The Architect Project: Development through Architecture in Accra

Improving the living and housing conditions of developing metropolises is a challenge that lots of disciplines – engineers, urban planners, health and education specialists, to name a few – have undertaken. As an urban planner, I was inevitably convinced that planning was the key to identify and address the complex and intricate issues people living in slums are facing. Engaging with Juliet Sakyi-Ansah, the Founder of The Architects’ Project (#tap) in Accra opened my mind on the strength of architecture as a new tool for development. The Architects’ Project illustrates the eagerness of young people of Ghana to address relevantly the issues they are facing and highlights the importance of creativity in places characterized by numerous challenges.

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Accra and the failure of Urban Planning

Accra is one of the most populous cities in Africa, with 2.3 million dwellers in 2013, and with an estimated population increase of 4.3% per year, one of the fastest growing. Like many developing metropolises, the population increase applies immense pressure on city planning and an estimated 58% of the population lives in inadequate housing (UN-Habitat Ghana: Accra Urban Profile, 2009).

Yet, the lack of adequate housing and infrastructure cannot be explained by population pressure alone: it is also the result of huge urban sprawl and the weakness of city institutions. Unlike other cities where slum development has occurred close to the city centre, Accra expanded horizontally. The metropolitan area is now five times wider than the core and the inability of public institutions to respond to the rapidity of the sprawl explains many areas have insufficient access to water and sanitation, electricity, health and education.

Where planning is failing, architecture has emerged as an alternative focus for improving people’s living conditions through urban development. This is what the Architects’ Project, a non-for profit organization based in Accra, does.

The Architects’ Project: Rethinking Architecture as a tool for development

#tap offers to rethink the practice of Architecture to relevantly serve Ghana’s developmental needs. The Architects’ Project aims at improving the education and practice of architecture by adapting it to the local context. The not-for-profit organization aims at gathering local people, researchers and practitioners to develop “better and more innovative designs in their local context”.

tap redimThe organization was created less than a year ago by Juliet Sakyi-Ansah, a young architect graduated from the Sheffield School of Architecture. While studying in the UK, Juliet realized that architecture could be used as a tool for em  powerment. However, the core idea of the Architects’ Project only became clear after she returned to Ghana and started practicing architecture. By interacting with clients and practitioners, she realized that #tap was relevant for both Ghana as a developing country and for the discipline as a whole.

To achieve its goal, #tap runs three programs simultaneously. tap:Exchange is an exchange program where local and international practitioners and researchers gather to critically review the practice of architecture and come up with practical solutions through talks, workshops, exhibitions and other interactive activities. More practically, tap:Buildfacilitates learning through making”. It aims at creating innovative designs by working for and with real clients, around their needs and those of their community. Finally the tap:Journal is published every year and features practitioners’ and researchers’ perspectives on the challenges and agenda of architecture in Ghana, as well as the achievements of the organization.

So far, the tap:Exchange programme has carried out three activities including the collaborative design workshop ARCHIBOTS. ARCHIBOTS: Remaking Agbogbloshie aims at creating alternatives visions for Agbogbloshie, a dump site for electronic waste. Hundreds of workers collect, recycle and re-use electronic waste in very dangerous conditions. #tap, in collaboration with Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform and MESH Ghana provided a design workshop session to engage with diverse expertise including designers, journalists, photographers, environmental researchers, material scientists, etc in the remaking of Agbogbloshie, an agenda to develop tools to empower the workforce at Agbogbloshie. In addition, #tap organized a symposium in collaboration with the government to improve the use of sustainable material. This way, the organization addresses all sectors of the architecture field, from concertaion to design to construction, to address development.

tap 2 redimArchitecture as a way to approach development?

Assessing the impact of The Architects’ Project in terms of development is difficult, as the organization was only founded recently.  Yet, there is definitely local and international interest for the project as it puts into question the practice of architecture and its importance in creating better communities. It also raises the importance of empowerment in facilitating the dissemination of good architectural practices for people living in informal settlements whose access to architecture services are limited. More importantly, the Architects’ Project reminds that innovation, even without proof of impact, is indispensable for the healthy development of Africa.

We can hope that the Architects’ Project will gather enough voices and project to improve the practice and education of architecture in Ghana and bridge the gap between doers and users, in a country that definitely needs it.

Caroline Guillet

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