The Nineteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2017
Berkeley Prize 2017

Ali Abidi Travel Fellowship Report

Ghana, July 2017
 

Earth Architecture International Workshop
 

“When architecture takes care of people, places and resources, it makes the difference” 

Hard work InsideOut Team

 

1.    Presentation of the Workshop

InsideOut Earth Architecture International Workshop took place from June 2nd to August 25th 2017 in Abetenim, Ghana. In this period, a team of volunteers from around the world met to build a prototype of a sustainable school in participation with the local community.

During the workshop, participants were part of an international team and were able to follow every phase of the project, learning new humanitarian design skills and immersing in the local Ashanti culture through site analysis, field trips and working alongside the local community on the construction of the project.

2.    Organizers - Goals

The workshop was organized by “Build to make a change” and “Nka foundation”, which is a nonprofit organization in the United States, exists to serve underserved communities, by creating project sites where individuals, groups and institutions can interact with the underserved communities to build cultural bridges for knowledge and skills transfer. Nka projects promote volunteerism, especially through use of the arts and design. Its projects are also developed and managed by volunteers dotted all over the globe.  With a number of successfully completed projects, Nka has a positive and agreeable presence within the hosting communities where they promote their workshops. In this way, they are able to actively involve the local community with the volunteers that participate to their workshops, generating multiple platforms for exchange between artists and artisans throughout the world.

3.    Welcome to GHANA

I took a lot of time preparing this unique trip; vaccinations, visa documents and information about the place.

1st day, Arrived to Ghana, 5 am at Accra Kotoka Airport

Immersing in the local community started from my flight, I was talking to Ghanaian people, even in the airport, asking for more information and trying to plan my first days in the capital.

3rd day, Arrived to Abetenim Arts Village

Ghana is located in West Africa. In part due to a stable democracy, Ghana has experienced great growth in recent years. Being a very multi-cultural country, the larger cities are visited by plenty of tourists. Ghanaian people are welcoming to visitors and are excited to show their beautiful landscape. The workshop took place in at a rural arts village named Abetenim. It is situated within the Ashanti region, near the city of Kumasi, the 2nd largest city in Ghana. Abetenim occupies a geographical area of about 4 km by 5 km with most of the land covered by vegetation. The village is composed of different types of earth construction, which include houses and schools. The meaning of “Abetenim” is “Village of palms”, and its main economic activity is the production and exportation of this plant. The native language in the Ashanti region is called Twi, but many people in Abetenim speak also English.

Abetenim Arts Village

 

First day on site, and meeting with the children (future students of the school)

 

4.    Accommodation and Living – Abetenim Arts Village

We stayed in the Abetenim Arts Village. There are 8 guest houses available to accommodate our team and also two other different teams. Abetenim is a growing, yet rural community. Electricity was available however not during the whole day. The houses had running water, but it wasn’t drinkable. Sleeping conditions were similar to camping. The site had a security guard on location throughout the night. There is also a Community Coordinator that lives on site with his family. The community coordinator was available 24/7 for the support of all the participants. All participants were living together, sharing everything, amongst locals who call this place their home. We were their guests. Everyone was respectful and patient. The positive mindset within the group allowed for an amazing teamwork! I was able to interact with the local community, and with artists from all over the world, exchanging cultures, practicing many languages and learning. On site, it was “learning by doing”.

Another side of Abetenim

 

5.    Construction Site - Planning

Weeks

Tasks

June 1 , 2

Site Analysis: Introduction to the design.

Visit of the surrounding areas to look at traditional constructions.

Meetings with the local community to finalize the design incorporation

Material tests: Earth mixture.

June 3 , 4

Site preparation of the land for digging,

Foundation development

July 1 , 2

Cutting and Preparing wood formworks for the walls construction

Walls construction: Rammed earth prototypes

Preparing traditional wood and metal TOOLS

July 3 , 4

Walls Construction:

Mixing the earth, local clay with cement, sand and water.

Fixing the formworks of each level and each wall

Putting the earth mixture and Ramming

Site digging, landscaping

August 1 , 2

Finishing the walls construction

Concrete beams above the walls

Interior and Exterior floor finish

August 3 , 4

The work was divided on two teams during one week:

-       First team: on site.

-       Second team: on the village, working with the carpenter.

Roof framing, Wooden structure, Interior finishes, doors and windows

Covering: Corrugated metal sheets

Landscaping

 

I learnt also that the first month of the project construction, just before I arrive to Ghana, was very hard for our team. They faced several problems because of the chief of the village, who wanted to stop the project and didn’t allow them working.

In the next few days, with the help of Nka Foundation and the local community, all the issues were solved and we could find solutions and continue the work.

6.    Techniques of constructions – Local Architecture: Earth Buildings In Ghana

First wall, first achievement, nice feeling

 

As in many countries in West Africa, the traditional houses were made with earth. However, in recent years it has become associated with the stereotype of a poor farmer’s house and often abandoned in favor of more ‘modern’ construction such as cement blocks and other industrial materials. Mostly imported, these materials are not only expensive but provide poor environmental performance in this environment and result in high energy consumption. This unfortunate situation is not present in Abetenim (yet), where 98% of the houses are still built with local red earth, available in large quantities, sustainable and free. To promote local building techniques and to demonstrate to the Ghanaian people that their traditional earth buildings are more suitable, beautiful and durable than imported “westernized” models.

All the wooden formworks are done, time for ramming earth

 

After 89.000 kg of earth moved by hand for five times... walls are finished

 

InsideOut Team proposed a sustainable and easily replicable project that strategically combines well-established building traditions and the skills of the local workforce. The walls of the classrooms, for example, were designed and built with big earth blocks built with the traditional technique called “pisè”: raw earth is poured directly into the formwork and is compacted by workers. During this process, the walls acquire their stability and at the same time the beautiful colors of the context.

The main elements that characterize the site of the project are:

A. The presence of the palms, which are planted in a very precise and rigid grid. This “geometric” landscape created by the palms is the main source of inspiration of the project.

B. The traditional Kente clothes, whose fabric is a weave of silk and cotton that creates infinite textures. The colors of their stripes, each one with its own specific meaning, are also included into the project.

C. The vegetable gardens and the native flora, whose original richness and biodiversity is in danger of extinction (in part because of the palm plantations). For this, the project aims to restore the native vegetation in a controlled manner, designing a landscape that mixes together the palms and the traditional vegetation.

99% of our school project is finished

 

It is very sad to say goodbye to children

 

Materials and Construction techniques guarantee involving the local population in the construction phase, and proposing a sustainable and easily replicable design. The project is based on a creative use of abundant local materials and a thoughtful use of local labor and traditions. The 60cm wide walls are built with large blocks of local rammed earth with different colors, recalling the textures of the Kente clothes, protected and built on top of concrete curbs that prevents from rising damp, the floor is a mixture of clay and concrete; the structure of the corrugated aluminum roof consists of wood elements with a 10x10cm section, while the rotating panels that ensure a very bright and ventilated environment are made with thin wood strips.

7.    Local community – Abetenim by night

We spent all the day, from Monday to Saturday working on site. It was a good opportunity to immerse into the local community, through the contact with the workers, and the communication with the villagers. Even, in the meeting in which we discussed the details of the projects, we asked for the presence of all the participants from the local community; Artisans and Workers.

The rest of the time we spent in Abetenim Arts village, we played with the children, learning from them and trying to teach them many things. It was the best opportunity or the best way for me to understand their culture and to detect their real needs.

The night was also a chance to discover a different side of the village, to try living in the dark, in a hard nature; it was like a camping site. We could also take part in their traditional parties and know more about the culture.

8.    Trips - Discovery

In the weekends, we tried to discover more sides of the country, through organizing trips to different places. Such as Cape Cost, Bosotwe lake, Kumasi and Efeduasi

It was also an opportunity to visit different project sites of other volunteer teams, which were living in the same village. And their projects were also organized by the same association: Nka Foundation.

9.    Financial report

 

Cost

Participation to the Workshop – First part

(payed before travelling)

260 $

Visa Fees

140 $

Vaccinations and Health Safe

90 $

Ticket Flight: Tunis-Accra, Accra-Tunis

960 $

Accommodation in Abetenim Arts Village (5 weeks)

65 $ * 5 = 375$

Food – drinkable water arranged by local coordinators (5 weeks)

70 $ * 5 = 350$

Average day cost (40 days)

16 $ * 40 = 640$

2 days in Accra

190 $

Lake Bosotwe Trip

150 $

Participation to the Workshop – Second part

(payed upon arriving)

260 $

Cape Cost Trip

240 $

Kumasi Trip

140 $

Extra costs for constructions materials

80 $

Health issue (medical insurance was not accepted)

282 $

Transport average cost (in Ghana)

300 $

TOTAL

4457 $

 

10. References and Contacts

Abetenim Arts Village, Abetenim, Ejisu-Juaben District, Ashanti Region.

Frank Appiah Kubi, Community Coordinator.

Tel.: (+) 0246422934

e-mail: frank.appiahkubi2@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/InsideOut-Architecture-Workshop-1101491426607507/

I have to confirm that it was an incredible experience, exploring the west of Africa, immersing the culture of Ghanaian communities, also knowing a lot of talented artists from all over the world.

It was hard, interesting and amazing to take part of InsideOut team, to see different phases of the construction site project, and finally to celebrate the end of the work with the local community and to see the happiness of the children who will study in this school.

I would like also to thank the Berkeley Prize Committee who gave me this chance and hope that my experience will be interesting and helpful for next participants.

Celebrating the end of the project with the workers

 

 


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