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Have a look at https://www.design233.com/articles/from-buckman-to-turkson for my article on some lesser known Ghanaian architects, including John Buckman and Peter Nathaniel Kwegyir Turkson. I uncovered Turkson’s architecture thesis project in the University of Liverpool archives and discuss his plans for a new Parliament Assembly building in Accra.

Peter Turkson in Liverpool with his architectural model for a new parliament building in Accra, 1954.

Turkson wanted a design that was ‘classic in character and at the same time distinctly modern in feeling and detail…[exhibiting] the spirit of modern times’. 

Proposal for the Accra Assembly building, by Peter Turkson, 1954

Turkson’s solution proposed using a ‘sandcrete’ (laterite soil mixed with cement) block wall along with a brise-soleil frame of fixed vertical and horizontal fins. Topping the structure and reflecting the chamber below was a reinforced concrete dome clad in copper, whilst some of the walls would be clad with faience finish. The plan was symmetrical forming two courtyards with a central drum for the debating chamber and library above. 

Site plan showing the proposed location of the new Assembly on Accra’s Barnes Road and Christianborg Road.

The aim of this project is to investigate if, and to what extent do ‘tropical modernist’ structures modify or mitigate climatic conditions to create more ‘comfortable’ interiors. 

Most of these structures were designed to be passively cooled and as such have a permeable façade composed of concrete screens or louvres to facilitate cross ventilation air-flow, and to create shade. A good example is the Children’s Library in Accra, designed by Nickson and Borys in 1957.

Mainly built during the 1930s-70s, these buildings are now at an age when they require refurbishment and rehabilitation – although this is mainly superficial and does not involve structural correction. There are various options pursued, many involving the installation of air-conditioning units. For the AC to be effective it ideally requires a sealed interior volume, rendering the existing permeable façade unsuitable. 

Standard Chartered Bank: as built and passively cooled
Standard Chartered Bank: refurbished, clad in glazed panels and reliant on AC

One solution being increasingly used in Ghana is to externally clad the façades with a glazed screen, as seen on the Standard Chartered Bank on Accra’s High Street. 

The glazing cuts out street and traffic noise and reduces dust infiltration, as well as enabling the interior to be mechanically cooled. But in terms of energy usage (consumption of AC and in the fabrication of the glazed units) it is far from ideal. Furthermore, there is the financial cost of cooling what is now effectively a greenhouse in a hot and humid climate. Architecturally the building has also been dramatically altered. It is now a bland non-descript block, and lacks the patterns, shading effects, and references to the floors behind the façade. I’m not suggesting that this example is a prestigious heritage monument, but rather using it to illustrate what is becoming an increasingly common approach to refurbishment. Fortunately, in this case glazing can be easily removed and the older structure has been preserved inside.

Our project has several objectives, including to:

  1. Recognise and promote the significance of these 20thC modernist structures.
  2. Determine if the passive cooling approach does create sufficiently comfortable interiors.
  3. Investigate what conditions are comfortable for the occupants of these buildings.
  4. Investigate alternatives to AC that provide low cost and low energy comfortable interiors without detrimentally impacting upon the architectural quality.

To test both inland and coastal conditions we’ve selected a case study at KNUST in Kumasi, and another at the University of Ghana, Accra.  Both buildings are university libraries, and as such have a large number of daily visitors that we can consult. The library at KNUST was designed as a louvred screen wall, fully adjustable from the interior, and also has a later brutalist extension with a twin façade arrangement and partially air-conditioned interior. 

KNUST Library: a facade of adjustable louvres

At Accra, the Balme Library takes a more colonial/traditional approach with a series of courtyards, loggias and high ceilings. Some of the rooms have been retro-fitted with air-conditioning, whilst at the same time naturally ventilated. Both libraries are large institutional buildings and have the potential to consume large amounts of energy should they be refurbished with full AC and cooled to ASHRAE recommendations. Furthermore, it is important for the health and education of the staff and students that these buildings are comfortable places to spend time in, and to study. 

Balme Library at University of Ghana

In each building we’ve installed a number of Hobo data-loggers that record the temperature and humidity at regular intervals. Whilst this data allows us to determine whether the internal temperature/humidity is different to the external condition, it does not tell us if the conditions are comfortable to the inhabitants. To establish this, we’ve consulted the library users and staff to enquire how comfortable they feel in the various library spaces. The respondents also recorded their attire, age, sex, and how long they have been in the library prior to completing the survey.  Over 250 people completed the survey at KNUST in January 2020. We will repeat this in the ‘rainy season’, and conduct similar surveys at Accra. When we’ve gathered this data we can correlate the data-logger findings with those of the user surveys. We’re also constructing 3d computer models of the buildings to test various refurbishment scenarios and cooling options.

Our partners in this project are Dr. Haniyeh Mohammadpourkarbasi at University of Liverpool; Dr. Irene Appeaning-Addo and Dr. Dan Nukpezah from University of Ghana; and Prof. Rexford Assasie-Oppong at KNUST. We’re also indebted to the library staff and students at each institution. Funding has been generously provided by the University of Liverpool ODA Seed Fund 2019-2020.

Updates to follow when we have more data and findings to report.

Livelihoods and culture under threat in Ghana’s historic port of Jamestown

The beachfront of historical Jamestown, Ghana.

Plans are afoot to replace the historic Ghanaian fishing port of Jamestown with a Chinese-backed mechanised factory.

This is a move that will destroy traditional livelihoods, as well as damage the historic built environment. It will drastically change not only the tangible fabric of this historic town, but also impact the fishing methods, market traders and community that’s reliant on the sea.

Since 2011 I have been researching the history of Ghanaian architecture and urbanism, and have been particularly struck by its impressive collection of heritage structures and associated narratives.

The harbour at Accra’s district of Jamestown was built to provide shelter from the heavy surf that pounds this part of the coast. The breakwater and pier were equipped with railway tracks, gantries and cranes to handle the large produce exports following the cocoa boom of the early 1900s. The wealth created from this trade saw some fine buildings being built. An array of warehouses, stores and villas survive (some very precariously) in Jamestown to this day.

Historical photograph of Jamestown.
Courtesy of Wirral Archives

The shallow waters of the harbour utilised smaller surf boats who ferried the goods in and out to the ships anchored in deeper water. The creation of new ports rendered the Jamestown harbour superfluous by the 1950s and it was no longer used for international trade.

While this profoundly affected the livelihoods of the surf boat owners, as well as the economic prosperity of the Jamestown area, it has still remained an active harbour, returning its focus to fishing. New canoes are still built on the beach, nets are made, repaired and dried, and a large, if casual, fishing market trades off the shore.

Although described as a beach, it’s still a working harbour rather than a place for leisure. Businesses, residences, schools, places of worship and bars have all been established on the beach and a large population considers it their home and community. The place has a very different feel to the rest of the city. It has an intimate connection to the sea, dictated by the tides, rituals, songs and danger that accompanies all fishing communities.

It is “informal”, sometimes appears anarchic, and while not suitable in its current format for freight shipping, its potential for commercial development has caught the attention of the municipality and international investors.

New development

Earlier this year a billboard was suddenly erected on the beach displaying an “artist’s impression” of how the beach is to be developed. It’s a disturbing image in many ways, showing the beach completely cleared of its inhabitants. There’s also a large car park and a series of somewhat bland sheds or factories. There is not one single canoe in sight.

An artist’s impression of the new Jamestown development.
Iain Jackson

The proposal (and its backers) see this site as a convenient place to construct a new factory for the mechanised processing of fish. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as an idea. But the current proposal would not only occupy a prime site with historical significance: it would displace a large community along with their heritage, skills and traditions.

There are four main considerations that have not been addressed by the current proposal. And with the beach already being cleared of its residents and traders, time is running short.

Seafront heritage site: A shoreline development with an historic waterfront requires sensitive and appropriate proposals. A failure to deliver this undersells the site’s potential. It is not appropriate for a factory and car park to be placed on this important plot.

It is hard to imagine any other international port city using its most important natural features in this way. The attractive view over the ocean offers lots of possibility for this site. Reducing it to a fish-gutting production line is shortsighted and lacks ambition.

Community discussion and liaison: The settlements and businesses located on the beach are “informal” (like most of Ghana’s economy). But this must not discount or invalidate their contribution to future development. No one is more invested in this place than the current population, part of the minority Gā community, with their own language and traditions, who have lived and traded here for centuries.

Individual fishing boats and their small hauls may not be the most efficient or lucrative methods of extracting the bounty of the sea. But they bring many advantages. The main traders (and controllers) are women affectionately known as “mammies”, who set the prices and manage supply.

This matriarchal system has been largely responsible for ensuring a strong community. Whilst these traders are fiercely competitive, they care for each other and their lives. Memories and stories are inherently bound to this place – the proposed factory would completely undermine and destroy this market and cohesion.

Mechanised production would also result in fewer employment opportunities. The power would be taken from market traders and fewer fishermen would be required.

Fish stock: Environmentally the mechanised processing and trawlers would be disastrous for the fish stock. The existing method marries periods of fallow with festivals, allowing the sea to recuperate and replenish. There is a rhythm to the current fishing method that responds to the seasons and traditions. It is unlikely this approach will be respected by the new process and the factory’s profit driven approach.

Tourist potential: The first place tourists visit when arriving in Ghana is usually Jamestown and the harbour area. Its two former slaving forts and the historic mercantile core of the town, coupled with the array of festivals and events, have so much potential as revenue creators.




Read more:
Igniting public space at the Chale Wote street art festival in Accra


They must be treated as rare commodities, not as cheap development plots. If this district is gradually eroded, its natural features, historic charm and engaging community dismissed, then what else is there for visitors to see in Accra?

In the last six months eviction processes have started to clear the beach. This is an earnest plea for this proposal to be rethought – and for this fascinating part of the city to be regenerated in a way that celebrates and respects the history and people of Jamestown.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Thank you to Prof. Ola Uduku of Manchester School of Architecture for reviewing the ‘Sharing Stories from Jamestown’ exhibition. The exhibition has been extended to run until the end of June 2019. Below I’ve uploaded a 360 degree panoramic view – you can ‘click and drag’ the film to have a look around….

WARUH: West African Rapid Urbanisation and Heritage Conservation Research Network

Iain Jackson’s exhibition co-curated by Allotey Konuah-Bruce and Joe Addo opened to great acclaim on Saturday evening at the Jamestown Café, venue, near Ussher Fort. Curiously the café it was confirmed by local elders who attended the opening is accurately in Usshertown; the exhibition launch providing a great forum for these questions to be aired and for detailed discussions to be had.

Historic photographs and maps of ‘old’
Jamestown buildings have been placed next to those which show their age,
condition and use, in ‘contemporary’ Jamestown have been displayed in the lower
gallery of the Jamestown Café, which itself features in the exhibition as Tarquah
house, the dwelling and warehouse of one of Jamestown’s wealthy local
merchants, who had originally had it built. The exhibition represents a true
joint collaboration between Iain Jackson and Allotey Konuah-Bruce who have
formed a close and productive working relationship as they have spent the…

View original post 244 more words

You are invited to our Exhibition, ‘Sharing Stories from Jamestown’, opening on the evening of Friday 17th May 2019 at Jamestown Cafe, High Street, Accra. All very Welcome! The exhibition will run until 13th June.

We’ll be exhibiting vintage photographs, plans and drawings from over ten archives and private collections that have been gathered together here for the first time. To accompany the exhibition we’ve also produced a catalogue that attempts to explain and contextualise the images, and to tell the history of Accra’s development, planning and architecture. You can read the digital version below. We’re indebted to Allotey Bruce-Konuah for expertly setting out the catalogue.

Exhibition Catalogue available at issuu: https://issuu.com/transnationalarchitecture/docs/sharingstories_accra_2019_jackson

We will include more photographs and 360 degree footage of the exhibition as soon as it is installed.

Junior Staff Quarters Plan View
Junior Staff Quarters, near Christianborg Castle, Accra


New Buildings in the Commonwealth edited by Jim M. Richards in 1961 pulled together many articles from earlier editions of the Architectural Review. It formed an important set of essays, photographs and illustrations with each geographically themed chapter written by an architect familiar with that part of the world. Maxwell Fry wrote the West Africa section and he selected some of the best buildings from the proceeding decade to feature in his piece, including some lesser known works from relatively unknown architects.

Junior Staff Quarters, Accra
Junior Staff Quarters, Accra

The opening project for the Ghana section was a housing scheme from Accra designed by the Public Works Department Chief Architect, G. Halstead with architects-in-charge D. A. Barratt and W. J. Clarke. Very little is known about these architects, apart from Halstead worked with S. Bailey (townplanner) on the new layout of Tamale in 1953..[1]

The Accra housing project is a very carefully designed set of 24 apartments arranged across three blocks. Each dwelling faces into the courtyard space and are one room deep to maximise cross ventilation. Each house also has its own private balcony/court for sleeping outside and cooking.

The formal arrangement and sloping roofs are all carefully arranged and the quality of the build is exceptional. I’ve wanted to see these houses for some time now and it was a special moment to see them come into view as I made my way from the 17th Century Danish ‘Christianborg Castle’. The houses were constructed as ‘Junior Staff Quarters’ for people working at the Castle (which was then used as the Prime Minister’s Residence) during the early years of Ghana’s independence.

The houses remain largely unaltered from the original design, albeit lacking some basic maintenance. I spoke to a number of the current residents and they very much enjoy living here. The sense of community is strongly felt, and overlooked internal courtyard adds security. Parts of Community 1 at Tema have a similar feel but don’t quite achieve the ‘walled city in miniature’ qualities of this project.  It marks a significant shift from the compound and ‘village-housing’ projects built elsewhere at the time, and continues to offer many clues for how we might design inexpensive housing in Ghana today.

Junior Staff Quarters, 2019

[1]Tamale Town Planning [1948-54], British Library, EAP541/1/1/333, https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP541-1-1-333

Sharing Stories from James Town and the Creation of Mercantile Accra
Forthcoming Exhibition at James Town Cafe, 17th May 2019

I’ve been working in Jamestown, Accra to start planning an exhibition on the colonial and mercantile architecture of the district. Using archival and historical images and maps the exhibition will celebrate and explore Accra’s rich architectural heritage and urban history. The exhibition will focus on the warehouses, stores, factories and offices of James Town and examine how the city rapidly developed into a vast commercial enterprise.

The images for the exhibition have been generously provided by Unilever, Barclays, UK National Archives, The British Museum and private collections. Most of these images have not been exhibited before and we’re delighted that they will be shown in Accra, and in very close proximity to where they were originally taken.

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Exhibition Promotional Banner outside James Town Cafe with Iain Jackson [L], Joe Osae-Addo [C] and Allotey Bruce-Konuah [R]

There will be a printed/PDF catalogue to accompany the exhibition showing both archival and modern photographs of the buildings, along with historical maps, and we will hang large photographic banners of the archival images directly onto the historic buildings in James Town.

The main exhibition (co-designed with architect Joe Osae-Addo and designer Allotey Bruce-Konuah) will be hosted by ArchiAfrika at the James Town Café, from 17th May 2019. We’re also hoping that it will go on tour to University of Ghana (details to be announced). In June there will be an additional exhibition hosted at the James Town Café  curated by Lukasz Stanek and Ola Uduku of Manchester School of Architecture – and we’ll include more on both exhibitions here.

We’ve also started a new project to produce 360 degree panoramic photographs (and films) of some of the key sites and streets in James Town (and its environs). The images have been captured with a Ricoh Theta camera and we’ve taken over 200 photographs/ short films to date. The clips will be pieced together as a series of films and overdubbed with a commentary on the history and significance of the buildings in view. The films may be viewed with a VR headset for a more immersive experience. Allotey Bruce-Konuah already gives tours of James Town, and these films will enable his expertise to reach a wider audience, as well as encouraging new visitors to make the trip to this unique and highly important portion of Accra.

 

I’ve been spending some time working in and around Accra, and in particular at the Public Records and Archives Department. This archive has undergone major changes in the last five years and is a great place to undertake research with helpful staff and quick responses to queries. Located in a distinctive building with bold concrete brise soleil and a brave concertinaed roof over the entrance space, its interiors rely exclusively on passive ventilation. I was looking mainly at the late colonial records including those of the Public Works Department, sanitation, land, and town planning.

Experimental Swishcrete blocks at Kibi
Experimental Swishcrete blocks at Kibi from 1945
IMG_1003.jpg
Experimental Swishcrete housing at Kibi from 1945. Note the arches above the windows and doors

There were many discoveries and lots to celebrate (and eventually publish), but one particularly interesting find related to a folder called ‘Experimental housing at Kibi’. This gave lots of details on an attempt to build a couple of dwellings in swishcrete (i.e. laterite and concrete mix) blocks in the gold mining town of Kibi, with a view to saving on cement costs and also creating an aesthetic that was more in keeping with the vernacular. It was a particularly exciting find, as we had stumbled across these houses earlier this year, and were taken by their unique construction. The archives revealed that Jane Drew was involved in their design and that she visited the site in early April 1945. It must have formed part of her work on village housing. Although modified and extended the houses still stand and clearly demonstrate the strength of this construction method having survived over 70 years.

Outside of the archives, I managed to finally track down Denys Lasdun’s Paterson Simon’s Office in Accra, 1962 (thanks to the help of their current Managing Director John Traynor). It was formerly a supermarket and toyshop called Farisco.

I was hoping to see the Optimist Club in Sekondi, but as suspected, I was too late and the influential African club has been demolished and now replaced with a large youth centre. Fortunately, Nate Plageman did manage to visit the club before it was demolished and you can see his photos here. Despite this loss, it was good to use copies of the early plans of Sekondi from 1900-1920, housed in the UK National Archives, to further explore the town. I was particularly taken by the Venice Cinema located at the edge of the settlement by the lagoon (was this how the cinema got its name?) and the wonderful merchant villas and stores that can still be found in dilapidated abundance throughout the town.

Venice Cinema, Sekondi
Venice Cinema, Sekondi

Accra continues to seduce with its array of late colonial structures and modernist set pieces. At Korle Bu just west over the lagoon from Jamestown the hospital dominates the landscape. The hospital forms part of the trilogy of projects developed by Gordon Guggisberg in the 1920s (along with Achimota Schooland Takoradi town and docks). The old hospital structures remain, looking almost like they did when built (and similar to the harbour board buildings in Takoradi) – as captured on Africa Through a Lens. The later brutalist addition to the hospital was by Kenneth Scott, looking more restrained and orderly than the edgier and abrupt Effia Nkwanta hospital in Takoradi by Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn. If you visit Korle Bu hospital continue to walk through the grounds and head out to the staff housing, tennis courts and garden sanctums that lie secretly beyond – it is a hidden, gentile world of privilege that still manages to exist just a couple of miles from the excitement and paucity of Jamestown.

 

Korle Bu Hospital, Accra
Korle Bu Hospital, Accra photographed shortly after completion, 1928

 

 

Two New Buildings in Accra

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

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

One Airport Square

One Airport Square

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

IMG_0838

Atrium of Airport Square One

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

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Ecobank, Accra

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

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Augustus Richardson with the model of Ecobank

At ground level the building is clad with limestone firmly rooting it into the earth and forming tactile surfaces. The two forms reflect the public banking space, and the private offices of the bank HQ. The bank is orientated on an axis leading towards the concrete obelisk in Africa Liberation Square, and there is a real declaration of optimism in this building. Mobius are an exciting firm to follow, and Richardson kindly took us on a tour of the bank, giving behind the scenes access. The quality of the finish is exceptional and build quality excellent. Richardson clearly cares about architecture and his city; there is a charged excitement in the way he talks about design (see http://www.design233.com/oldhtml/works/augustus_richardson_the_bridge_mobius.html for more on this).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cedi House viewed from Ecobank roof garden

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

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

 

Notes from James Town, Accra.

Hansen Road, James Town

Hansen Road looking towards the Methodist cathedral

James Town is an old district in Accra running along the coast and associated with the British during the early colonial period – when the Dutch and Danish were also grappling for control of the town. Set behind the Usher Fort are many warehouses, trading posts and residences. A fine array of historical buildings can still be found here, but much of its rich tangible and intangible heritage is at risk through insensitive development, lack of maintenance and the departure of large businesses from the area. Despite this, it remains a vibrant and charming district full of markets, traders and the cultural epicentre that is the James Town Café, recently frequented by Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Accra.

James Town Cafe

James Town Café

Led by the charismatic Allotey Bruce-Konuah we weaved our way through the markets and informal structures that now occupy the gaps and leftover sites, punctuated by a vast collection of colonial-era buildings. Our first stop is a stone obelisk encased within an old market hall. The obelisk was built shortly after 1900 to commemorate the last of the Anglo-Ashanti wars. One of the plaques is in Arabic script, perhaps in recognition of Nigerian-Islamic troops who fought the Ashanti with the British. From here we went to the adjacent market hall. It was used until quite recently – and with some minor repairs could make for a very fine market venue today, perfectly sited on a strong axis and at the centre of the district.

We visited Azumo house, built in 1914 – the original owner’s escapades of shipwrecks and ‘salvaging’ are apparently recorded in the Red Book of West Africa. The quality and number of historical buildings is surprising – a case of preservation by leaving-be. The warehouses of the Compagnie Francaise de L’Afrique Occidentale (based in the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool) occupy a prominent site, and Ellen House built in 1918 boasts a rich history – we will attempt to uncover more.

Our trip concluded with a visit to the studio of Deo Gratias. You may remember some of the photos from this studio featuring in The Guardian (and here) not so long ago. It was extraordinary to see these images printed and in large format. Kate Aku Tamakloe, the granddaughter of the studio’s founder, JK Bruce Vanderpuije, and curator of the collection kindly gave us a tour. Kate told us there are many, many more images to scan, some from glass plates. We look forward to seeing more of this important work.

Deo Gratias Studio

Deo Gratias Studio James Town