Civic Architecture in Modern Ghana

Explore six civic buildings from the Republic of Ghana, from the time of late imperialism to present day.

By Royal Institute of British Architects

Black Star Square, Accra

In March 1957, Ghana became the second country in the Sub-Saharan to gain independence from Britain. Ghana's first Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, commissioned the Independence Square, also known as the Black Star. The space once used as the coloniser’s horse racing track and cricket field turned into an important ceremonial space symbolising Ghana's fight for liberation. 

Ghana (1957-03) by Mark KauffmanLIFE Photo Collection

The rise of Modernism in Ghana

The 1950s mark a key moment in Ghana’s architectural heritage. As the country politically moved away from its colonial past, it rebuilt the identity of the region using the modernist architectural language originating from Europe.   

Dr Easmon residence, Accra: the garden front (1959) by Photographer: J J Rose-InnesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Tropical Modernism

While the country prepared for independence, there was an influx of new civic buildings being commissioned, including schools, libraries, universities and hospitals alongside new private residencies. 

"Colonial Africa was transformed into a laboratory for 
Western modernity.”
Art Historian Bernd M. Scherer

Dr Easmon residence, Accra: the internal court (1959) by Architects: Kenneth Scott AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Coined 'Tropical Modernism' these buildings pioneered the modernist movement by adapting the style and materials to suit tropical conditions. The design accommodated the bright sunlight and humid climate, with signature features such as deep overhangs and concrete sunshades.

Community Centre, Accra (1960) by Architects: Fry Drew & PartnersRoyal Institute of British Architects

Community Centre, Accra

British husband-and-wife architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew led the wave of Modernist buildings in the region. As a result of British colonial policies, they worked on several public commissions, most of these were educational institutions.

Community Centre, Accra: the smaller courtyard (1953) by Photographer: John HarrisonRoyal Institute of British Architects

While they adapted their aesthetic to suit the climatic conditions, the work in Ghana and other West African countries also allowed them to experiment with modernist principles as a universal language.

College of Technology, Kumasi (1956) by Photographer: Peter PittRoyal Institute of British Architects

Kwame Nkrumah University, Kumasi

Founded in 1952, this college was granted university status in 1961 and then known as Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology of Ghana. It was the second public university to be established in the country and was pivotal in educating engineers and architects.

College of Technology, Kumasi (1956) by Photographer: Peter PittRoyal Institute of British Architects

A practice still running today, James Cubitt & Partners were the designers behind the university along several other Ghanaian schools between 1951 and 1954. Although lesser known today, they were a hugely dominant practice, working across many tropical Commonwealth countries.

Children's Library, Accra (1956)Royal Institute of British Architects

Children's Library, Accra

Completed in 1962 by Nickson & Borys, the Children’s Library is a key building in the centre of Accra. Its elegant features and use of material make it a functional and valuable space to the community. 

The bris-de-soleil façade allows natural airflow and cooling, while it shields the front of the building from sunlight. 

National Museum, Accra: beneath the central dome (1957) by Architects: Drake & LasdunRoyal Institute of British Architects

The National Museum of Ghana, Accra

Opened in March 1957 to coincide with the official Declaration of Independence, the National Museum was an important institution of its time to establish a national identity, yet designed by two British architects: Lindsay Drake and Denys Lasdun.

 


National Museum, Accra (1957) by Photographer: Geoffrey KnightRoyal Institute of British Architects

The choice of architects can be seen as a sign of cultural diplomacy between the new Ghanaian government and the colonial administration during a period of transferring power.

National Museum, Accra (1957) by Architects: Drake & LasdunRoyal Institute of British Architects

Denys Lasdun was responsible for the dome, which shaped the iconic character of the museum. It was prefabricated in the UK and then transported over to Ghana.

National Museum, Accra, Ghana: plan and section showing the 'diagrammatic analysis of building climate and function' (1957) by Architects: Drake & LasdunRoyal Institute of British Architects

Modernist buildings have become important for architectural study because of their intelligent design solutions, such as passive cooling, natural lighting and acoustics. 

Their technical and scientific performance in a tropical environment is superior compared with present designs which feature glazed glass, air conditioning and mechanical ventilation.

ArchiAfrika

ArchiAfrika was founded in 2001 by a group of architects who, through the development of educational opportunity and economic growth on the continent, were eager to redefine the urban landscape of the African city.

National Cathedral Ghana, Accra (2018) by Architects: Adjaye AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

"Architecture is part of the infrastructure that sets up the DNA of the idea of a nation" 

Sir David Adjaye, 2018

National Cathedral Ghana, Accra (2018) by Architects: Adjaye AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

National Cathedral, Accra

Ghana is experiencing a cultural and architectural renaissance. Leading the way is the most recent recipient of RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal, the Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye; the architect behind Accra’s newest and most ambitious civic project: The National Cathedral.

National Cathedral Ghana, Accra (2018) by Architects: Adjaye AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Situated within 14 acres of newly landscaped gardens, the cathedral sits adjacent to the Osu Cemetry. Symbolically combining religion, democracy and local tradition, the building embodies unity, harmony and spirituality, celebrating Ghanaian tradition. 

National Cathedral Ghana, Accra (2018) by Architects: Adjaye AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

Its structural form descends from traditional symbols of worship, referencing Christian symbolism and traditional Ghanaian heritage. 

National Cathedral Ghana, Accra (2018) by Architects: Adjaye AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

For the interiors Adjaye Associates will collaborate with some of the most celebrated and progressive Ghanaian and African artists to create the cathedral’s religious adornment and furnishings.

National Cathedral Ghana, Accra (2018) by Architects: Adjaye AssociatesRoyal Institute of British Architects

The site of the cathedral links to a new ceremonial route, connected to prominent and commemorative landmarks, including Independence Square, completed 60 years ago.

Adjaye Associates was founded in 2000 with studios in Accra, London and New York. Here, Adjaye is in conversation with architect and 2020 RIBA Annie Spink Award winner, Lesley Lokko, who is currently setting up a new school of architecture in Accra. 

Find out more about Sir David Adjaye's Royal Gold Medal.

Credits: Story

Explore more from RIBA Collections here 
All images are from the RIBA Collections unless listed.    

Images: College of Technology, Kumasi, interior and exterior shot. Rights: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Image: Childrens Library. Rights: Unknown 
Images: Architectural renders of National Cathedral, Accra. Rights: Adjaye Associates

Curation and Interpretation by RIBA Public Programmes.

With special thanks to Adjaye Associates and ArchiAfrika 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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