Tag Archives: Fry

Inês Nunes is a PhD student at University of Coimbra, Portugal and is investigating, “The Social Within the Tropical: Jane Drew and Minnette de Silva designing an inclusive modernism in the tropics”. Here’s an update on a recent visit to the RIBA archive.

“My dearest, darling Jane”: unfolding Fry and Drew Papers

In a conversational tone, Maxwell Fry addresses Jane Drew from the ‘remote’ mid-1940s Accra. “Darling Max”, she replicates. Their correspondence, a lively itinerary from West Africa, India, Iran, or Mauritius, belongs to a treasure chest named Fry and Drew Papers. It is accessible, along with unrivaled archival material, in the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London).

Love notes handwritten on hotel letterheads, diaries displaying candid reflections about life, and memoirs manuscripted on paper bags are entangled with professional-wise material. Included are lectures and articles revealing narratives about architecture, extraordinarily illustrated with colourful drawings or sharp pencil sketches. Both are complemented by miscellaneous data: postcards, press cuttings, administrative files, address books… The characters gain life in every opened box. Their voices echo through calligraphies, signatures, ideas.

In its uniqueness, Fry and Drew Papers are an overwhelming resource regarding the life and work of both architects and an efficient record of the dynamic of their global scope partnership. Even so, it excels. Flexible and embracing enough to accommodate diverse interests and aims, unpublished personal letters, diaries, and autobiographies provide captivating details to any enthusiast – for instance, Fry’s diary was only made accessible in 2021. Furthermore, the archive is a source of knowledge about British historiography and significant architectural thematics: the MARS Group, the Modern Movement, Tropical Architecture, and Chandigarh are noteworthy.

Overall, the research was a privilege and the expectations were exceeded. My deep gratitude to Dr. Shireen Mahdavi for supporting this endeavour. The wealth of these primary sources allows an experience that couldn’t have been more rewarding. By immersing in Fry and Drew’s universe, how inspiring becomes their lifetime of respect and companionship, the robustness of their practice, and the profound vow to “produce towns and housing that will be loved, lived in and cared for” (Drew, F&D/27/2).

Have a look at the latest article from Design233 on Community Centers in Ghana, including the Accra Community Centre (paid for by the UAC) and Tarkwa Community Center (paid for by the Manganese Mining Company) – both designed by Fry and Drew. In addition to these modernist works the more formal and classically inspired centre at Kyebi is discussed – this centre is more of a mystery… We know it was funded by the Consolidated African Selection Trust (CAST)- but who designed it, and why did CAST commission such a lavish project?

An Update from Takoradi, Ghana Part 2

The docks and rail infrastructure of Takoradi was the impetus behind its rapid expansion from a small village to a major town. Construction commenced after WW1, but before this took place, it was neighbouring Sekondi that dominated the area with its grand houses, trading offices and the plush Metropole Hotel. The Dutch established Fort Orange there from 1670 and the natural harbour provided a suitable place for light vessels to shelter whilst the surf boats manned by the Kru people brought goods and people ashore.


The Metropole Hotel, Sekondi

There is some rich architectural heritage in this town, and clear evidence of a once prospering settlement full of traders and merchants. Those days are clearly gone.

We started with two schools, the first called Fijai, captured here by the UK National Archives Africa through a lens. Then onto St. John’s, again the vintage photo below shows the clean lines of the school, when constructed c. 1955.



St. John’s School, Sekondi

There have been further additions to the school including the striking church, donated by a Wisconsin family , with its large A-line structural frame,  finely detailed concrete casting, wooden ceiling and pre-cast screening. Next to St. John’s is Adiembra housing estate. There were revisions proposed for Adiembra in the 1944 Town Planning report made by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, but it is difficult to ascertain what impact this report made on the area, if any. However, we did spot some standpipes and washing stations that resemble those proposed by Fry and Drew in their manual, Village Housing in the Tropics, so perhaps this is evidence of their involvement.


The Church at St. John’s School

We went onto the main street of Sekondi where the Post Office is located. We discussed this building in our chapter in Bremner’s Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire, but were now shocked to see how the exquisite timber counter had been painted in bright blue gloss – destroying the previous display of tropical hardwoods. The rest of the street has only gotten worse since our last visit, with many of the former colonial buildings on the brink of collapse. Absent landlords coupled with a shrinking economy has left these structures vulnerable and economically unviable. Further sad news must be reported, as the modernist Sekondi Regional Library has recently been demolished and replaced with a new library.

Our final visit in Sekondi was to the coastal-road village of Ekuasie, laid out in 1912. This was an early attempt at providing worker housing and adopts the familiar grid iron street format, although far more loosely imposed than similar schemes elsewhere (such as Korle Gono). There are some later and grander additions to this village, including a set of houses from the mid 1950s.


Ekuasie Housing Estate

We returned to Takoradi and explored the workers’ estate, mentioned in the PRAAD archives as the ‘labourers housing and school’ at the Zongo area. This is still a thriving area, Hausa was heard being spoken and the tiny streets eventually lead to a playground-cum-village square, overlooked by the Islamic school and Mosque.


Takoradi Zongo School

The Architecture of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew:

We’re delighted to announce that our Fry and Drew book is to be published in paperback format in a few days time. This should make it a little more affordable and hopefully accessible to a broader audience in West Africa and India…



In the laboratory and in the field: hybrid housing design for the African city in late-colonial and decolonising Ghana (1945–57)

Viviana d’Auria, The Journal of Architecture Volume 19, Issue 3, 2014

This paper considers the case of late-colonial and ‘transitional’ Ghana (1945–57) to qualify the way in which ‘native’ dwelling practices were harnessed for housing design. Theories about the ‘colonial modern’ have underpinned the ambivalence of residential schemes and urbanisation strategies developed during decolonisation by modernist architects. Most documented among these is work in North Africa, with projects from Casablanca and Algiers taken as the epitome of how modernism memorably embraced the vernacular to amend its tenets in the early 1950s; however, British involvement in the colonies has more commonly been documented in relation to the tropical architecture canon, with a focus on institutional buildings rather than housing projects, especially in West Africa. Housing design, on the other hand, makes manifest the significance of the social and cultural dimensions as a basis for housing and urbanism during decolonisation in Ghana, downplayed to date because of a focus on climatic and economic factors. Projects by Fry, Drew, Drake and Lasdun, and by Alfred Alcock and Helga Richards, are discussed to gauge the extent of transcultural exchange while socio-economic surveys, experiments in building science and anthropological studies increasingly inspired the design process.

Read the full article here:

The planning of late colonial village housing in the tropics: Tema Manhean, Ghana


The Surf Boat Harbour at Accra, before the construction of Tema Harbour. Image c. 1920s, courtesy of Wirral Archives

This paper examines the planning, physical development, and housing in Tema New Town, an appendix of the newly created Tema industrial and harbour city, located on the northeastern part of Accra in the Greater Accra Region in Ghana. The city and its appendage were designed and built during the 1950s, as the country was rapidly approaching political independence. Tema, originally an old Ga-fishing village, became a significant part of a much larger and ambitious scheme, known as the Volta River Project proposed as part of Kwame Nkrumah’s domestic policy, embracing multifaceted and multidimensional development projects. These projects were to serve as a symbol of ‘progress’ and were part of Ghana’s desire for modernization as it emerged from a colonial past. The related schemes were largely funded as a result of the British Colonial Development and Welfare Acts, and this paper investigates the implementation of this policy and the effect that it had on physical planning and provision of architectural solutions in Ghana.


Maxwell Fry’s sketch of the ‘traditional’ Compound House, from Village Housing in the Tropics


One of Fry and Drew’s plans for the fishing village of Tema Manhean, Ghana.

The full paper, published in Planning Perspectives can be read at:

Jane Drew (1911-1996): An Introduction

We’re delighted that the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) is to hold an exhibition specifically on Jane Drew, especially as she helped to establish that very institution. The exhibition has been curated by Claire Louise Staunton and Laura Guy, who are part of Inheritance Projects. The exhibition opens on 12th February – 23 March 2014. More details on the website below.


A.E.S. Alcock and the planning of Asawasi, Kumasi

As part of our research into the architecture and planning in West Africa we have uncovered some important work undertaken by Alfred Edward Savige (“Bunny”) Alcock. He worked as  Town Engineer in Kumasi, 1936-45, and then as Gold Coast Town Planning Advisor from 1945-56. Whilst working in Kumasi, Alcock was a pioneer in developing self-build villages. He set up small scale production lines where the villagers could produce ‘swishcrete’ blocks, prefabricated roof trusses and various sanitation devices such as latrines and communal laundries.


This work was all carefully documented by Alcock and his hand-made photo album survives in the National Archives, London.  Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew worked with Alcock on this ‘experimental village’ (they were credited in Alcocks album) and went on to plan the larger second phase of the development, known as Asawasi. Fry described how the project grew, ‘from being a little experiment has become a big scheme spawning all over the hillside.’


The plan above shows the complete development arranged into ten compounds (housing groups). The area coloured pink was the original village planned by Alcock with the remaining areas designed by Fry and Drew. Alcock proposed a terraced (row) housing approach to create ‘interior’ courtyards, or ‘open compounds’. Alcock described it as a ‘ a repetitive pattern of garden and service compounds alternating… this pattern is adapted to curving contours in the main estate.’ There was a low-tech thrifty approach to the development as Alcock describes,

‘door and window furniture was made from scrap iron by blacksmiths. It was stronger and cheaper than imported furniture.’ In the kitchen a hood and flue were provided by using ‘old tar drums covering all four fire places shared by eight tennants’
Fry and Drew’s Village Housing in the Tropics is indebted to this early development. Alcock proudly noted that his designs could exceed the current building regulations and reduce costs. The big idea was for the government to supply the materials (and technical knowledge) with the villagers providing the labour. It was a system that became very popular throughout West Africa, although it was not always a fair and equitable solution.


Alcock took over from Fry as the Town Planning Advisor in Accra and was instrumental in the initial planning of Kwame Nkrumah’s Volta River project, new port and town Tema. He (along with Helga Richards) published his findings in a series of ‘How to’ building guides. Although less commercially successful than Fry and Drew’s acclaimed Village Housing in the Tropics manual, Alcock’s books were far more pragmatic and explanatory. There is also an element of humour in his books. How to Plan your Village for example is all about an educated villager returning to his old village and helping them to restore it – the character is named ‘Kwame’  – an overt reference to Nkrumah and a metaphor for the radical changes he was proposing.