Tag Archives: Tema

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 under construction: female labour force transporting blocks and cement

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.

To read the full article go to and more extraordinary images of Tema under construction in the 1950s.

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.

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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.

Full Article Available here:


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,

Notes from Tema, Ghana

We visited Tema, the new port and town built 10km east of Accra in the 1950s and early 1960s. Planned as part of a suite of infrastructure projects including, an aluminium smelter, docklands, and hydroelectric dam, the town was to provide model housing in a series of self-contained neighbourhoods, called ‘Communities’. Each has its own central market area and Community Building surrounded by a series of residential areas. The houses are set around schools and recreation areas, and grouped according to size and occupant income.

We began at Community 1 and explored the market area, complete with extended community centre, before finding some of the distinctive ‘Type iv’ housing. The housing has been extended and in-filled but the original basic form is just about discernable. Other housing had been supplemented by gardens and painted facades. The low-rise flats with central access staircase have been well-maintained and there is a strong sense of pride in the neighbourhood here.

Michael Hirst designed the Type iv housing. He studied at the Architectural Association in the Department of Tropical Architecture before moving out to Ghana (then known as Gold Coast) in the mid 1950s. He worked for the Tema Development Corporation, and lived in the Denys Lasdun designed flats in Tema. We had a good look for these flats and hoped to track them down – but alas, they eluded us….

Community 2 Housing

Community 2 Housing

At Community 2 we saw some grander properties (surely inspired by Maxwell Fry’s work in Chandigarh), as well as a market with vaulted roof and carefully detailed concrete and guttering system. The structure is, however, badly corroded and in need of urgent repair. The traders informed us that the market is likely to be demolished and replaced shortly.

Community 2 Market

We moved on to Tema Manhean, the ‘replacement fishing village’ built to house the Ga People who were displaced with the building of Tema (see our paper for more detail). The settlement wraps around the light house and is made up of a series of compound houses designed by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. We found one compound that was built in 1961 (as noted by the date etched into the concrete during construction) and barely modified since. It was a perfect example of just how successful and adaptable the compound typology can be.



International Planning History Society Conference, St. Augustine, Florida

20-24 July 2014, Rachel Lee


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The Castillo de San Marcos – St. Augustine has a tradition of transnational encounters


Following the 2012 conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the 16th biennial International Planning History Society (IPHS) conference was held in tropical St. Augustine last week, with the splendid campus of Flagler College providing the setting for the 3-day event.


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Flagler College was originally built as a luxury hotel by the railroad magnate Henry Flagler


In addition to an entire session devoted to “International Exchanges and the Development of Planning” chaired by Steven Ward (Oxford Brookes University) and including the following speakers and presentations: Jose Geraldo Simoes Junior (Mackenzie University) “International Exchanges in the Beginning of the Modern Urbanism: The ‘Relevance of the First Conferences and Expositions of Urbanism Held in Europe and the United States, 1910-1913’”, Nuray Ozaslan (Anadolu University)“The Idea of ‘International’ and Local Planning Actors for the Development of Istanbul in the 1950s”, Shira Wilkof (University of California, Berkeley)“From Europe to Palestine and Back: Transnational Planners and the Emergence of Israeli Planning Thought”, Noah Hysler Rubin (Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem) “Planning Palestine: British and Zionist Plans”, Haiyi Yu, Fang Xu and Hua Wen, (North China University of Technology) “Learning Foreign Experiences and Building Local Systems: Duality of Modern Chinese Urban Planning History”, many of the other sessions included papers with transnational themes.


Otto Koenigsberger

Map showing location of Otto Koenigsberger’s planning projects in India, 1939-1951


Amongst these papers, there was a focus on examples from India. Kristin Larsen and Laurel Harbin (University of Florida) studied Albert Mayer’s influence with their paper “American Regionalism in India: How Lessons from the New Deal Greenbelt Town Program Translated to Post-World War II India”, Rachel Lee (Technical University, Berlin) concentrated on Otto Koenigsberger in “From Static Master Plans to ‘Elastic Planning’ and Participation: Otto Koenigsberger’s Planning Work in India (1939-1951)” and Ray Bromley (University at Albany – SUNY) presented a paper on “Patrick Geddes’s Plan of Indore: The Inside Story”.


Abuja Presentation Slide

Part of the transnational team involved in the planning of Abuja, Nigeria


Another geographical zone of transnational planning interest was sub-Saharan Africa, with papers by Tiago Castela (University of Coimbra) “Peripheries in a History of Urban Futures: Planning for the Government of Informal Spaces in Late Colonial Mozambique” and Rachel Lee (Technical University, Berlin) “Beyond East-West: GDR Development Planning Transfer – from Oil Presses in Ghana to the Master Plan for Abuja”. Examples of transnational planning from China included a paper titled “Richard Paulick and the Import of Modernism in China” by Li Hou (Tongji University), and Benyan Jiang and Masaki Fujikawa (University of Tsukuba) investigated the German and Japanese influences on green spaces in Qingdao – “Conflicts and Continuity: The Development of Green Spaces in Qingdao, China (1898-1945)”.


After 3 intense days of papers and roundtables, the IPHS conference went out with a bang with an “after party”, with music provided by the conference organiser Christopher Silver’s (University of Florida) rock band In Crisis.


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Planning historians rock St. Augustine


As well as the great papers and partying, thanks to Planning Perspectives editor Michael Hebbert (University College London), I was delighted to find a copy of the Appendix to the Volta River Project Report at Anastasia Books, St. Augustine. The Volta River Project provided the impetus for several transnational UN planning missions to Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) with team members including Albert Mayer and Otto Koenigsberger.


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An unlikely find at a St. Augustine used bookstore


The abstracts of the abovementioned papers can be downloaded from the IPHS conference website and a revised version of the conference proceedings will be online soon.


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:

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 7

Viviana d’Auria, ‘“The most difficult architecture to create”:  Fry, Drew & Partners’ contested legacies and the vicissitudes of low-cost housing design in (post)colonial Ghana’.

As has been well documented, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were intensely involved in British West Africa. From their Accra-based office, they designed the cornerstones of late colonial welfare development, ranging from hospitals to universities. Explorations of their West African work however, have neglected housing design, including the ways in which it confronted colonial antecedents and how expatriate practitioners and local professionals confronted its legacy. This disregard is all the more challenging seen the weight it had for Fry and Drew themselves, as well as its overall significance for general post-war technical assistance.

Indeed, in the case of housing conception too, the partnership’s work was envisaged at a time of confidence in the reconciliation of modernism and development within the walls of a low-income dwelling. Freshly-arrived in Chandigarh after several years spent in West Africa, Fry and Drew were important contributors at the United Nations Housing Seminar in New Delhi in 1953. At the event, their efforts not only earned them recognition with the prize-winning conception of House 23, but was also the topic of Fry and Drew’s paper, who underscored how low-cost dwellings were “of all architecture the most difficult to create”.

On such premises, this contribution focuses on pre-Chandigarh housing design in Ghana. By looking at cases from the Accra-Tema Metropolitan Area, it wishes to comment more particularly on how the partnership was concerned with indigenous dwelling cultures. It then reflects on how this centre of attention was (or not) picked up by international technical assistance and local government planning in the following decades. The notion of ‘growing’ and ‘extendable’ housing, in addition to gender-based typologies will be inquired into by means of selected cases such as the Jamestown slum clearance scheme, the work of the Tema Development Corporation and of the International Co-operative Housing Development Association.


Viviana d’Auria is Lecturer in Human Settlements in Development at the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning (University of Leuven) and NWO Rubicon fellow at the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies (University of Amsterdam). Her dissertation Developing Urbanism in Development: Five Episodes in the Making of the Volta River Project in (Post-)colonial Ghana 1945-76 (KU Leuven, 2012) explored the contribution of transnational technical assistance projects to the epistemology of (post-)colonial urbanism through the particular case of the Volta River Project. Critical spatial analyses of modern dwelling environments and their lived-in ‘hereafter’ are an integral part of her research within a more general interest in modern urbanism in non-Western contexts. On this note, Viviana’s post-doctoral inquiry is comparatively exploring home space in Greater Accra and Lima by focusing on the socio-spatial history of modern ‘incremental’ neighbourhoods such as Tema Manhean and Villa El Salvador.