief spread like wildfire. Due to a growing dissent among the population, the British decided to leave the Gold Coast in 1951. Following the evacuation, a new government was formed and by 1952 Kwame Nkrumah was elected the first President of independent Ghana. Independence brought many changes to the country; chief among them were the uses of power, the face of the city, and the unification of culture. As Nkrumah sought more and more power, he made sweeping changes to the economic structure of the country. Believing that Ghana could not be truly independent until it reduced its dependence on foreign influence, the administration started many initiatives to rapidly industrialize the country, such as the building of the Akosombo dam on the Volta River. This hydroelectric plant was constructed to support the growing aluminum industry and created the world’s largest man-made lake. In 1954 the price of cocoa tripled; Nkrumah appropriated this boon into national development projects via government levies. A large portion of funding was directed into the construction of monuments and large scale architecture to serve the pan-African community. Projects like the Ambassador Hotel and the Community Center in Accra to host the All African People’s Conference of 1958 were designed carefully to render a vision of ‘superseding modernity’.29 Even Ghanaian culture was designed by the administration. Following independence, the government began censoring content and promoting art and culture that had Ashanti origins in an attempt to unify the population as one nation. Not all changes were accepted by the people of Ghana. As years progressed, Nkrumah’s fist tightened and clenched down on anything that did not advance his vision for the future of the country. Strikes, despite having been utilized by the president in his early political career, became illegal. The role of 28. Encyclopædia Britannica. Kwame Nkrumah (president of Ghana). Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed April 29, 2014. Kwame-Nkrumah. 29. New Ghana. (August 19, 1959) p.12 


police shifted in society as the power of Nkrumah’s personal guard increased. In 1964, he passed a constitutional amendment that eliminated all competing political parties and secured his position as president for life. Disenchanted by his regime, a military coup successfully overthrew his reign while he was on a state visit to China in 1966. A period of political unrest ensued. The Nkrumah administration didn’t merely change the seat of power in Ghana, they realized in order for independence to be truly successful, the attitudes, cultural values, and the very image of the country itself had to be reconstructed. A new national identity was forged. By embracing modernism in architecture as a symbol of progress, emphasizing industrial development, and simultaneously forging a unified cultural identity under the Asante hegemony, Ghana advanced their claim to legitimacy and self-determination.

THE REIGN OF NKRUMAH AND THE UNIFICATION OF CULTURE Although the liberation from the British was heralded as freedom from the clutches of foreign rule, the ruling body of Ghana did not release its vicelike grip over the people. This could be argued as a necessity, however. Much change needed to occur to advance the state of the country. Nkrumah’s answer was socialism. Colonialism deserves to be blamed for many evils in Africa, but surely it was not preceded by an African Golden Age or paradise. A return to the pre-colonial African society is evidently not worthy of the ingenuity and efforts of our people…Only under socialism can we reliably accumulate the capital we need for our development and also ensure that the gains of investment are applied for the general welfare.30 30. Nkrumah, Kwame. African Socialism Revisited. At—Talia and Problems of Peace and


Liberation from colonial rule naturally spurned a revival of cultural pride, but the new administration took care to ensure a unity of this pride. Ghana had been liberated, not each subculture of the Gold Coast individually. As a consequence, the perception of “tradition” in region and culture were anachronisms—treasured artifacts of the past, but in need of assimilation into the new cultural identity. Regional flags and emblems were banned in favor of the new Ghana flag and independent museums were regulated. Culture was simultaneously preserved and unified, all in the name of avoiding discrimination. Finally, regulations in 1957 “forbade the existence of parties on a regional, tribal, or religious basis.”31 Even though the traditional Ashanti culture was treated as the centerpiece above all others, it too was suppressed. Chief regional officers were forced to retire after their meetings were deemed to “emphasize the old claim of the National Liberation Movement for a separate Ashanti Legislature”.32 Kwame Nkrumah encouraged the production of exhibitions, documentaries, and art, but only to promote his vision of nationality and political authority. Suppression was not the same as erasure. Nkrumah did have a vision of showcasing the historical national identity; it just had to be blended into a collective showcase as part of the new hegemony. For example, when he returned from a state visit to the United Kingdom in 1957, the modern and traditional Ghana were celebrated in tandem: As [the crowds] waited members of the CPP clad in party colors and some wearing calio (the sign of victory), their faces smeared with white powder, danced and sang… two women dressed in white, wiped the face of Dr. Nkrumah and placed white calico around his Socialism. Egypt, Cairo. 1967. Speech in Africa, National and Social Revolution. Prague: Peace and Socialism. 31. David Austin, Politics in Ghana (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p.80-377 32. Cabinet Minutes, January 8, 1957 as cited in Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.21


Figure 15: In the official portrait of Kwame Nkrumah as distributed by his administration, he combines traditional kente cloth with a collarless polka dot shirt associated with socialist leadership.


neck‌ The grounds of the castle were gaily decorated in bunting, the Ghana National Flag was conspicuous, and, against approaching darkness,‌ chiefs, elders, statesmen, councillors, government officials, men and women, young and old, most of them in white calico, were assembled. Drumming, dancing, and general merry-making continued until late last night.33 Even Kwame Nkrumah’s dress code was carefully cultivated to subtly showcase his agenda. Perceptive to the different plans of his varied audience, Nkrumah would construct his identity each time he made an appearance. During his candidacy in the CPP, he was represented with a Western style suit and tie, supporting his legitimacy to the British authorities. In appearances in the Asante region, in United Nations meetings, and in sessions of Parliament, he would be seen draped in kente, the cloth traditionally associated with Ashanti royalty, nonverbally reinforcing his claim to power. Most telling, perhaps, is the official presidential portrait distributed by his administration. A band of kente wraps around one shoulder and beneath he is wearing a collarless, polka dotted garment associated with socialist leadership.34 Although socialism is often viewed in a negative light in the United States, the nation of Ghana needed a strong visionary and a powerful government to break free from the shackles of colonial rule. In later years, the power of Nkrumah shifted from deity-like to being monstrous or contorted, but the positive impact of his rule can not be overstated. His leadership heralded a return to African pride across the continent and a revival of culture in Ghana. Despite suppressing the individual, the censorship of culture truly did serve the many by uniting the country under a common banner. The early years of the independence era harken a golden age of socialism; it worked in practice 33. Daily Graphic, July 24, 1957, p.12. White is associated with purification among the Akan; white powder was commonly used in rituals in pre-colonial times. 34. Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.141 and Daily Graphic, February 6, 1957


as well as in theory. Much like Nkrumah’s dress code, the political structure of the new nation of Ghana was assembled by respecting the past and looking towards the future. Not only was the political structure constructed, but the culture, industry, and the very face of the city itself were as well. Modernism was the symbol of progress; and modernism has many forms.

THE CHANGING FACE OF THE CITY Everywhere there are signs on construction. Everywhere the spirit of the Work and Happiness Programme has caught on. Cranes and caterpillars bulldoze their way to the glorious socialist future for Ghanaians who must themselves fully appreciate the value and extent of the work the Party is doing for them. And everybody must help. Remember! It is WORK AND HAPPINESS FOR YOU! FORWARD TO SOCIALISM! LONG LIVE THE PARTY!35 The independence era brought about an unprecedented period of building and economic development in an effort to rapidly industrialize the country. The vision for building in this era is clearly attributed to the Nkrumah administration; they prioritized modernity as a sign of national and political achievement.36 This progress was popularized among the people through newspapers, loudspeakers, and even branding on everyday products. Urban development was inescapable in cities like Accra and Kumasi. Grand plans retooled the existing framework implemented by the British and reclaimed landmarks for their use. Massive amounts of government funding was dedicated to large scale architecture and monuments; Ghana was building a future building by building. 35. New Ghana, May 10, 1961, p.6 36. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.75


In 1959, the government sponsored the creation of a model village near Tamale to demonstrate to visiting officials traditional houses of the Dagomba, the Kassena-Nankanni, Dagarti, and Lobi. This showcase exhibited the idea the traditional is in the past, and the not-modern was decidedly inferior to the superseding modernity.37 Instead of looking to the multitude of local traditions for direction, the architecture style of Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius became the face of the new Ghana. The Nkrumah administration was trying to create a heterogenous cultural environment through architecture; the Accra Technical Institute, the National Museum in Accra, the State House, and the Nkrumah Ideological Institute are all characterized by uncompromising modernity. Occasionally the notion of indigenous architecture would be vaguely referenced, as seen in the United States Embassy building designed by Harry Weiss; he claimed the building was inspired by the palace of the Wa Na chief in northern Ghana, but the articulation is decidedly in the International Style. Official visitors to Accra were confronted with an architecture that promoted the desire for national unity and prosperity, but they also encountered a symbolic transformation of colonial authority. Accra, as envisioned by the British, focused expenditure on public squares, fountains, ornamental pools and statues and a vast Parliament complex. The Nkrumah administration, by contrast used those funds for an Organization of African Unity building, the refurbishment of Christiansborg Castle, the construction of a State House, and the establishment of the Ambassador Hotel. As directed by the British, the coast was an area of recreation for the privileged elite, an extension of the Victoriaborg enclave, and a relief from the dense government sector. The Nkrumah administration retooled this area for the promotion of national unity. From Ussher Town to Christiansborg, the coast was left undeveloped, lending visual weight to the new Black Star Square.38 Replacing the sports stadium in 1961 that had to be borrowed for national ceremonies, the enormous plaza 37. Ibid, p.77 38 Ibid, p.85


Figure 16, above: United States Embassy Building designed by Harry Weese is supposedly modeled after the palace of Wa-Na, but the articulation is decidedly in the International Style. Source: Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Ghana, p.77. Figure 17, top right: The 50 Cedi bill shows the portraits of the founding fathers of Ghana cast in front of the Independence Arch. Figure 18, bottom right: Plans by the Knrumah administration retooled the use of the oceanfront in Accra to support national pride. Key landmarks are the Independence Arch and the Black Star Square. Source: Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Ghana, p.84.



Figure 19: Advertisement for Player’s cigarettes with the Ghanaian Supreme Court in the background. Source: Guinea Times, March 16 1958, p.12


is surrounded by four seating areas capable of hosting 35,000 spectators and is dominated by the presidential stand. Directly opposite of the square, stands the Independence Arch, a massive monument inscribed with the words “A.D. 1957 / Freedom and Justice”, contrasting the value of the people with the literal elevation of the figure of Nkrumah at the Presidential Stand. Even the average citizen was kept in touch with the progress of modernity for Ghana. Commercial products collated Nkrumah’s vision for the construction of a national identity. For example, an advertisement for Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes shows a hand removing a cigarette from the pack in front of the Supreme Court in Accra.39 Advertisements for foreign construction firms and materials in the Directory of the Republic of Ghana display a vision of paradise. The British firm Turners Asbestos show an image of a shining city of skyscrapers at the edge of the wilderness, as if modernity was carving out a future from the wild frontier.40 Grocery stores also presented a forward-looking lifestyle. An advertisement for the Kingsway Department Store shows the ‘wonderful range of services’ they are bringing: food, post, and medicine, all inside a large building built in the international style. Modern cars sit outside on a wide road and men are seen wearing western-style business suits. In Architecture, Power, and National Identity, Lawrence Vail argues that postcolonial architecture is defined by an allusion to an invented and idealized culture intended to assimilate divergent cultures and agendas within a common vision. According to Vail, “The pursuit of national identity by the leadership involved not some neutral revival of the past, but its careful recasting to serve political ends”41. This recasting of national identity was executed very successfully in Ghana. It succeeded by promoting constructed modernity. By retooling large scale urban development projects, the government recast the 39. Guinea Times, March 6, 1958, p.12 40. Directory of the Republic of Ghana, 3rd edition, p.37 41. Vale, Lawrence J. Architecture, Power, and National Identity. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992, p.54


tone of the city from something imposed upon the inhabitants by foreigners to a city they called their own. Modernity was not just something for a small group of elites. In true socialist fashion, progress was seen in the construction of monuments, but it was also seen and felt by the general populace through urban projects like the Kingsway Department Store. In a flurry of activity, buildings sprang up, and everything promoted this bright future from newspapers to cigarettes. This elevation of a homogenous, constructed environment advanced the legitimacy of the new government as an institution while also subsuming the many within the whole. Forward to Socialism! Long live the party!


Despite the many advances brought about by the Nkrumah administration, the public perception of their grand visionary changed over time from a patron saint to that of a grotesque tyrant.42 Feelings toward their once great leader soured as he stifled competition with his regime by disbanding all other political parties and imprisoning all opposition. The cocoa farmers, once his greatest allies, became disenfranchised as taxes on this export soared disproportional to its fluctuation in value.43 Citizens became outraged as funds went 42. The achievements of Nkrumah once celebrated in poetry deified him as a redeemer. An anonymous poet wrote in The Evening News a poem called “The Great Redeemer” and immortalized Nkrumah’s impact on Ghana: “On that eclipse of colonial days when joy was hushed… There rose a Great Redeemer of our delight… So tireless his struggle / So fresh, and so immortal he moves”. (Evening News, January 25, 1966, p.6) Furthermore, in the Parliamentary debate concerning the erection of a museum at Nkrumah’s birthplace, a CPP representative declared the place a national shrine and compared the village to “Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed… and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, the Redeemer of the World.” Ashanti Pioneer, October 7, 1955, p.1 43. In 1954 the price of cocoa rose from £150 to £450 a ton, yet the farmers did not see a penny of this windfall.


Figure 20: In 1958 Nkrumah was represented in pop culture as the face of Ghana. Note the Black Star Square and the Parliment House in the background. Editorial cartoon, Ghanatta, Guinea Times, March 3, 1958, p.5


to government projects instead of building infrastructure in the outlying areas of the country.44 The press no longer represented public opinion as extreme censorship replaced free speech. The people grew increasingly discontented. Like the legend of the hydra, as the president squashed one adversary in the political arena, three more grew to take its place. On February 24, 1966, a military coup successfully transferred the governmental authority to the National Liberation Council of J.A. Ankrah. In the next fifteen years, eight different governments would be created by force and hold power. Fearing the deification of Nkrumah, the National Liberation Council banned the display of the ousted president within 17 hours of overthrowing the government.45 Consequently, restrictions were placed on the erection of further architectural monuments in the following years. The grand forms that had dominated the coast during the Nkrumah era fell into disuse and were eventually abandoned. The Black Star Square and the Accra Community Center, which had housed the young pioneers of the independence era, were no longer a focal point for African pride. Independence Arch, proudly proclaiming “Liberty and Justice”, became less important than fighting the mounting dissonance among the numerous people groups and the sliding value of the Ghanaian cedi. The invented culture proved to be too idealized for the country to realize...the glorious socialist future envisioned by the Nkrumah administration was as empty as Black Star Square. Ghana would not see the governmental structure that stands today until 1993. 44. Joseph Appiah spoke out against the iconography of Nkrumah and the misappropriation of government funds: “People in the rural areas must be prepared to celebrate independence in darkness, they must drink worm-infested and muddy water at independence to make way for the Fuehrer’s statue… Nkrumah wants his statue erected so that all in the independent Gold Coast will swear by it as the Great Oath after he has seen to it that Chieftaincy… has been uprooted… Whether Kwame Nkrumah, the arch-democratic centralist will succeed in his devilish design or not, the future will decide; for we are all witnesses to what has happened to Joe Stalin’s statue in Hungary, where the people with an insatiable desire to free themselves from the thralldom of the Kremlin are today on the warpath.” (Liberator, January 15, 1957, p.2) 45. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.86


Figure 21: By 1966 the people’s opinion of Socialist spending programs and the growth of Nkrumah’s power had turned sour. Editorial cartoon, Ghanatta, Evening News, March 3 1966, p.1




Following the overthrow of the Nkrumah administration, the country sank into a series of coups, each new government focusing on the flaws of the last. In 1993, the country was finally freed from the rule of a one party state and in the year 2000, the country elected an official from the opposing party in a process that was deemed free and fair. But what was lost in the 34 years of political instability? Where does the country stand? Foreign influences have changed the economic topography of the country, all the while Westernization is held in a delicate balance between idolization and vehement disgust. The appeal of a modern lifestyle has penetrated past the resource frontier and into the rural villages, beckoning for a life of material wealth over the tradition of communal living. As cars, electricity, and cell phones reach the masses, new societal norms must be established. Meanwhile, the inefficiencies of government in urban areas unintentionally promote haphazard and rushed building strategies as village planning stagnates. The future that might have been has yet to come, but it still could arrive. The gap between the urban and the rural is shrinking. Education levels are at all all time high. Commodity is reaching the villages. Ghana can once more take its place as the forerunner of African progress. But it must first adopt a culture of empowerment and forge its own identity once again. Cultural reform is happening right now — which way will the pendulum swing?



Despite being ranked as one of the most successful democracies in Africa, the perceived culture is more potent than the product.46 The general attitude is less optimistic. Instead of the idea of patriotism and self-governance dominating the hearts and minds of Ghanaians, the people have moved towards material consumption.47 The media has created a divide between the government and the governed. Radio talk shows paint a negative image of government activity and complain about problems without offering insight. The British planted the idea of a master-servant relationship among the people. This crippling cultural tradition has been mutated; now those who hold degrees are the ones expected to lead and those less educated do not feel responsible for their condition.48 Meanwhile, the government is desperately trying to prove they are a functioning democracy, but the 2012 election was won by John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress Party with only 50.7% of the vote and the opposition has called for multiple recounts and has accused the Electoral Commission of tampering with the results. In an attempt to decide the results in a fair way, the election has been taken to the Supreme Court, but the process is still ongoing and the people have grown weary. Still, this election has positive aspects to consider. Education was one of the main topics of the election; John Mahama pledged to build 50 new schools if he won and Nana Akufo-Addo promised to provide free secondary education. Whether this happens or not 46. Ghana is ranked the 5th least failed state in Africa, after Mauritius, Seychelles, Botswana, and South Africa, by the 2012 Failed States index. “—Failed States List 2012”. 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2013 by wikipedia. 47. Mensah, Teddy. Interview with Aaron Mikottis. Personal interview. Chicago, February 18, 2014. Teddy was born and raised in Ghana, educated at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and is now a practicing architect in Accra. 48. Ibid.


Figure 22: Newspapers and other forms of media are partly responsible for the percieved widening of the gap between the government and the governed. This cartoon depicts the destruction of a statue of Nkrumah. Editorial cartoon, Ghanatta, Evening News, March 21, 1966, p.5


remains to be seen, but government funding for education is at an all time high. As of May 2007, The Ghana Library Association no longer relies on donations because the government has provided enough funding proving the it does indeed place the education of its people in high priority.

THE EVER CHANGING FACE OF THE CITY Ghana’s identity crisis is characterized by two polarized ideals: the love and the hate of the West. The relationship between the coloniser and the colonised is deeply ambivalent, or as Stuart Hall says, the other acts as “both an object of desire and derision, of envy and contempt, with the coloniser simultaneously projecting and disavowing difference in an essentially contradictory way, asserting mastery but constantly finding it slipping away.”49 By embracing commodity and materialism in one hand and resisting its implications in the other, Ghana toes both sides of the line, receiving the worst of both worlds. Egocentric thinking in the villages prevents collaborative progress, in part causing a mass exodus towards cities like Accra, which consequently grow at a rate faster than city planning or local governments can manage.50 This allows foreign firms to step in and take the responsibility away from the inhabitants, imposing uninformed architecture that does not respond to the local conditions. This causes the situation to worsen in a feedback loop; as the West bails the country out of its problems, it serves to worsen the conditions that caused them in the first place. 49. Hall, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Diaspora: Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Lawrence and Wishart, 1990, p.80 50. In 1970, Ghana’s population numbered 8.5 million, 28.5% of which lived in urban centers. As of 2012, there are 25.4 million inhabitants, 37% living in cities. Merely 40 years have brought about a staggering change. There are 9.4 million people living in urban conditions in Ghana. This is more than the population of the entire country in 1970!


Western culture has been whispering sweet promises in the ears of Ghanaians, and they listen eagerly. The comfort and commodity of materialism has been hastily accepted, irrespective of local tradition and the African condition. Air conditioning units added en masse to homes in the suburban coast max out the capacity that the electricity systems can handle, causing regular blackouts between the hours of 11am-3pm. Instead of learning from the congestion of the American metropolis, car ownership is favored over public transportation, causing gridlock in the cities. Yet this mentality trickles down even to the rural villages, where ownership of a car is seen as the height of achievement. Societal norms have yet to reconcile with automobiles; although local culture does not express any level of urgency, car owners, especially taxi drivers, drive at reckless speeds. Keeping pace with a “global world” is starkly contrasted with the norm of the leisurely stroll set by most village dwellers.51 In cities, the issue of cultural identity even reaches young children, who are mocked by their school-mates for going by their cultural name instead of inventing a Western one.52 This idolization of Western culture is so pervasive, that even barbers encourage their patrons to model their hair cut after a “New York City Style”. Suburban city planning is affected by this mentality as well. Many residential areas surrounding Accra feature gated houses, even though it has been statistically shown to be less safe.53 Perhaps some aspect of the idolatry of foreign goods is related to their dependency on them. This has historically been the case. For example: Virtually all of the trappings of national celebrations were com51. Statement about the pace of local life is by Teddy Mensah. Interview, Chicago, February 18, 2014. 52. The Akan and Ga peoples of Ghana often give their children a local name that corresponds to the day of the week on which they were born and their birth order. For example, the firstborn son born on a Friday would be called Kofi Berko. 53. Lynn A. Addington, Callie Marie Rennison. “Keeping the Barbarians Outside the Gate? Comparing Burglary Victimization in Gated and Non-Gated Communities.” Justice Quarterly, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1080/07418825.2012.760644


Figures 23 and 24: Idolization of the West is found among both the rich and the poor. In Twifo Hemang, one barber lures in customers by boasting about their “New York City Hairstyle�. In Accra, a house selling for $500,000 USD touts doric columns. 53

missioned from foreign firms, reinforcing the complex association between nationalism and neo colonial authority. The British firm of Benjamin Edgingtons, for example, manufactured and installed nylon pennants and banners, plaques, fiberglass shields and cartouches emblazoned with eagles, elephant and lion heads, and ceremonial stools and storytellers’ staffs. Michael King, also of the UK, created furnishings for the Ghanaian Parliament, including a hide backed chair for Nkrumah bearing the Ghanaian coat of arms.54 Regardless of the cause, this infatuation of the West causes backlash in an equally polar direction. As a white person in Ghana, I experienced a surprising amount of racism. There were several cases where I was treated with suspicion and even outright contempt. The most frustrating instance occurred at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. A professor approached me as I was photographing the campus and told me that I didn’t have permission to take photos and that I had to leave. I rebutted this claim by stating that a Ghanaian friend told me that the campus was open to the public. To this I was told, “a friend cannot give me permission”. I was stealing, and I needed to speak to the administration about giving me an escort and obtaining permission. Later, speaking to a host of students on campus, I learned that this absurd claim was not the case and several student even suggested I would not have had that encounter if my skin was dark. This hostile attitude towards foreigners is mostly confined to urbanized areas, however. In the city, foreigners (especially whites and Chinese) can be seen as responsible for the exploitation of natural resources, the usurping of business, and the dilution of African culture. In the rural areas, whites are viewed as wealthy bringers of aid, coming to patch all their problems with money. Likewise, architectural practice in current day Ghana experiences the same rural-urban divide. In the villages there is zero accountability for good 54. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.79


design. There are no building codes. There are no building permits. While this seems like an area of opportunity for experimental architecture, the reality is that very little money or attention is given to these rural areas by educated locals. Instead, anyone builds whatever they like anywhere and this results in disorganized and scattered village planning. Concurrently, architects endure an inefficient bureaucracy in the cities. While building permits are required by law, it is extremely difficult and time consuming to meet with government officials. As a result, Ghanaians have adopted a practice of starting work permitless and continuing on until an official notices the construction and issues a ‘halt work’ ticket. Now that a case is opened and the project has been seen, it is much easier to meet with a city official.55 Local architects suffer from a culture of distrust, which is a closed loop that feeds itself. For government sponsored projects, local architects must pair with international firms in order to maintain high safety and work standards. Currently, local contractors do not value their native architects and as a result the architects may charge below minimum wage just to get work. This in turn doesn’t allow the architects to spend enough time on their work, causing quality to crumble. Is the distrust justified? Alex Kwabena, a teacher at the Twifo Hemang Secondary School once said of the profession, “In Ghana an architect makes a design and does not see to it that it gets built as it was designed. That is why our buildings do not last.”56 Perhaps as the gap between the rural and the urban closes, Ghana will experience a positive shift towards effective local design and construction.

55. Augustine Owusu-Ansah. Interview with Aaron Mikottis. Personal interview. Kumasi, Ghana. July 9, 2013. Augustine is a Masters of Architecture student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He offered much insight into the current state of the architectural profession in Ghana. 56. Alex Kwabena. Interview with Aaron Mikottis. Personal interview. Twifo Hemang, Ghana. June 28, 2013.



Ghana’s rich history of indigenous, temporal dwellings, their lasting, colonial landmarks, and modernism from their coming of age as a country each compose meaningful chapters in what it means to be truly vernacular. But just as the cities of Ghana display a salt and pepper blend of traditional and colonial, the architects, for the country’s future, must embrace both the ancient, colonial, and recent history. The failure of the country to legitimately redefine itself following the overthrow of colonialism can be seen in the radically opposing views of two architects practicing modernism in West Africa. In 1956, Maxwell Fry stated: “ architecture and form of urbanism will emerge closely connected with the set of ideas that have international validity, but reflecting the conditions of climate, the habits of the people and the aspirations of the countries lying under the cloudy belt of the equatorial world.”57 Yet ten years later, John Lloyd had a wildly different opinion. He said in 1966, “The concept of architecture, even in the widest traditional sense, is foreign to Africa.”58 Why did Lloyd not see Fry’s prediction come true? At its core, modernism speaks to the rejection of hundreds of years of architectural practice in Europe. This is not an appropriate methodology for an emerging nation freeing itself from the shackles of colonization. Janet Hess stated the future lies in another direction, An understanding of the contemporary art in Africa requires relinquishment of any confidence that we can understand the aesthetics of Africa after colonialism within the modernist-postmodernist paradigm. What is needed is an examination of the phenomenon of art created in Africa based not upon postmodernism’s rejection of the legacy of the Renaissance, rationalism, and the Enlightenment, 57. Fry, Maxwell and Jane Drew, Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zones (London, 1956), p.29 58. Lloyd, John “Ghana”, in World Architecture 3 ed. John Donat (London, 1966) p.49


but instead upon the historical factors of liberation, decolonization, nation building, and internal national conflict, as well as the interaction of the modern …with what has been conceptualized as ‘traditional’ forms of African art.59 Just as the traditional dwellings of the Dagomba and Tallensi speak a meta-language expressed with nuance and subtlety, the architecture of the future needs to be informed by their culture, lifestyle, and social hierarchy. How can the next generation of architects adopt existing typologies on a larger scale with contemporary building techniques? It is not by copying forms or rejecting their history; it must come from a study of what these typologies do on a conceptual level. The government buildings of ancient Kumasi provide a glimpse towards what the future could be like. By understanding the inclusive, internal nature of the courtyard, the choice to reverse the orientation of the porches to create public spaces respected the traditional mode of building while performing in a completely different way. As the Asante empire transitioned to a more democratic society the architectural expression adapted, but it did so in a way that was genuinely African. West Africa is on the cusp of an unprecedented economic explosion. Soon Ghana will no longer be recognized as a developing country and it will take its place in the first world. Population levels, education levels, and industrialization is all accelerating at astounding rates, and it is for this reason that it is imperative that the country defines its cultural position. Nicholas Mirzoeff says that “Most of our visual experience takes place aside from...formally structured moments of informal ‘looking’, but instead occurs in the critically neglected visual experiences of everyday life.”60 Because culture, society, and history are all inextricably woven together into one complex textile, vernacular architecture is of the utmost importance. Architecture is not just the “what”. Architecture is the “how”. Architecture defines life. 59. Hess, Art and Architecture in Postcolonial Africa, p.160 60. Mirzoeff, Visual Culture Reader, p.7


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of Peace and Socialism. Egypt, Cairo. 1967. Speech in Africa, National and Social Revolution. Prague: Peace and Socialism, 1967. Print. Okoye, Ikem Stanley. “Architecture, History, and the Debate on Identity in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 61, no. 3 (12 2002): 381-96. doi:10.2307/991791. Oguibe, Olu, and Okwui Enwezor.Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace. London, England: Institute of International Visual Arts, 1999. Print. Potter, Robert B., and Sally Lloyd-Evans. The City in the Developing World. Harlow, Essex, United Kingdom: Longman, 1998. Prussin, Labelle. Architecture in Northern Ghana; a Study of Forms and Functions. Berkeley: University of California, 1969. ____________. An Introduction to Indigenous African Architecture. Philadelphia: Society of Architectural Historians, 1974. ____________. Hatumere: Islamic Design in West Africa. Berkeley U.a.: Univ. of California Pr., 1985. Roux, Hannah Le. Modern Architecture in Post-colonial Ghana and Nigeria. London: Architectural History, 2004. Schapera, Isaac, ed. Western Civilization and the Natives of South Africa: Studies in Social Contact. London: Routledge, 1934. Vale, Lawrence J. Architecture, Power, and National Identity. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992. Yarak, Larry W. “Elmina and Greater Asante in the Nineteenth Century.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 56.1 (1986):


A History of Vernacular Architecture  

Ghana: The Age of Origins, The Age of Urban Reform, and The Onset of Independence