growth

ARCHITECTURE  for Education and National Development  -Arc. Ralph Sou

growth

A car drives up this tree lined avenue with uniform red clay roofing tiles adorning the elegantly proportioned white walled buildings on either side. They all look alike and fit handsomely together yet each is somehow unique. The buildings were set in a garden like atmosphere and some had ponds with gold fish and sculptures; something to look at in quiet close up fascination and something to look at from the middle distance. Then in the distant vista the road climbs uphill and sets of colonnades around courtyards draw curious eyes up to the splendid tower at the top of the hill. It’s a large clock visible from most areas of the campus chimes periodically, keeping time for everyone in the community

From the entrance gate, through the courtyards of the halls of residence, past the Balme Library and up to the Great Hall, the Campus of the University of Ghana at Legon has been one of the icons of our architectural heritage in Ghana. It has graced many postcards and served as a must see for tourists in Accra. Legon, the first University campus in Ghana was built on a grand vision to educate the citizens of Ghana to be leaders in the development and administration of their newly independent nation. The architecture of the core campus provided an inspiring environment to serve this vision. It’s curious blend of Spanish, oriental and Ghanaian elements have given an unparalleled uniqueness to the architectural vernacular that is as much a part of Legon’s heritage as the quality of its alumni and their achievements in the nation.

From many parts of Accra the Legon tower is visible and serves as a familiar landmark. The success of the architecture of Legon is marked by the fact that, having been the first physical development in this part of Accra, all the surrounding neighborhoods have adopted names in reference to Legon as if to say, ‘we are part of Legon’; their traditional rural names fading into disuse. So we have East Legon, South Legon, North Legon and so on. This must surely be one of the best testaments to the quality of environment that Legon represent.

This attribute is not solely the testament of Legon. The power of good architecture to provide a physical environment that a nation can be proud of is equally true, even if on a smaller scale, for other educational campuses like Achimota and Mfantsipim Schools, Wesley Girls Secondary School and Adisadel College. A number of similarities can be traced that link these campuses:

  • They were developed based on grand visions for human resource development and at a time of national idealism and hope
  • They tend to have a campus center and a clock feature
  • The landscape and treescape are significant features including the botanical gardens in Legon, arboreteum and extensive school fields in Achimota.

There is one other characteristic that is distinct from those listed above as it is not physical. The contribution of these schools, and others like them, to the nation and its development in terms of human capital has been outstanding. The question must be asked why? The power of the quality of the vision and purpose for which they were established was surely a determining factor. It drove the creation of curricular, selection of teaching staff, and provision of facilities including extra-curricular activities. It also drove the design briefs for the campuses and buildings and facilities that would be needed and fueled the creativity of the planners, designers and quality of artisanship engaged to construct them. No wonder then that the young men and women that walked out of the walls of these institutions have been so outstanding. The prevalent testament of quality of human capital and the breadth of the historical legacy of these campuses leaves us with a vital lesson for national development: The quality of thought that goes into envisioning an educational environment translates into the environment of that institution. The quality of environment developed as a result accordingly influences the many generations of students that pass through its walls. Architecture inspires, it quietly states what standards their institution stands for, it unobtrusively sets a vision for what they are to become in society and in their working life. One can surmise that there is a psychological influence of architecture upon those who live in it and it shapes them.

How much these earlier campuses have affected the planning and design of the subsequent generation of educational institutions like Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the University of Cape Coast would make for an interesting study. So also the developments early in the post independence period to develop a nationwide network of secondary school campuses which Accra Girls Secondary School represents could inform our understanding.

If this principle of the relationship between the quality of vision and resulting architecture is weighed in against the years of development of educational institutions in the contemporary era of Ghana’s history there is much cause for concern. The correspondence between the poverty of inspiring or even functionally adequate architecture and the downward spiral of human capital from the educational system would then at least partly point to the nature of the nation’s vision for education.

The question could be raised about quality architecture and well developed environments requiring more money and in a nation with scant resources it cannot be afforded. A counter argument would be to ask if the nation can afford the cost of a poorly educated, ill-trained and unconfident next generation. And there are possible ways out of this. The idea of the Ghana Educational Trust Fund (GETfund) to support the development of educational facilities in the nation has been operative for awhile now. It has made a significant contribution to the stock of buildings and facilities for education. For probably 10- 15% additional cost, the quality of planning and design for at least some strategic projects could have been significantly enhanced in the light of the goal to upgrade the development of the human capital.

Notable in recent developments of new campuses is the Ashesi University Campus at Berekuso. It is noteworthy that the institution is strongly driven by the founder’s vision and that this vision is translated in the site selection, physical layout and architecture of the campus. Again, it will be informative to study the relationship between this campus and the human capital output after they moved to their new site given that contrary to the principle stated above, they began to earn a reputation for the quality of student whilst they were in less than adequate accommodations at their previous location in Accra.

 

The nation must come to some decisions both about its educational vision and objectives and the architecture that houses and expresses it. As one drives now around the University of Ghana, Legon, a story of epochs unfolds. The core of the old campus carries the legacy of the quality and beauty of what Legon is traditionally known for. There are now many different styles of architecture, some reasonably related to the Legon tradition, some hardly so handsomely attired and others without any manners at all.

The story it tells is one of a lack of centralized vision about the institution and what it is set out to accomplish even if this may not be so true. It draws the question: “What is the difference between the average Legon student walking out into the world of today compared with one of say the 1960’s?’ Is there any correlation between the deterioration in the quality of the built environment of Legon and that of the student output. Perhaps because Legon was the premier university and has been an outstandingly unique campus architecturally, it has served as the prime example for this essay.

We must state categorically and in all fairness that this has been done to highlight a national issue. Other institutions have the same trend but may show it less acutely as they do not have the strong contrast and historical girth that Legon has experienced.

There is a need for the nation and its leaders to take cognizance of this. The latter trends in the architecture and development of our educational campuses are a warning flag about the value and quality of education. Even our reluctance or inability to secure and defend the land of existing institutions from land grabbers, community refuse dumps, illicit drug users and outright land grabbers is speaking to us. the quality of construction of many of these buildings is setting a psychological standard of what is acceptable in our youth. They will find it very difficult to be internationally competitive with this framework. A bold new envisioning is needed about education that will once again provide a driving force for inspiring architecture that contributes to the broadening of the mind and experience of our young men and women. We have no doubt that architecture can really contribute to the raising of the standards of education in our nation if it has this backing to spur it.