In the Architect and Building News from July 1952 there’s an intriguing article for a partially-prefabricated ‘Commonwealth House’.
The house could be easily shipped and ‘erected by the average handyman’, aided by a standardised kit of parts would make manufacturing simple and predictable.
The house was designed by Charles A. V. Smith with John Pearce Mockridge, following a consultation with potential makers and inhabitants. The architects adjusted their designs to suit a consensus – resulting in a house very much designed by committee with a predictable, if utilitarian and efficient, floor plan.
The brief was to develop a house that would be suitable across the geographical and climatic zones of Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and East Africa. Over 20,000 units were expected to be built per year to meet the demand for emigrating workers and their families eager to escape war-torn Britain for opportunities elsewhere.
The house had an aluminium frame structure, and the cladding materials could vary depending on availability and final conditions. It was placed on concrete posts with an ant-trap to resist termite attack. The prototype erected on Great West Road in Hounslow was fitted out with furniture and a fireplace designed by American architect Carl Koch (1912-1998), who later pioneered several prefabricated house designs in the US.
The Commonwealth House design was very similar to houses we saw in the timber saw-mill town of Samreboi in Ghana – even down to the ant-trap detailing.
The African Timber and Plywood Company (AT&P), who owned the mill and were responsible for most of the housing, were also attempting to develop their own housing kits and to expand into new products and markets.
By 1954 AT&P had begun to discuss prefabrication techniques and processes at both Samreboi and their larger station at Sapele in Nigeria. The drive and urgency for this type of production was heightened by increased competition and political efforts to quickly improve housing standards in West Africa. The Dutch firm Schokbeton had been awarded a large order for prefabricated housing in Ghana, and contractors Taylor Woodrow were eager to expand their building products export wing.
Architect Edric Neel (1914-1952) developed a consortium of architectural consultants with Taylor Woodrow in 1944 to research new structures that could be quickly assembled and fabricated. The group was called Arcon and their first project was a temporary prefabricated house. The system developed into a set of lightweight tubular steel components that could be easily welded together. The façade, if required, could be made of local materials, metal sheets, or cement board cladding, as required. The system was intended for export and into ‘tropical conditions’ in particular. The units could be readily scaled and used to assemble large factories and sheds with large spans. Many of the factories and mills (including those at Samreboi) utilised this standardised and low-risk approach to construction.
Over the next 15 years AT&P began developing a series of prefabricated houses, but rather than developing a frame and cladding approach they created integrated wall panels (like flat-pack furniture) with modular dimensions so that windows and doors could be added where required. They called it the AT&P System Building, and priced a small house at £500 – compared to the £1200 Schokbeton model.
The system was adopted for military projects and housing, and continued to be deployed into the 1970s with AT&P developing many different variations and types.
The 1951 victory for Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’sParty resulted in some major shifts in the procurement of new infrastructure and housing. For the electorate, housing was one of the most important issues and Nkrumah’s government was quick to recognize this potency.
His plan, announced in 1952, was to build a new port city, complete with innovative and improved housing at the highest standards. Located only 18 miles from the centre of Accra, the new city of Tema would demonstrate Nkrumah’s commitment to industrial development and that Ghana was at the centre of a pan-African vision.
Tema was part of a wider industrialization project that included a new aluminum smelting plant and hydroelectric power station on the Volta River. It was a major project involving international financial backing and set out the major ambition Nkrumah had for the nation during the advent of independence. For such a major project, very little is known about the first team of architects and planners responsible for the execution and delivery.
Research Title and Summary:From One Slum to Another : A Journey of Understanding and Redefining Informal Districts in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
At a time where Saudi Arabia undergoes many mega development plans, Jeddah, located in the western region of Saudi Arabia, continuously aims to adjust the urban development strategies in an attempt to accommodate the future vision of the country. However, it suffers from the increasing numbers of informal districts where it currently adds up to sixty-six documented informal districts. This built environment has been vulnerable to socio-cultural implications and considerable complications. The community in these areas suffer from lack of proper housing, amenities, water supply, safety, and basic accessible healthcare. Living in closed clusters depending on and not limited to ethnicity and affordability. Saudi and non-Saudi people have inhabited informal districts for generations. For many years, policy makers along with governmental officials have put in action strategies to infiltrate these zones and prevent the spread of this architecture scar. Consequently, a bird eye view of the situation with no consideration to the communities needs and struggles have led to two types of people: landowners who refused to move and low-income communities who relocated to other informal low-income areas.
Previous research investigated the informal districts crises, the root cause, the history and possible solutions. However, this historical crisis still reoccurs today. The oil boom, the mega projects, the rise in population and cost of living all have aided in the process of replacing, reproducing these slums. This research will shed the light on previous reasons of the crisis, However, it aims to investigate the mechanism of the informal districts and characteristics influenced by the behavior of different sociocultural aspects and to identify the variables that define these areas in Jeddah.
Aims and Objectives:
This research aims to reveal the actual characteristics of Jeddah’s informal districts highlighting the different building and spatial dimensions. It aims to layer the social, economic and space relations to highlight the consistent power of such districts and the growth of this particular economy and space.
The architecture of these zones in Jeddah can be abstracted into many indicators that differ from one district to another despite the close distance they are from each other. Considerably, the urban fabric and socio-cultural characteristics also differ from one zone to another. This is an understanding on how housing conditions and living challenges implicate the socio-culture nature of inhabitants. The research is an empirical analysis of the factors influencing the social and cultural patterns affected by the built environment that aid in the occurrence and recurrence of informal districts.
Many descriptions have been mentioned in research and media talking about the problem of slums. The root cause, the history and possible solutions. However, a historical issue still reoccurs today. The oil boom, the mega projects, the rise in population and cost of living all have aided in the process of replacing and reproducing these slums. This research does aim to extensively explore previous reasons of the crisis. It aims to investigate the mechanism of the informal districts and characteristics. The aims are as following:
To research the history of the urban fabric and the development of the built environment of Jeddah.
To research the history of the existence and recurrence of informal districts in Jeddah.
To investigate the different types of informal districts in Jeddah.
To examine the current situation and analyze the relationship between the city and informal districts.
To examine the inhibitors socio-cultural background and economic status.
To define the characteristics of the informal districts’ built environment where they differ in terms of culture, architecture, and economy.
To set new indicators that categorizes the districts based on physical and social differences according to the previous definition.
To propose recommendations for new strategies to enhance the built environment to accommodate inhabitants needs
Why did you pursue a PhD, and what made you choose University of Liverpool?
Honestly, I have never thought I would. In 2013 I finished my master’s degree in Sustainable Architecture from the Catholic University of America. I was very eager to start working in the field. I went back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and worked at Dar Al-Hekma University as a lecturer, alongside I founded with my husband Vertix Design Studio where I worked as an Architect and Interior Designer. In 2017 I moved to teach at Jeddah University. I taught various subjects during my years at both universities such as design studios, sustainability, and computer aided design. Teaching was a very enriching experience and as a result I have been very enthusiastic about research and exploring new methods of developing the built environment. During COVID-19 lockdown, a worldwide crisis affecting humanity, I realized that the aftermath of this would lay within us for a very long periods of time. I started to research with my colleague Dr. Sherin Sameh, a former chair of the School of Architecture at Dar Al-Hekma University, about pandemic lockdowns and space layout in houses in Jeddah according to new resident’s needs. Research revealed how this pandemic affected the more vulnerable low-income society and how houses and neighborhoods were not equipped to deal with such events.
After exploring many prominent universities, I have chosen University of Liverpool because the School of Architecture is one of the excellent schools across the United Kingdom, and the areas of research I am interested in are compatible with the vision of the wonderful staff. Liverpool is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited in the UK, the very welcoming atmosphere and the beautiful architecture has made the decision much easier.
What have you found the most fun part of the PhD, and the most challenging?
Exploring my city and meeting people from different backgrounds has been the most rewarding part of the PhD so far. Although I have lived most of my life in Jeddah, I had the chance of visiting areas for the first time. Seeing the city from a different point of view has been an eye-opening experience.
The most challenging part has been starting my PhD online during the COVID-19 lockdown. Although e-learning has proved to be a revolutionary mechanism managing to bring people together in one room despite the physical distance, it has been challenging to build actual work/study relationships. As a new student, it takes time to be familiar with the new system and new instructors, nevertheless having to do it online made it challenging as there is limited time during online meetings and the importance of using that limited time effectively. However, I have been very fortunate that my supervisors have been very encouraging and supporting throughout time and I have been very motivated to work hard after each online meeting.
Post-Phd? Any ideas of what you’d like to do next?
Although teaching has been a huge part of my career, I look forward to research further solutions for the constant rise in informal settlements in Saudi Arabia. I would like to effectively implement strategies that deal with such zones with consideration of the society living there. Finding sustainable solutions to eliminate such occurrences in the future for a more resilient country. I aim to influence and implement polices that would help mitigate this situation.
Any advice for others interested in doing a PhD?
The dilemma I had in the past was constantly asking myself why do I want to do a PhD? Every time I thought about applying, I asked myself that, and only when I was able to answer I knew I was ready with a purpose. Don’t be afraid to be curious – the more you are – the better researcher you become. I have always seen myself since I started as more of an investigator researching for answers in the field. Choose a topic that you feel passionate about and do not be discouraged when you reach dead end, it just means there is an alternative road you need to take. Enjoy the journey.
Name: Heather Lynn McGrath Alcock PhD Research Title: Beyond the Village: The Global Value of Port Sunlight
Dissertation Supervisors: Professor Iain Jackson, Dr Ataa Alsalloum and Dr Cheryl Hudson
Research Question: Does Port Sunlight village express Outstanding Universal Value and if so, what material and intangible aspects of the site express its influential, unique, and exemplary character?
Aim: The aim of my research is to define the heritage values of Port Sunlight village in a comparative global context.
Figure 1: Mapping global planned worker villages. Sites are mapped by latitude and longitude and key characteristics are recorded for each site, including dates for development, designer, industry, and heritage site management indicators such as statutory protections.
Identify, map, and analyse the transmission of ideas and images for Port Sunlight village and two similar sites Bournville and New Earswick from 1889-1939.
Complete desk-based research to identify, map and briefly describe global planned worker settlements, garden suburbs, and Garden Cities.
Compare transmission of ideas and images research against the development of planned worker settlements, garden suburbs and Garden Cities research to identify and describe possible connections and influences.
Undertake case studies for more in-depth comparative analysis, including archival research, field work and interviews with stakeholders.
Analyse findings to determine if there is a correlation between the transmission of images and ideas and the development of planned worker villages. If so, would it be possible to identify the primary influence? Were direct or indirect forms of transmission most prevalent? What methods were most effective or enduring? Lastly, is it possible to directly trace Port Sunlight’s influence?
Define Port Sunlight’s heritage values within UNESCO’s framework for world heritage site inscription.
Figure 2: The model worker village at Port Sunlight was both a highly local and ‘tied’ manufacturing community and a global phenomenon. Foreign visitors toured the site regularly and Lever Brothers had a global business operation by 1900. This 1901 quote from the Crown Prince of Siam featured in the opening pages of the 1905 “Souvenir of Port Sunlight” by Lever Brothers Limited. (Held by Port Sunlight Museum, Collection Reference S13 1905)
Background to Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight is a planned worker village created by industrialist William Lever (1851-1925) for the workers in his soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers, which later became global manufacturing corporation Unilever, plc. Port Sunlight holds a unique place in the history of British town and country planning, where two significant traditions meet: picturesque town and country planning and improved housing and amenities for working class people”.1
Construction of the Lever Brothers’ works started in 1888 and the first houses were occupied by 1889. By 1891, Lever Brothers had built their first community facility, Gladstone Hall and they were publishing visitor ‘guidebooks’ to promote the works and village.
By the start of the first world war, the village had a wide range of facilities, including two schools, cottage hospital, an open-air swimming bath, 3000-seat auditorium, gymnasium, library, savings bank, social clubs, shops, church, tennis and bowling lawns, football pitch and pub. The houses and facilities were set in a generous landscape with passive green spaces, designed landscapes and allotments.
Figure 3: Plan of Port Sunlight as it was in 1938 by historian Michael Shippobottom in consultation with Edward Hubbard. The plan, reproduced in Hubbard and Shippobottom’s A Guide to Port Sunlight Village (3rd Edition, Page 34, Figure 32) illustrates the village at its first Jubilee.
Port Sunlight village became a conservation area in 1978 and includes over 900 Grade II-listed buildings within 130 acres of parkland and gardens.
Port Sunlight faces many challenges, articulated in a suite of evidence-based strategic documents developed from 2018-2021 by Port Sunlight Village Trust (PSVT), the independent charity charged with the care and promotion of the village.2 PSVT, working in partnership with key stakeholders, plans to undertake significant projects and to advance key business objectives to address these challenges and to ensure the long-term sustainability, accessibility and inclusivity of the site.3 The research will support PSVT, village stakeholders, academics and practitioners to better understand the global value and significance of the site and to make more informed decisions about its future.
My work will be informed by extensive archival research, case studies and oral histories, and my professional experience and understanding of heritage values (including current dialogue challenging the processes for identification and management of heritage sites), but it will also engage with the theoretical, contextual and historiographic approaches of others who have studied the design, development, transformation and impact of planned worker villages from multiple disciplines.
Figure 4: Bridge Street and Park Road terraces houses in Port Sunlight by Douglas and Fordham, 1893. Digital version from the Drawn Together collection under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. Original drawing held by Unilever, plc.
What did I do before the PhD Research?
As a British-American citizen and a mature student, I enjoyed twenty years in built heritage practice in the USA and UK. My academic degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania led to private heritage consultancy in New York City. There I worked for Building Conservation Associates, Inc. on many aspects of built heritage practice across the country. In New York, I developed a practical approach for the creative adaptation and conservation of listed buildings for tax credit projects, which resulted in the regeneration of at-risk heritage sites. Research underpinned my practice, including heritage policies for the United Nations Headquarters in New York and a serial listing for the New Canaan Moderns.
Before starting my PhD at Liverpool, I served as the Heritage Conservation Officer for PSVT, where I had the opportunity to draft one of England’s first Local Listed Building Consent Orders, to design and implement a conditions and integrity survey of the 923 listed houses in the village, co-authored the Conservation Management Plan (2018) and managed Drawn Together, a Lottery-funded partnership project to digitise original drawings for Port Sunlight. It was through my work for PSVT and direct engagement with village residents that I developed an appreciation for my research site and its stakeholders.
Why did you pursue a PhD and what made you choose the University of Liverpool?
Since immigrating to the UK in 2009, I had felt the pull towards further education, particularly in a British context. I found time during the disrupted life of the pandemic to apply for both a PhD and research funding. The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) awarded me their Graham Child Scholarship, so the question of funding was very happily and gratefully resolved. My choice of university was straight forward. I was well-acquainted with the School of Architecture, the excellent reputation of its researchers, its facilities, and resources. Both the Architecture and Planning departments had ties to Port Sunlight and the archives hold significant collections for the transmission of ideas research. I had met both Ataa and Iain through my work at Port Sunlight and felt they would make an ideal team to supervise my cross-disciplinary dissertation. Everything fell into place!
What are your first impressions of life as a PhD researcher and what do you think you will do after you have finished?
I am perhaps one of the most grateful and fortunate people in Wirral as I am being paid to learn, think, and write about Port Sunlight. Working with Ataa and Iain has been incredibly rewarding as their global expertise and experiences in architecture, history and heritage connect and complement my own experiences and practice. Our differences make for lively and enjoyable discussions, and I always go away feeling a bit daunted but inspired.
However, there is no denying the dramatic change of pace and the different daily rhythms I experienced when I became a PhD researcher. In my professional life, there were meetings, colleagues, volunteers, emails, public engagement, and strategic considerations. In short, there were people. Now, my world is quiet and contemplative (when my children are at school). My ‘to do’ list is long and exciting, but undeniably solo. I rather like working with a team and know that once my dissertation is finished, I will welcome back the noisy collaborative world of heritage practice and possibly the even noisier world of teaching.
A number of new PhD researchers have joined us in the last 12 months, and we’d like to make some introductions.
Name: Noor J. Ragaban
Research Title and Summary: How the Home Works: The lived-in experience | A Case Study of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia The research aims to decentre the position of architects and convention that places architecturally designed elements as the primary components . It considers users as a major element in redefining architecture. The study focuses on the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. There is a scarcity of studies in this region that examines the interior domain of the dwelling.
The project seeks to answer the following questions: how do families in Jeddah live? Does the architecture reflect their lifestyle, or is there a conflict or tussle between the built fabric and lifestyle? How do the homes ‘work’; which family members occupy which parts of the house, how are the houses decorated, embellished, and furnished? And why?
The interest in domestic architecture stems from the various tangible and intangible practices that the home enshrines. This is especially important in cities like Jeddah where a broad spectrum of genres de vie are found, and are only observed (and even visible) when one is socially immersed in the community. The existing cultural diversity of Saudis in this city is the result of two major migration phases that occurred due to the city’s strategic geographical location. The first phase took place before the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and was a result of pilgrims visiting the Islamic holy cities of Makkah and al-Madinah, as well as traders from all over the world exploiting the coastal position between Europe and the East. The second wave took place after the unification of the Kingdom (a prolonged process that was only resolved in 1932) and the discovery of oil, which attracted major migration and rapid expansion to the city. The study investigates two of the most common types of dwellings in Jeddah, namely flats and villas (based on the 2019 Saudi General Authority of Statistics survey). It targets a wide range of participants, 30-90 year old males and females who live with their families. Emphasizing the users’ experience, the research deploys a number of qualitative methods such as semi-structured interviews; observation; auto-photography and mapping, and architectural survey of the domestic properties. Through these methods a number of common and intertwined sociocultural values can be scrutinised to understand notions of family, privacy, and hospitality.
Aims and Objectives:
1- Explore and describe the various domestic lifestyles of Jeddawis. 2- Identify the architectural elements of Saudi houses in Jeddah. 3- Analyse the tangible and intangible effects of the architectural elements on the domestic life of Jeddawis, looking into three intertwined sociocultural aspects: family, hospitality and privacy. 4- Analyse the physical and non-physical effects of the sociocultural aspects on domestic architecture. 5- Develop customised qualitative data collection methods to suite the culture and the private researched domain. 6- Document the diverse users’ lived-in experience.
What did you do before the PhD Research? After completing my B.A. in Interior Design in 2008 at Dar al-Hekma University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I have worked as an interior designer for 9 months at C1, a workplace specialized architecture firm. In 2009 I decided to go to the UK for further studies and was able to successfully complete an M.A. in Architectural and Urban Studies in 2011 at the University of Brighton, United Kingdom. From 2011–2018 I have been working as a lecturer in the Architecture department at Dar al-Hekma University, where I have taught several courses ranging from foundation courses to advanced studios, and theoretical courses. In 2015, I have also taught in the Interior Design department for two semesters. From 2018 –2019 I have taught in the Interior Design department at King Abdulaziz University, College of Art and Design in Jeddah, SA. During summer breaks, since 2011, I have yearly enrolled in architecture and urban studies courses that focuses on culture, all of which took place in Germany and Austria. As my interest grew stronger in culture, I started learning the German language while in Germany. During the summers of 2017-2019 I also took a number of art courses while in Turkey to explore new mediums and experience the culture in an artistic environment. In parallel with my academic career, and as part of community service that have always complemented my career and personal life, art education was on my agenda. From 2012–2017 I have taught drawing to autistic children in one to one sessions. Recently in 2019, I have volunteered to work at Verve Studio, SA, in hope to contribute the art scene in Jeddah. For six months, as an art director, I have curated their first exhibition; set up sculpting and drawing course plans; and taught drawing courses.
Why did you pursue a PhD, and what made you choose University of Liverpool? My graduate studies and the summer courses have exposed me to several culture-related topics that encouraged me to observe spaces and users simultaneously, to find out how they affect each other. My interest developed to observing family activities in different environments, often houses. There I noted a number of dissatisfactory remarks on both the architecture and lifestyle, that were sometimes merged with nostalgic comments. Considering how varied the dwellings types are today, I started reading about traditional dwellings to form a comparison between life in both architectures. That was when I realised that research on Jeddah traditional dwellings have studied the architecture only, excluding the users; also, there was no recent research that discusses inhabitants life within contemporary houses. Thus, I have decided to feed my curiosity and contribute to knowledge through pursuing my PhD, in hope that a close understanding of Jeddawis home use will eventually result in user-friendly homes, besides documenting the unique private environments experience.
Why I chose the University of Liverpool- After carrying out an extensive research into a number of prestigious and top ranking universities, I have selected the University of Liverpool for a number of reasons. Number one, the diversity of international students and the welcoming supportive environment the university provides for them. Its genuine care about academics and interpersonal skills progress and development of its students, as well as their wellbeing rendered a positive environment where I saw an opportunity to grow and succeed. Number two, the broad spectrum of conducted research subjects and interests, not only collectively across the School of Architecture, but also of each faculty member. Which for me is an important factor as it allows further exploration and investigation of new areas beyond expectations. Number three, I believe the University of Liverpool will help me achieve my long-term goal in Saudi as a young female. Due to its long history and record of achievement, the university is one of the most reputable universities amongst Saudis, and is acknowledged by the Saudi Ministry of Education, making it highly respected in the industry as well as academia.
What have you found the most fun part of the PhD, and the most challenging? What I have found truly fun about the PhD is involving participants and acquiring information from them, as opposed to relying solely on literature. The interviews, focused on the lifestyles within dwellings, allowed a significant number of questions to be asked. Questions that I could not ask in a normal conversation (or otherwise be called nosy and ill-mannered!) Similarly are the observations, where as a researcher I was welcome to scrutinise homes, viewing rooms I might have never seen under any other circumstances. Equally, that was also one of the most challenging aspects. Even though all participants fall under the umbrella of Saudis living in Jeddah, that did not mean they were all the same, especially in regard to their little private kingdoms. Thus, constantly considering how and when to inquire about an information, without giving the impression of prying, was quite challenging. Another challenge is acquiring data from government sources and architectural offices in Saudi. The lockdown, I must admit, was quite challenging at first, having lost the work dedicated space -campus office- and the idea of being forced to stay home. However, that soon became yet another part that I have found quite pleasant. It provided me unlimited reading and working dedicated time, especially that I am on my own. Such a joyful productive solitude.
Post-Phd? Any ideas of what you’d like to do next? I am fortunate enough to have a job to go to back home, teaching at King Abdulaziz University, where I plan to return in order to continue working on my proposal of improvements in the university. Alongside, as a Saudi university faculty member, I plan to become a member of the Saudi Building Code National Committee, in hope to take part in informing policies and decision making. I’d like to achieve this goal before going back home.
Any advice for others interested in doing a PhD? While the right time and perfect opportunity maybe motivating factors to pursue a PhD, I’d personally recommend to only start once having found the right subject. It needs to be a subject that you’re truly passionate about, and are willing to commit to for a long period of time (rather than only doing PhD for the sake of it). I would also add that the topic, or the interest indeed, should be initially broad. A broad interest will allow endless possibilities of focuses for the researcher to choose from, which certainly requires the student to be fixable and open to explore new spheres within their area of interest.
‘The architectural production of India’s everyday modernism: middle-class housing in Pune, 1960-1980’ in Architecture Beyond Europe Journal, no.16, 2019.
Sarah Melsens, Inge Bertels et Amit Srivastava
Architects United, Freestanding Bungalow for Mrs. Shroff, Pune, 1966
The large-scale appropriation of modernist architectural features in everyday housing projects in postcolonial India is remarkable. This article examines how regional architects adapted their engagement with architectural modernism to the evolving circumstances of architectural production within the context of the developing world. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s “field theory”, it presents a detailed case study of two decades of residential work by Architects United, a medium-scale architectural practice founded in the Indian city of Pune in 1961. While the architects’ earliest projects demonstrated an opportunity and desire for architectural innovation, this approach became increasingly restricted as new patterns for housing provision emerged, resulting in a more subdued and hybrid form of modernist architecture. The paper makes use of the architects’ previously undisclosed archive and oral history to demonstrate that these architectural adaptations were the indirect result of governance practices and societal change, particularly the government’s stimulation of co-operative housing initiatives and the emergence of a postcolonial middle class with distinct housing expectations. As such, this “peripheral” case exposes some of the processes that have been overlooked in the rhetoric of Architectural Modernism as a Western import in India, which is primarily centered around the discussion of exceptional public building commissions by “global experts” or their Indian disciples. The paper further highlights the need to investigate the processes of architectural production, in addition to the built product itself, so that a pluralistic rather than romanticized understanding of architectural practice may emerge.
New Research Paper: I. Jackson, O. Uduku, I. Appeaning Addo, R. Assasie Opong, “The Volta River Project: planning, housing and resettlement in Ghana, 1950–1965”, Journal of Architecture, vol 24 (4), 512-548.
This paper investigates the housing schemes proposed in connection with the Volta River Project, Ghana, in the mid-1950s to early 1960s. The Volta River Project formed part of Kwame Nkrumah’s vision for Ghana’s modernisation and industrialisation in the wake of political independence. Three associated worker housing schemes demonstrated somewhat contradictory design and construction methods, from high specification, extensive amenities, and comprehensive servicing, through to self-build ‘core’ houses amounting to little more than single-room dwellings.
Core House at New Ajena, Ghana. Built c.1961, photographed in 2017
The paper traces the complex and controversial history of these schemes, supplemented with findings of several field trips to the settlements in question, to unravel the value of the ‘Core Houses’ approach. The most successful project to incorporate indigenous agency and true collaboration was the semi-formal ‘Combined Area’ housing at Akosombo, a positive model for shared agency and collaboration in planning, housing, and facilities delivery. Sitting alongside the carefully manicured plan of Akosombo, with its regulated market, excellent health care and desire to set high standards of cleanliness, the Combined Area has not only provided homes for the lower-paid and labouring workers of the town, but has developed over time into a settlement where professionals and retired government workers are also now residing, not out of necessity but by choice. By actively developing their own homes, shared spaces and amenities there has developed a strong sense of ownership, community, and identity. The success and level of attachment to this settlement clearly extends beyond its material presence and through the shared experience of helping to cultivate a place of one’s own.
Ng’ambo Atlas. Historic Urban Landscape of Zanzibar Town’s ‘Other Side’
Ng’ambo is the lesser known ‘Other Side’ of Zanzibar Town. During the British Protectorate the area was designated as the ‘Native Quarters’, today it is set to become the new city centre of Zanzibar’s capital. Local and international perceptions of the cultural and historical importance of Ng’ambo have for a long time remained overshadowed by the social and cultural divisions created during colonial times. One thing is certain: despite its limited international fame and lack of recognition of its importance, Ng’ambo has played and continues to play a vital role in shaping the urban environment of Zanzibar Town.
Ng’ambo Atlas. Historic Urban Landscape of Zanzibar Town’s ‘Other Side’ documents the material collected through the heritage-based urban planning project Ng’ambo Tuitakayo! carried out by the Government of Zanzibar in collaboration with African Architecture Matters and City of Amsterdam and under the auspices of UNESCO.
The goal of the project was to prepare a local area plan (structure plan) for the new city centre of Zanzibar’s capital. The planning exercises were from the beginning grounded in the notions of urban culture and heritage, while the principles outlined in the UNESCO Recommendation on Historic Urban Landscape provided a framework for the subsequent stages of the work.
It quickly became clear that the cultural and historic richness of Stone Town’s ‘Other Side’ merited a wider recognition than a technical planning document would allow for. At the same time presenting the outcomes of the project to a wider public through an atlas was a way to promote the history and culture of the area and contribute to the argument that urban heritage should play a central role in sustainable development of cities.
The atlas brings together and presents Ng’ambo’s rich planning history and draws attention to the outcomes of the mapping of the material and immaterial cultural landscape.It presents over hundred years of Ng’ambo’s history and urban development through maps, plans, surveys and images, and provides insights into its present-day cultural landscape through subjects such as architecture, toponymy, cultural activities, public recreation, places for social interaction, handcrafts and urban heritage.
Ng’ambo Atlas was produced by the Department of Urban and Rural Planning, Zanzibar and African Architecture Matters
Abstract: Interwar public housing estates for native citizens in Sub-Sahara African cities, represent hybrids of global and local urban concepts, housing typologies and dwelling habits.
The authors explain such hybrids via exploratory research note as a result of transmutation processes, marked by various (non)human actors. To categorize and compare them, Actor Network Theory (ANT) is applied and tested within an architecture historical framework. Nairobi/Kenya functions as pars pro toto with its Kariakor and Kaloleni estates as exemplary cases. Their different network- outcomes underpin the supposition that actor-oriented research can help to unravel a most essential, though neglected part of international town planning history.
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.
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..
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.