Harbour front - activity and occupation

Accommodating Growth

identity and modernity in a 'post-colonial' new town

Tema is a new town on the outskirts of Ghana's capital - Accra. It was constructed in the 1950s independence era under Kwame Nkrumah around the port, built to house the dock workers and their families who were to bring the rewards of trade, development and modernity to a newly independent Ghana.

     60 years on, the issues of new town constructions are having an impact. The housing stock is no longer adequate and the whole city is in need of repair. The dock remains busy and polluting, with plans for expansion and land and property is run almost entirely by the development monopoly that is the TDC (Tema Development Corporation).

The existing city grain follows a Eurocentric masterplan, developed by the British planner Alfred Alcock - a classic example of the 'cultural colonialism' that dominates this period of West African history. It is divided into 'communities' - a series of wards that each contain their own set of community functions such as schools, retail, banks and post offices according to the logic of the English 'Garden City'. Built progressively over time, the idea was that Tema could continue to grow, community by community, away from the port and expanding North.

     The reality, however, has been an incremental and piecemeal growth by the residents themselves as they have appropriated and adapted the Western typologies to suit existing cultural, business and familial models of life. Densities have doubled or even tripled, with any spare spaces becoming occupied by street side traders, extra bedrooms, cooking space, gathering and accommdation for goats and chickens.

The potential revenue available through investing in dock expansion, along with plans by the TDC to flatten existing housing stock and build afresh, likely in partnership with foreign investment from East Asia, threatens the lifestyles and fabric of Tema.

     How can this industrial new town develop to achieve improving living conditions, yet maintain the identity it has worked so hard to foster? And what can the role be for Western designers today?

As two young, Western architectural students, this question was crucial and the project proved to be just as much about listening, learning as it was about envisioning. We took the stories of those we met, who warmly invited us into their homes and developed a strategy hoping to utilise architecture as a form of activism; securing space, structure and livelihoods for those who have built today's Tema.

MSc2 Global Dwelling Studio, TU Delft

July 2018

Designed in partnership with Robby Stubbs


new town design

architecture as activism

colonial design, race and class

local agency

design narratives

“If we approach [design] as anthropologists we stress its semitribal or ‘extended family’ occupation, its communal hearth, its arrangements of small rooms round a courtyard, its self-sufficient, wall-enclosed unity. This, we say, is the expression of a way of life that must be respected.”

– Maxwell Fry on Tema Manhean, 1953

Site location and conflicts of interest

Tema was built first and foremost as an industrial town, dictated by the needs of the dock and dock workers. This industrial nature dominates the sprawling town and its coastline in particular, a feature which seems only likely to intensify as plans to expand the dock come into play.

     Constrained by the industrial barrier to the south and the limiting plan

Way that families have expanded

Physical value of existing

Business value

Cultural/familial value and memories

Narrative of MH and welcome friendliness of community

Familial expansion - in-situ growth

Integration of old and new

Find patterns in existing - physical grain, but also patterns of use, business models, living arrangements

differing approaches for different characters

Mat network

allow for furture expansion and appropriation

Densify vertically to relieve GF pressure

Catalogue of strategies as a toolbox that can be used consistenly, rather than a physical space that can be stamped out

Housing expansion, infil and adaptation

Housing expansion, infil and adaptation

Strategic 'toolbox'

Application and adaptation to suit existing patterns of living

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