The Architects’ Project (#tap) is an autonomous initiative continuously engaging with industry experts and academics to deliver a wide range of activities and services. Their main aim is to empower the built environment community towards better ways of developing the environment and society. Africanism spoke to Juliet Sakyi-Ansah, founder of The Architects’ Project.
How and when was the practice formed?
The Architects’ Project was initiated back in December 2013 in Accra. It started as an attempt to bring thinkers, makers and users together. In doing so, we sought to create an autonomous group of professionals and students with local experience and knowledge, and insight into global trends and influences. We were aiming to draw out a community of self-empowered actors able to identify common issues of concern and take action to address them by applying design or research methodologies. I wanted The Architects’ Project to be an act.
Our first activity was a consultation exercise with invited architects. We exchanged ideas and received feedback on what the initiative could focus on. These would typically be issues that existing institutions were not addressing for one reason or the other. Most importantly, we would also tap into the local environment, confront and celebrate our world.
An aspect of The Architects’ Project that we like to emphasise is how it is a home-grown initiative; engineered by the Ghanaian community for the Ghanaian community about Ghana, with approaches that can be applied to scenarios elsewhere.
How has it evolved since its beginnings?
The scope for The Architects’ Project has broadened since its beginnings, and after studying the dynamics of the local and international responses to the concept. Even though it was initially set out to focus and target Ghana as a place, it has been clear that there is a growing interest from the international community, including the diaspora community.
Another way that it has evolved is how it was intended to operate. The Architects’ Project was introduced as an initiative owned by, run by, and for its people when we started. It is now playing the role of an agent, acting as an entity.
What were your goals when you started The Architects’ Project?
Our goals when we started The Architects’ Project were to:
+ Deliver ‘hands-on’ programmes, activities for the built-environment community;
+ Introduce diversity in how knowledge is accessed and how learning is experienced in architecture;
+ Investigate tools and processes that will facilitate innovation;
+ Build a platform where built environment professionals and academics would engage with the community;
+ Continuously diversify our architecture as a subject; and
+ Influence the perception of African architecture and African architects on an international scale
What do you believe differentiates you from other practices?
We are establishing as a social enterprise, a nonprofit organisation. We want to run #tap as a business, generate revenues with profit being reinvested into our social and environmental objectives. As an architecture-led organisation, we apply creativity to our work in order to meet our objectives. I believe that for Africa to be less dependent on foreign aid, it should tap [into] its resources, including its human resources. There are a number of us who are capable of doing exactly what foreign aid workers come to do in Africa, with the bonus of being the expert of our environment. There is a high value in that bonus, especially when it comes to building and community development. We hashtag “tap into your world” to highlight our facilitation of this approach to development. The Architects’ Project is a host for narratives where the architecture (or design paradigm) is a tool transforming the environment for the better. These are transformations transcending the built environment to define architecture’s role in the betterment of communities.
What challenges are architects in Africa currently facing, and how do you believe these can be overcome?
I will answer this using Ghana as reference:
· We are lacking in innovation and expertise in what we have, i.e. building and material technology as well as practices that reflect the society we live in. I believe we need to push to share what we know more and push even harder to create more in research and development. There are institutions including the universities and government organisations undertaking research work in these areas. But the outcomes do not reach those who might apply them to their work.
· The platform for architects hardly exists. I don’t mean for Architects who are internationally recognised. I refer to the Architects who are practicing locally in Africa. Big projects tend to be led by foreign practices and I suppose if we are weak in being experts of our local resources, we will lack confidence in pushing our ideas forward at an international scale. Also, the lack of active platforms for the profession slows down the development of the profession. The Africa Architecture Awards has started establishing a platform that places focus on contemporary African architecture and architects on a global scale.
· Architecture as part of the everyday is not thought outside of the architecture institutions. It can have negative impact on our engagements with the community when these same communities become the subject of our architectural interventions. There needs to be more advocacy work targeted at those who would otherwise not come across architecture as a subject matter.
What inspires you about African architecture?
The climate, the history and the culture. That said, the built environment in Africa (at least in Ghana) has been disregarding those parameters and adopting international responses to design. If I was to describe what African architecture is, it would be architecture that allows the user to be the thinker and maker at varying degrees. Of course, that would then question our role as architects. That would be another interview question entirely.
Where do you see African architecture going in the next decade?
With global connectivity, African architecture is springing up on the world architecture map. We have architects like Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Kunlé Adeyemi amongst others, referencing not only African architecture in their work, but referencing Africanism. Architects such as Kéré demonstrates Africanism in his work by tapping into the resources that are local to the project, including social and material resources. He does not shy away from his origins. What is trending in the world is people of African origins reclaiming and rebranding their identity and that trend is no different to what we are getting in architecture. We have to perhaps begin unlearning the international and begin learning again to become experts in developing our world (Africa). Orthner Orthner & Associates, Geointell Housing, LOWDO architecture studio and Bricklane Development Group are some of the few businesses delivering different design and construction solutions in the industry in Ghana.
Which architects, past and present, do you admire?
Present – Kéré’s approach to projects and his continuing connection to where he comes from is admirable. He combines the knowledge he gained in Europe with traditional building methods from Burkina Faso. I can relate to how he set up Kéré Foundation with the belief that the key to development is education.
Past – As an architect, my interest in architecture first developed through my interest in art and design. My approach to design takes from the Bauhaus and Modernism. Mies van der Rohe comes to mind when I think of architects from those eras. Mies was one of the avant-garde architects with an architectural style that represented the time they were in: materials, function, aesthetics, etc.
My art brain cannot help but admire the work of Oscar Niemeyer. Walking through Brasilia felt like walking through a giant model of a city. His architecture was not at a human scale like what The Architects’ Project is advocating. However, it is pleasing to experience his work: the design, detail and geometry, not to mention the materiality and construction of the forms, and the interior spaces.
That brings me to Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew’s tropical modernism work in West Africa. In contrast to where we are now, and purely from an architectural perspective, their work considered how the buildings would work with the conditions of the local environment.
What do you have in store for the next twelve months?
After a few years of carrying out activities in Ghana and the UK, we want to push to start our publication project and to start working on establishing our physical and virtual spaces. These should start manifesting over the next year.
Is there any other information that you would like to share?
We are open to receiving interests from those wishing to collaborate and/partner on projects. We are also accepting new members to the tap:Collective 2018 team. Opportunities are in volunteering capacity. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.