Of Museums, Really Old Things and Weeping By the Rivers of Babylon

When I touched down in London town, I just could not wait to see all the museums and old things. As a certified history buff, I knew I would enjoy the City of London thoroughly. I remember going to the national portrait gallery and gawking at photos of the Brontës for instance… as if I didn’t have the same photo saved in the photos folder on my laptop. I was in museum mode. I was in heaven.

As the days progressed, as I walked through the city, looking at old things – old buildings, old paintings, old statues, even old graves – I said to myself “Clearly these are people that understand the value of preservation of culture”. So why did they loot and steal and destroy other peoples’ culture?

I couldn’t help but remember that night in Kumasi, when I wept while reading a book by Richard Austin Freeman – Travels and Life in Ashanti and Jaman. I felt like I was walking with him through the now destroyed city of Kumasi when he noted ”

“The wholesale destruction of native houses that took place when Kumasi was burnt down by the British troops in 1874 is likewise a matter for great regret on the part of anthropologists”

Same Anthropologists and Historians that would later say that the African was an inferior human being, seeing as (s)he had no history. Ironic. Painful.

If a young British person wants to study history of british architecture, that’s easy. Let’s take the element of recorded/ written history out. They can simply go and look at the old buildings in London. Me, a Ghanaian that wants to study history of architecture here? Nothing.. My only resort is journals of British explorers and missionaries. Heartbreaking – who knows what prejudices clouded their thinking? Who knows if we can trust their words and sketches?

In preparing for my mock exam, I came across a question: “British Colonial Rule Was Inherently Pragmatic. Discuss”. What’s there to discuss? Of course it was. Destroy a person’s history and watch them struggle for years, FOR centuries to find themselves.

In an African Studies seminar the other day, an archaeologist noted wryly that the ruins of an amazingly well-constructed and elaborately planned town in South Africa are believed to have been put there by aliens. They’ll rather believe that aliens from outer space came down to Southern Africa and constructed a cattle-herding town than accept that people with dark skin did that.

And it’s not just white people. In trying to justify my selection of a topic for my M.Arch thesis, one lecturer flippantly remarked “History? Which architectural history? We know it all already – mud houses with thatched roofs”. Not surprising, because in studying history as young architecture students in Ghana, after Egyptian pyramids, we hear nothing “good” about precolonial architecture of Subsaharan Africa. Do you know that homes in the ancient city of Kumasi had “flushable” upstairs toilets before they had them in Britain? No you didn’t. Did you know that the water closet was “allegedly” invented by a black slave? Probably not. Do you know about the Aban? I didn’t either till I came across a photo caption in some obscure record. The Aban was a stone palace constructed by Fante builders where the Asantehenes kept all the state gifts and other important items. You can guess what happened to the Aban.

Where is our history? Destroyed, Demolished. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

By the rivers of babylon, there we sat down
Ye-eah we wept, when we remembered zion.

Yaounde, the city

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As an architect, the city of Yaounde like Accra, stirs up feelings of disappointment anytime I really look at it. The feelings are more intense in Yaounde because the topography is beautiful – even breathtaking at some points. Yaounde is hilly in the purest sense of that world. It’s not the harsh, unfriendly kind of hilly, no it’s gentle slopey, rolling familiar-looking green hills mixed with enough steep inclines to make jogging rewarding, and cycling exhilarating (cycling downhill, at least).

The planning (or lack thereof) is sad and sometimes upsetting. Especially when one spots a perfect hill that could have had the buildings upon it as adorning jewels and not unfortunate occurrences. It’s disappointing because I came to Cameroon expecting to see examples of that inherent grace and appreciation for beauty that seems to run in francophone cultures.

Don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful buildings – several in fact, but the overall composition isn’t usually picturesque.

The Accra Furqan: An Ottoman masterpiece in Accra

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Though it’s still under construction, one cannot help but be impressed by the mosque on the Kanda highway. It is a beautiful example of Ottoman architecture, and the arches and perfectly formed domes, in spite of the forest of wooden formwork, give hints of the elegance that is associated with Islamic architecture.

The Accra Furqan, also the Ghana National Mosque, is a gift from the people of Turkey to the people of Ghana, and with its impressive series of domes and semi domes, it has the potential to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

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See the flag of Turkey up there?, and those are some of the skillful workers. So many domes!

 

Constructed with 4000 cubic metres of concrete and 700 tonnes of steel, the Accra Furkan is far from solid or compact. True to the Ottoman architectural style, the domes seem almost weightless, and combined with a clever mix of courtyard spaces and arched walkways, the building manages to appear huge and yet “light”.

Erdiogan Getinkaya’s design is influenced by the Blue Mosque (or the Sultan Ahmet Mosque) in Istanbul as well as the Selimiye Mosque. The 8000 capacity mosque is scheduled for completion in late November, just in time for Ramadan Prayers.

 

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I made some friends 🙂 They’re the 2 of 3 Ghanaian workers there. The project has an unbelievably small workforce!

 

There are 50 domes in the Accra Furqan building, the largest and main dome sits at a height of 36 metres from the ground and is supported by 4 2.1metre diameter columns at 20 metre intervals. At each of the four corners of the mosque building is one 62 metre high minaret where the “muezzins” will perform “adhans”. The exterior of the building will be finished in polished marble, with the domes cladded in lead.

The facility as a whole will contain a school, health facility and a home for the National Chief Imam.

 

 

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Architect’s Rendering , not even half as beautiful as the mosque under construction

We Built A Playground!

Today, December 5th, is International Volunteer Day, “designated by the United Nations in 1985. It offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations and individual volunteers to make visible their contributions – at local, national and international levels – to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”(Wikipedia, 2013) International Volunteer Day 2013 (IVD 2013) is a global celebration of young people acting as the agents of change in their communities.

This post is about some young (and not so young) people who gave time, resources and money to create some small change in Madina, Ghana.

BUILDING A PLAYGROUND IN THE NKWANTANANG SCHOOL, MADINA

It started with an idea from the GhanaThink foundation, based on some simple questions – “With everything we know about Kwame Nkrumah, what sort of commemoration would he prefer for his birthday? Parades, long boring speeches and a big party?… Or activities to improve Ghana?” The answer was a no-brainer… And that is how we made September 21st National Volunteer Day. People were encouraged to organise or join volunteer activities around the country. Social media was the main tool we used, and we got results!

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My volunteer activity was about doing something WITH and FOR the people in a community. I thought of building a toilet at first, but that was too complicated for the short period of time I had to put it together (about 2 weeks), so after some thinking, I came up with the idea for a playground using low cost renewable and recycled material.

Disclaimer: It was also for my personal research in social architecture. I’ll share my exciting preliminary findings in another blog post… Later.

So I went to the site [which is in the school where my mother works] with the awesome Kwabena Akuamoah Boateng to get some pictures, take measurements, and make a short video. Then I put up this blog post with a call for volunteers and an appeal for funds.  GhC 1130 was raised, with donations from Nana Aba Anamoah, Augustine Owusu-Ansah, Charles Lawson, Jude Nyoagbe, Andy Aryeetey, Kwabena Akuamoah Boateng, Daniel Asante, Abban Budu, and Kwabena Opoku Agyeman.. Thank you so much guys!

I also got paint donations from Michael Oti Adjei , from Azar Paint (through Ariel of GhanaThink), used car tyres from dealers in the community and food items from the teachers of Nkwantanang school, Abena Benewaa Boampong, Abban Budu, Annabella Boadi Misa, Ekow Atta Aidoo, and Jeanne Clark.

In the design and construction team were myself, Jude Nyyoagbe, Emmanuel Ofori-Sarpong and Edem Tamakloe.

With GhC 1280, and the help of students from Nkwantanang, the Assemblyman of the area, Emmanuel Ofori Sarpong, and my mother I bought bamboo, plants, soil, mats, cement, sandcrete blocks, wooden pallets, sand, stones, water, tools, paint, and food..etc. I also transported used car tyres and other materials to the site and even got extra as tips for some of the especially hardworking students.

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And finally…

HONOUR ROLL [List of Volunteers]

Theophilus Mensah

Osei Daniel Sarfo

Akua Akyaa Nkrumah

Benewaa Boampong

Emmanuel Sarpong

Naa Sarku

Domenyo Galley and his crew

Lois Andah

Jude Nyoagbe

Vanessa Sarpong

Laquaye Nartey

Carl Glover Tay

Annabella Boadi Misa

Courage Tetteh

Adjoa Bonney

Michael Akuamoah Boateng

Augustine Owusu Ansah

Kwabena Akuamoah Boateng

Ekow Atta-Aidoo

Bash Futa

Laurie Frempong

Jeanne Clark and family

Charles Lawson

Kinna Likimani and Kobby

Rahim Muniru

Abban Budu

GALLERY

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Site for Playground

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Initial Design Sketch

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Beginnings!

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Finished!

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On Hope City, and Hopelessness in General

When I saw the news article about the Hope City Project from RLG, I was excited, and a little annoyed by the fact that I, Kuukuwa, did not know which Ghanaian architects were involved in the project. So, I got out my phone and started sending out text messages and emails to the usual suspects.

Imagine my surprise when one by one, all the usual suspects dropped out of the suspects list! It wasn’t Ralph Sutherland, David Adjaye and no, nobody thought Joe Addo had anything to do with it either. S.M. Quartey’s office was a no, Mobius Group hadn’t touched it either. Perhaps, (I thought) one of the younger ‘shark’ firms had snapped up the juicy deal, but again, this was another no no… Confusion started “has-comng” in my mind because I knew the Department of Architecture, KNUST wasn’t approached (We worked on the STX project, you see). Who was this mystery architect who would be at least 800 million cedis richer in the next 5 years?

So I searched for the news report, the one about President Mahama launching the project. I read it, and as usual, the name of the architect/ firm was at the tail end of the story. OBR. OBR? “What is this OBR? and why don’t I know about them? Is it a new firm, do I know any of the partners?”, I asked myself as I typed ‘OBR Architects, Hope City’ into the Google search bar.
Open Building Research (OBR) is a proudly Italian Architecture firm, designing the Hope City, an ICT Park in Accra for RLG Communication Ghana Limited, a proudly Ghanaian firm.

I discussed the issue with friends, and after 30 minutes or so of bashing Roland Agambire and RLG in general.. swearing never to use an RLG phone or an Uhubu or Ukuro or Umuku or whatever tab, I sat down a wrote a very sarcastic list of

Reasons why RLG, is proudly yours, dear Ghana
RLG is proudly Ghanaian, because we pride ourselves on our exquisite taste. We only want the best, which every idiot in Ghana knows comes from the West.

1. No Ghanaian architect can be trusted with the design of Hope City, because you see, things made in Ghana are simply not good enough.

2. No Ghanaian musician is worth a million dollars. No, we would rather pay a violent man who beat up his girlfriend to come and thrust his pelvis in our children’s faces and teach them to smoke things.

3. We will do all this with the help of your government, who will do all this with the help of the West, which is the best.

4. Your government will help us build the tallest building in Africa, even though your government doesn’t really know what to do about your electricity and water problems.

RLG, Proudly Yours, (well, most of the time)