Tag Archives: Kumasi

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.

Mojca Smode Cvitanovic, ‘New Paper: Tracing the Non-Aligned Architecture: Environments of Technical Cooperation and the Work of Croatian Architects in Kumasi, Ghana (1961-1970)’ Histories of Postwar Architecture, 3(6), 34-67. Full paper available here: DOI:

Unity Hall, KNUST, designed by Miro Marasović and John
Owusu Addo, 1968.

Focusing on the work of a group of Croatian i.e. Yugoslav architects in Ghana, the paper explains the nature of technical cooperation as a model of temporary international contract work in relation to the specificities of the environment built consequently. It focuses on the engagement of Miro Marasović as the head of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Development Office from 1961 to 1964. As its contextual framework, the paper addresses bilateral technical cooperation as a form of international communication and exchange, the practices of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the interrelations of the pre- and post-independence generation of modern architecture in Africa.

[See also KNUST archival drawings here ]

Good bye Kumasi, Accra, Ghana….

We revisited the Manhyia Palace archives and made notes on the relevant documents to be consulted before dashing off to board the local propeller plane back to Accra. Gazing at the dusty spread of Kumasi – we wondered whether the current airport terminal was adjacent to the original Norman and Dawburn small airport project designed in the 1950s? Suggestions of an earlier architectural history seemed to be revealed in the present day profiles of the domestic airport buildings viewed as we taxied down the empty runway for takeoff.


‘Tropical Modernism’ on the 10GHC note, The Bank of Ghana in Accra

Accra was in the grips of a major traffic jam, cooler and drier than Kumasi, it proved overbearingly hot to spend more than half an hour getting from the airport to Jamestown to see the exhibition of the Delft-Accra, urban transformation collaboration project we visited on our arrival in Ghana. We met a transformed space and were given a tour by curator and ArchiAfrika member Joe Addo. Joe also spoke of his further plans for the activation of various parts of the Jamestown neighbourhood. A further visit to the National Museum offices, and another slow trip on Accra’s congested highway to the international airport concluded the trip, with Ghana’s independence day holidays over the weekend we weren’t the only ones heading out of town.

Our project continues; the Ghanaian team (Prof. Rexford Assasie Oppong and Irene Appeaning Addo) will begin planning their research trip to the UK in the autumn, and we have considerable sources to continue consulting in the meantime.


Notes from Kumasi

Leaving Accra we departed for Kumasi– there was a change of pace in this dusty Ashanti city. Flying in, the low-rise collection of housing and settlements spreads across the horizon. The city has a hotter, inland climate, but the KNUST campus has this relieved somewhat by its lush mature vegetation. A visit to the recently restored KNUST Staff Club and walk around the campus to the ‘central area’, gave a good feel, and introduction to KNUST.


KNUST Senior Staff Club House, designed by Cubitt

The following day united us with more visiting staff from University of Edinburgh and we set off on an extended excursion to various buildings in Kumasi city. Fry and Drew’s Prempeh College and Opoku Ware schools, are visited first and present us with a first hand view of this couples’ best exemplars of institutional tropical modernism. Visits followed to Nickson’s Anglican Cathedral, a towering structure, with less external architectural sophistication than F+D’s educational oeuvres, but provided interiors that successfully captured the spirit of high Anglicanism in its light-filled interior.


Anglican Cathedral, Kumasi, designed by R. Nickson from 1950

A dusk-tinted view of the campus concluded the day’s visitations, its welcome calm was a good antidote to the ‘busy-ness’ of the town. The buildings at the ‘Tech’, as it is colloquially called, sat sedately in their lush tropical setting, showing off Scott and Cubitt’s earliest university campus in Africa.

The historic ‘central’ administrative area of Kumasi formed the focus of the next day. The post office and Ghana electricity building suggest they are examples of late ‘PWD’ post war architecture, whilst the historic memorial to the West Africa Frontier Force, soldiers who fell in WW1 in Abbysinia (Ethiopia) and Burma (Myamaar) give us pause for remembrance. Walking up towards the military museum we find that although it is closed, we can still pay officially for a visit and take the chance. More than an hour later, we are overwhelmed with the sheer military-related history this deceptively small former garrison fort contained. As a colleague commented, “this gave [me] the context” to this city.


Kumasi GPO, designed by PWD?

Visits to the Asawasi and Fanti Town districts, the latter adjoining the Cathedral area, gave good examples of early housing layouts in Kumasi designs by known planners in some cases. At Fanti Town we inadvertently came across the’ coffin district’, and attempted a stop at the Bantana district of the town to photograph circular hut housing we had identified the day before. The military museum guide had confirmed that these historic huts still provided accommodation for the army. As the garrison was still camped at the site we could not investigate this much further.

Bubonic plague, colonial ideologies, and urban planning policies: Dakar, Lagos, and Kumasi, by Liora Bigon, in Planning PerspectivesDOI:10.1080/02665433.2015.1064779

The Third Plague Pandemic originated in Southwest China in the mid-nineteenth century, reached Africa’s shores around 1900, and spread globally for about a century. This article examines three plague loci in colonial Senegal (Dakar, 1914), Nigeria (Lagos, 1924), and the Gold Coast (today’s Ghana; Kumasi, 1924). A tripartite comparative analysis is made of French and British doctrines of colonial rule, colonial urban planning policies, and anti-plague practices. While some common features are demonstrated in the policies and practices of the colonizing forces such as the implementation of rigorous measures and embracing segregationist solutions, divergent features can also be distinguished. These relate to the methods of implementation of planning and anti-plague policies, in accordance with colonial ideology (assimilation, direct and indirect rule); and to the very nature of autochthonous communities, responses, and levels of agitation. Our both comparative and more nuanced site-related view is also based on a large collection of archival and secondary materials from multilateral channels.

The full article may be viewed here:

West African Modernism & Urbanism Research Conference and Workshop, 13-14 July 2015, KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana

You are invited to a workshop and conference which will focus on developing the conservation of modernist buildings and urban landscapes in West Africa.

This development strategy will be tackled at two levels. Firstly, at urban and edifice level, through the development of the KNUST Architecture Department as a Centre for public engagement with, and professional expertise in, contemporary urban conservation training and research; in West Africa, this discipline is currently not taught at institutional level, despite the existence of a network of architecture and planning schools, and architectural institutes for whom this would be beneficial.

Secondly, with support from DOCOMOMO International’s African group and Urbanism-landscape specialist committee, the workshop will develop a physical archive of modernist buildings in West Africa, using digital technology to scan and record building photographs and plans of the postwar modernist era. The data will be made available both to researchers linked to the proposed urban conservation training project, and, equally importantly, to the local public, as a visual resource of contemporary West African Modernist history.

The workshop will feature outreach presentations from junior secondary school pupils and talks from the eminent keynote speakers and research associates involved in the workshop and archive programme.

Keynote Speakers: Prof. Miles Glendinning [University of Edinburgh] and Prof. H. N. A. Wellington [Emeritus and Former Head of KNUST].


We acknowledge the support of this event by the Universities of Edinburgh, and of Liverpool, and by the Royal Africa Society.

For more details on the event please contact Dr. Rexford Assasie Oppong [] / Dr. Ola Uduku [] for more details.

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: