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 under Kwame Nkrumah, built to house the dock workers and their families and bring the rewards of trade, development and modernity to a newly independent Ghana.

     60 years on, the issues brought on by this uniform new town development 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 further expansion. Land and property is run almost entirely by the development monopoly that is the TDC (Tema Development Corporation).

The existing city grain follows a European style 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 growth by the residents themselves as they have appropriated 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 and learning as it was about envisioning. We worked to take the stories of those we met, who warmly invited us into their homes, and to develop a strategy that  utilises 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 semi-tribal 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, its form dictated by the needs of the dock and its workers. With upcoming plans to expand the dock to at least triple its current capacity, the coastline, physical and economic structure is only likely to continue to be dominated by the needs of industry.

     Constrained by this industrial barrier to the south, Hitchcock and Doxiadis' original masterplans envisioned an unconstrained expansion to the North to accommodate population growth as the New Town established itself. Yet what this failed to recognise was the way in which Tema was likely to expand. In contrast to the patterns of population growth seen in Europe, the communities in Tema have a strong familial structure.

     Multiple generations live and work together, requiring housing that accommodates new grandchildren, family businesses, goats and chickens. This growth has been largely in-situ, leading to an ever increasing horizontal densification as residents have constructed extensions and outbuildings in any space available to accommodate need.

Upon visiting, it is clear how much this densification has occurred not just physically, but socially and economically too. We were generously welcomed by many residents. Two young men talked of the support they gave eachother in the absence of stable state support. A friend, facing long-term unemployment and poor mental health has been repeatedly helped and saved by his neighbours. Residents shop from eachother, supply eachother and keep business ticking over.

If the TDC gets its way and goes ahead with mass demolition and renewal, it is not only the physical material, structures and energy locked within them that will be lost on a huge scale throughout Tema, but this social energy, the economic support networks and the years of memories they house.

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Familial expansion - in-situ growth

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Housing expansion, infil and adaptation


Strategic 'toolbox'

Our strategy recognises the interests of each stakeholder involved and aims to use architecture as activism to demonstrate and secure the value of existing communities.

     The need for expansion is accommodated through an approach that allows a densification of existing social, economic and physical structures within the introduction of new and up-to-date provision.

     A row of four to five storey flats are introduced to the South of the site as a form of barrier housing, providing a visual and environmental buffer against the pollution from the docks. Behind this, patterns are sought and amplified within the existing structures to support the values aleady created. The open market space and community heart is semi formalised through the provision of services and a community building.

     The physical grain of the residential zones to the North and South of this community heart is studied and formalised through the establishment of a structural grid. From here, a mixture of horizontal infil and vertical densification allows a framework for continued growth that can build upon the businesses and lifestyles already established via a mat network approach.

A catalogue of strategies is developed as a toolbox that enables a common strategic approach across Tema, rather than a common physical blueprint. The Northern zone of our studied fragment acts as a testbed for this approach.

     The existing 'H' shaped plan is retained to the perimeter of the site, giving rise to the spacing of the grid and circulation. Within this grid, a pattern of open courtyards are secured to retain the hierarchy of open space that serves the differing spatial needs of residents.

     Service and circulation 'cores' provide a regular, three-storey pattern of infrastructure which open out onto open air kitchens at each level. Units are accessed from these, allowing a mixture of private and shared space to reflect the nature of living patterns within Community Two.

     Open space is also built in vertically, with roof terraces allowing for a feeling of that 'open to sky' relationship between indoors and outdoors that characterises the existing community.

Housing expansion, infil and adaptation

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Application and adaptation to suit existing patterns of living


Integration of old and new



A fragment taken from the Southern industrial border to the Northern arterial road allows the identification of four distinct zones and characters. The catalogue of strategies is developed and tested according to need in each of these zones.

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Site Photos

Residents have gradually infilled and extended existing dwellings to cater for home businesses, growing families and shade from the sun.


Model 1:50

The mat network typology allows for a diverse range of indoor and outdoor spaces, each developing their own character, yet all united within one overall framework.


Ground Floor Plan 1:200

A regular grid spans the existing buildings with a new structural frame, allowing the physical and social fabric to be retained but renewed, densified and expanded.

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Perspective Section

A lively and active section is created through the interaction between open spaces at all levels


Exploded Axonometric

A hierarchy of open space is identified within the existing and built into the new plan, both to protect them from encroachment via informal infil and to ensure the continued provision of external space within the new community context.


Community Courtyard

Ground floor provision for small businesses, goats and chickens animate the open spaces. Terraces to provide external space for upper storeys overlook and interact with life in the square.

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Roof Terrace

Lightweight structures provide shading for roof terraces, regulating the climatic conditions and securing the spaces from infil developments

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First Floor Unit Plan

Existing relationships between food preparation, outdoor space and familial connection are replicated on the first and second floors via open terraces between living units.

Ground Floor Unit Plan

Spaces between the original dwellings are  secured for local businesses that open onto external streets to catch passing trade.

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Second Floor Roof Terrace

Food preparation, laundry and social activities are accommodated on the shared terrace spaces between dwelling units

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First Floor Roof Terrace

The central circulation cores also house services, providing simple food preparation facilites for residents to share between two units.

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Ground Floor Shared Courtyard

The new structural frame sits just outside of the external walls of the retained buildings, weaving the new mat network around them


View From First Floor Terrace


View Across Courtyard


View From Top of Circulation

For further information:

- - article summarising the history of Tema by Michelle Provoost


Further Thoughts:

- Cultural Cultivation - graduation project further exploring the agency of architecture as activism

- Intersections - dwelling design in a European context

- Architecture as Activism: constructive change