Architecture has been defined simply as the art and science of building. The various peoples of the different cultures that make up the world have provided different buildings for different activities since the beginning of time. Evidence of such development can be found in what today, many architects, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists etc. refer to as indigenous settlements or building forms.

Today, to many people, “globalization” is a very recent phenomenon. However, virtually all the developing countries which were colonized by various European powers for more than a century could arguably be described as having experienced globalization from the fifteenth century when the first Europeans arrived on the West African coast in modern day Ghana. Since that day, architecture in Ghana has not been the same. Slowly but surely, through what has come to be known as colonization, the local people literally abandoned their practices, including architectural practice, and adopted everything that the Europeans introduced.

Perhaps, if such a new lifestyle were sustainable, there probably would be no complaints whatsoever. Unfortunately, to this day, even the annual budget statements of many developing countries, including Ghana’s, can only be balanced with huge external donations. In architecture, for example, many office blocks in Ghana’s urban centres are designed with central cooling and ventilation systems in a hot, humid climate where the availability of continuous electrical power cannot be guaranteed.

This paper seeks to discuss the teaching and making of African architecture in Ghana. It will discuss briefly the different types of architecture found in the three broad climatic zones of Ghana and demonstrate how “modern architecture”, introduced through colonization and globalization, has found its way to the remotest corner of Ghana. It will further discuss how to this day, it is very difficult to find architecture which could be described as “reflexive modernization” and/or “reflected indigenousness” in Ghana.

Additionally, the paper will discuss the cultural identity crisis in architecture in Ghana through mechanisms such as building regulations and code of practice and education of architects and other specialists in the building industry – which were all introduced by the British – during the colonial days. The paper concludes that there is the need to redouble efforts aimed at making Ghanaians appreciate their traditions and inculcate them into various activities including their architecture.


The teaching and making of architecture in Ghana is full of contradictions and complexity. Architecture as a profession and practice is, relatively speaking, very young and recent in Ghana. The first School of Architecture, Town Planning and Building in the then Gold Coast, was established at the then Kumasi College of Technology in 1957.1 The Kumasi College of Technology was transformed into the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 1961. In 2007, a second Department of Architecture was established by the privatelyowned Central University College (CUC) in Accra. However, with its affiliation to the KNUST, CUC’s degrees will initially be awarded by the KNUST. Hence, the role of the KNUST in the teaching and making of architecture – African or otherwise – in Ghana and the sub-region cannot be underestimated.

Globalization has been defined differently by various people. Held and McGrew, for example, state that it can be conceived as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions, expressed in transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power.2 They claim that it is characterized by four types of change. First, it involves a stretching of social, political and economic activities across frontiers, regions and continents. Second, it is marked by the intensification, or the growing magnitude, of interconnectedness and flows of trade, investment, finance, migration, culture, etc. Third, it can be linked to a speeding up of global interactions and processes, as the development of world-wide systems of transport and communication increases the velocity of the diffusion of ideas, goods, information, capital and people. And, fourth, the growing extensity, intensity, of global interactions can be associated with their deepening impact such that the effects of distant events can be highly significant elsewhere and specific local developments can come to have considerable global consequences. Continuing, they state that globalization, in short, can be thought of as the widening, intensifying, speeding up, and growing impact of world-wide interconnectedness.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also states that the term “globalization” has acquired considerable emotive force which some view as a process that is beneficial – a key to future world economic development – and also inevitable and irreversible.3 The world body also believes that others regard it with hostility, even fear, believing that it increases inequality within and between nations, threatens employment and living standards and thwarts social progress. The document further goes on to state that the term has come into common usage since the 1980s, reflecting technological advances that have made it easier and quicker to complete international transactions – both trade and financial flows and that it refers to an extension beyond national borders of the same market forces that have operated for centuries at all levels of human economic activity – village markets, urban industries, or financial centres.

The word has become very ubiquitous in recent times and features prominently at various international meetings. To many people, globalization only affects trade, industry and commerce and is a very recent phenomenon. However, virtually all the developing countries which were colonized by various European powers for more than a century could arguably be described as having experienced “globalization” from the fifteenth century when the first Europeans arrived on the West African coast, precisely at modern day Elmina in Ghana. Since that day, architecture in Ghana has not been the same. Slowly but surely, through what has come to be known as colonization, the local people have abandoned their practices, including architecture, and adopted everything that the Europeans introduced. Perhaps if such a new lifestyle were sustainable, there probably would be no complaints from any quarters. Unfortunately, to this day, even the annual budget statements of many developing countries, including Ghana, can only be balanced with huge external donations. For example, many office blocks in Ghana’s urban centres are designed with central cooling and ventilation systems in a hot, humid climate when the availability of continuous electrical power cannot be guaranteed. Thus many developers and clients have been literally forced to buy diesel-fuelled generators and have them stand by twenty four hours a day. Add that to the fact that most of the materials and finishes utilized for buildings in Ghana’s urban centres are also imported from overseas. This is a clear manifestation of globalization.

In the general scheme of things, whereas advocates of globalization point out the virtues of the new “wonder”, opponents, particularly from the developing world, are also quick to demonstrate how the phenomenon is retarding the progress and development of the developing world. This paper seeks to show that globalization has made and continues to make a very strong impact on the teaching and making of architecture in Ghana. This impact is filled with conceptual and methodological controversies, complexities and contradictions. Such controversies, complexities and contradictions are inherent in the duality of tradition and modern which is associated with the teaching and making of architecture in Ghana. Consequently, two striking contrasting sets of communities have been created across Ghana and these can be described as the traditional (“Third World”) and the modern (“First World”).

Arguably, there is no nation on earth that has not been influenced by others. Such influences have come in various forms and shades and many developing countries that were colonized – globalized – by European countries exemplify such influences in their daily lives. Human settlements in the developing countries, for example, are spaces of organized human activity and have been historically the basic and necessary precondition for all social and economic development.4 For example, many housing units in such countries are also utilized for economic activities both in the rural and urban areas. Many women in Ghanaian human settlements engage in some kind of economic activity – including cooking and selling food and retailing various items – to support the family. Such activities tend to contradict the zoning requirements that form part of the building regulations and code of practice put in place by the colonial government. Not surprisingly, timber kiosks and other structures that are used for such trading activities are often painted in red ink with signs such as “REMOVE BY (date). BY ORDER (DISTRICT/URBAN/METROPOLITAN AUTHORITY)” by the planning authorities. Traditional dwellings and settlements in these countries, that have been “independent” for less than fifty years – and still need donor support to balance their budgets every year – particularly demonstrate evidence of duality and coincidence in First World/Third World situations. This is reflected by the existence of traditional mud buildings without toilets and running water existing side by side with huge reinforced concrete structures with imported tinted glazing and the latest technological gadgets as well as all the modern services.


Ghana is located in West Africa. It has a very unique position because it is one of the few countries through which the Greenwich Meridian passes. Specifically, the meridian passes through Tema which is a twin-city with the capital, Accra. Arguably, Ghana has been described as being at the geographical centre of the world. Broadly, Ghana, covering a land area of 92,000 square miles, can be divided into three climatic zones. These are the Coastal Savannah, the Tropical Rain Forest Region and the Northern Savannah which borders the arid Sahelian region of Burkina Fasso to the north.

It is important, however, to ask what the architecture of Ghana is. Is it architecture produced with indigenous or local materials? Is it architecture that is completely “home brewed?” Since trading has been going on for centuries between the various peoples of the sub-region, can anyone honestly claim that no group of individuals has been influenced in one way or the other in their building activity? More importantly, is there anything called African or Ghanaian architecture in? Yes, there is something called Ghanaian architecture. Simply put, it could be called the building practices found in the country. It is expressed clearly through the concept of the total environment.

The total environment of the three broad divisions cited above, made up collectively of cultural and physical attributes, have produced interesting indigenous architecture in the three regions. In the Coastal Savannah for example, architecture is in local materials such as mud or adobe walls, coconut or palm fronde walls with thatched, bamboo and in a few rare cases such as at Biriwa in the Central Region, with flat mud roofs. The Tropical Rain Forest Region also has mud or adobe walls, wattle-and-daub walls and roofs in bamboo or thatch. In both regions, settlement patterns are of the nucleated type and the house forms are rectilinear. Additionally, indigenous buildings in these two southern regions have fairly generous windows. The Northern Savannah Region also has its architecture in mud walls and roofs in either mud or thatch and the dispersed settlement type is pervasive. Mud walls in this region are generally thicker – nearly twice the size of the walls in the other two regions – to counter the effects of the extreme solar radiation during the afternoon. Such thick walls are necessary due to the large temperature difference between day and night. Thus, whereas the same thick mud walls prevent the direct intrusion of solar radiation during the day, they also control internal night time temperatures by slowly dissipating stored heat indoors. In all three regions, however, the courtyard generates the house plan and is used for various activities such as cooking, sleeping, washing and story-telling among others. Multi-storey structures are non-existent in the African architecture in all three climatic regions.

Over the years, however, the situation has changed. People from the remotest parts of the country travel several hundreds of kilometers to the urban centres in search of jobs and better livelihood. Many of such people are willing to accept menial jobs and do manual work to save money for development back home in the future. On their return home after some years, many of such “returnees” as well as highly educated natives with well paying jobs in the urban centres, are ever so willing to demonstrate that they have lived in the urban centres.

This demonstration is carried out through copying the building forms, materials and styles seen and experienced in the urban centres. This has resulted in several transformations and additions to existing buildings. Thus in many indigenous areas, housing units have grown by accretion and the more recent additions reveal the influence of the urban centres. For example, there are now additions or transformations using sandcrete blocks and corrugated metal roofing to houses in mud walls and thatched roofs. Particularly in the Northern Savanna region, the intense reflection of solar rays from the metal roofing sheets especially during the afternoons is very uncomfortable.

The advantages of the thick mud walls in the transmission of heat and sound are also lost on the occupants of the new “modern” additions. Across the length and breadth of Ghana therefore, it is now very difficult to come across settlements without recent buildings in modern materials such as concrete, sandcrete block walls, corrugated metal roofing sheets, glass doors and windows etc. More importantly, the returnees and the highly educated natives are convinced that these new building materials are more durable than the traditional ones and additionally give them a certain new status in society. This obviously, is an impact from globalization and/or colonization.


As mentioned above, during the fifteenth century, European adventurers landed at Edina, a settlement now known as Elmina – the mine, in Ghana. This paper will not discuss how and why the adventurers found themselves on the beach of Elmina but surely when they arrived, the natives had some form of shelter. The visitors decided to stay and trade with the indigenes and introduced three building forms. Developed between 1482 and 1787, these fortified stations are designated as a lodge, fort and castle. Anquandah distinguishes between these three as follows.5 The lodge is described as “a sort of miniature fort” and an “indefensible trading post” and was small-sized, built often of earthen material or wood but sometimes of local wood. The fort took the form of a permanent, durable structure built in brick and stone and contained several structures for use by commandant, officers, garrison and servants and it had up to fifty guns installed in it.

The castle, however, covered a wider area than a fort, was larger in size and had a more complex network of buildings in addition to up to one hundred guns and more logistics. Some of the materials utilized for the construction of these buildings were imported from Europe. Slowly but surely, the natives became fascinated with not only the lifestyle of the visitors but also their buildings. Some of the natives who benefited from the resulting trading activities built their houses by copying from the Europeans. This was reflected not only in the materials used but the styles in which the buildings were developed as well. The natives had decided that the buildings by the visitors were superior to their own.

After several battles and wars, Great Britain succeeded in driving out the other Europeans who had attempted to stay in the Gold Coast and made Cape Coast the national capital of the new colony after they had defeated the Ashantis in the Sagrenti War of 1874. Consequently, British ideas of construction, including a code of practice and building regulations were introduced to the Gold Coast. On 6th March, 1957, the Gold Coast became independent and took the name Ghana. By then, the British had ruled their former colony for nearly one hundred years and introduced various institutions such as the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD) and the Public Works Department (PWD). This is how several new building forms such as court houses, hospitals, police stations, post offices, shopping centres, offices and bungalows among others, were introduced to the Ghanaian landscape. All such buildings were developed in the then prevalent architectural styles in Great Britain.

In 1957, The School of Architecture, Town Planning and Building was inaugurated and the first students admitted for professional courses in architecture, town planning and building in 1958. The School was the first of its kind in English-speaking sub-Saharan African. Europeans headed the School till the 1970s when the first Ghanaian assumed the leadership position. Naturally, the curriculum for the six-year programme was based on the British model with graduates receiving the B. Sc. (Design) degree after the fourth year and the M. Sc. Degree at the end of the sixth year. (The M. Sc. Programme was renamed the Post Graduate Diploma in Architecture in 1969). After one year of professional practice, graduates of the School could sit for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) registration examinations. The Ghana Institute of Architects (GIA) professional practice examinations were instituted in the late 1960s to replace the RIBA examinations. A graduate from the Department, however, could still opt to sit for the RIBA examinations if he/she so desired, after a few years practice in the United Kingdom.

The Department of Architecture is a member of the (British) Commonwealth Board of Architectural Education (CBAE) institution and has to conform to the Board’s standards. Thus every five years, a team from the Board visits the Department to assess its work for accreditation purposes. Over the years, the programme’s curriculum has followed a global approach but the second year studio programme is very unique and based on a rural settlement in Ghana. This is intended to introduce the students to how the other half – the rural folk in Ghana – lives. Interestingly, visiting members of the CBAE have found the rural study very unique, special and different. Through the years, however, most of the students – from middle- and upperclass homes in the urban centres – have had great difficulty in staying in the rural areas for only about two to three weeks! Their demeanour, facial expressions and utterances prove this point. Additionally, students’ recommended architectural solutions to rural environmental problems have also not always been relevant. Students are always very keen to demonstrate their awareness of global – read that as Western – approaches towards architectural problems and this is reflected in their architectural design works.

Over the years, there have been several award-winning schemes that rely solely on mechanical ventilation and imported and expensive building materials from students. Sometimes, unique and drastically different forms and shapes have held sway over common sense, availability and affordability. Yes, at crits or juries, students have been asked about natural ventilation, sun-shading devices and overhangs but many students have also got away with several unresolved and inappropriate schemes. It is imperative for the leadership of the Department to ensure that students offer relevant, appropriate and sustainable solutions to architectural problems. Perhaps, more rural studies and field trips need to be introduced after the second year. After all, the rural population in Ghana outnumbers the urban one over four times over. Furthermore, the present local administration system calls for professional architects in the district assemblies most of which are in the rural areas.

The dearth of books, journals and magazines produced by authors who emphasize regionalism or unique, appropriate and sustainable African architectural solutions further compounds the problem. For example, it is worth mentioning that the revised eighteenth edition of Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, in discussing architecture in Ghana only cites works by expatriate Western architects some of whom practiced tropical architecture from Europe!6 For example, the University of Ghana campus at Legon, was designed by a British architectural firm based in Cyprus; hence the Mediterranean look of the campus. Perhaps to architectural historians, since all such buildings are located in Ghana, they qualify to be described as Ghanaian architecture. If this theory is accepted, then the lodges, forts and castles developed by various European powers along the Ghanaian coast are all local architecture. To the Ghanaian architecture student therefore – and even with many practicing Ghanaian architects, precedents for architectural design solutions can only be found across the Atlantic Ocean and beyond. Thus the complexities, contradictions and controversies in the education of the architect at the Department of Architecture at the KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana, persist. And so does the making of African architecture in Ghana. Globalization expressed through colonialism, therefore, has surely had a major impact on the teaching and making of African architecture in Ghana.


In the light of the above discussion, is there a need for a revision in the teaching and making of African architecture in Ghana considering the fact that globalization has introduced new building forms and needs in the country? Yes, there is the need for a “new local architecture” in Ghana. Admittedly, globalization has impacted immensely on Ghanaian culture and this is expressed through dressing, building and eating habits for example. However, the difference between the First World and the Third World in the teaching and making of architecture in Ghana cannot be bridged overnight. As noted above, the nation’s economy cannot currently support the artificial First World in the urban centres. The filth, squalor and diseases of the Third World also excessively drain both the economic and human resources of the country.

A solution seems to lie in a fusion of the positive elements of the traditions of the country with modern day building requirements. For example, instead of building office blocks with extensive glazing on all four facades and then specifying imported and expensive heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, natural ventilation could be part of the solution. Courtyards could therefore be used for such buildings to achieve through natural ventilation. This is what Intsiful (1996) refers to as using traditions in architectural development.7 This is similar to Lash’s “…aesthetics modernization” or aesthetics and the interpretation of culture.8 Others simply refer to this as regionalism or critical regionalism. The approach being suggested by the author is similar to “reflexive modernism” as developed by Beck/Giddens/Lash.9 In other words, the teaching and making of Ghana’s new architecture must interpret and reinterpret modern society by including ignored traditions which may still be relevant to the development of the country. Whatever this new building form may be called – improved, sustainable, appropriate and affordable – expressed through architecture – can go a long way towards improving the lifestyles of Ghanaians and hence the economy. Such new local architecture is more than embossing a few traditional forms and symbols on walls. It should be seen to be an integral part of the design process.


This paper set out to discuss the teaching and making of African architecture in Ghana. The discussion has pointed out that there is something called indigenous or traditional architecture in Ghana and that this can be found in all three broad climatic divisions of Ghana. The discussion briefly described the different local architecture found in these regions and went on to discuss the impact of colonization or globalization on local architecture. Furthermore, the paper traced the origins of architectural training in Ghana and pointed out the contradictions, complexities and controversies inherent therein.

The paper then proceeds to make a case for a new approach towards the teaching and making of African architecture in Ghana. Such a new local architecture, the paper argues, must be appropriate, meaningful, sustainable and affordable. This, the paper concludes, can be achieved through introducing relevant and appropriate traditions to the teaching and making of African architecture in Ghana.

REFERENCES 1. Student’s Guide Academic and Students Affairs/Dean of Students Office, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, 2005, (p. 1). 3. IMF document: Globalization: Threat or Opportunity? An IMF Issues Brief ib/2000/041200.htm 4. Intsiful, G. W. K.:Towards Adequate Housing in Ghana: The Case of Ayija Township and The Asawasi Housing Estate, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA, 1989. Anquandah, Kwesi J. Castles & Forts of Ghana, Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, Atalante/Paris, 1999, (p. 10). Sir Bannister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, eighteenth edition revised by J. C. Palmes, The Athlone Press, University of London, (p. 1312) Intsiful, G. W. K.: Paying attention to tradition, BASINnews, August 1996/No. 12, international newsletter of BASIN, the Building Advisory Service and Information Network, published by SKAT, Swiss Centre for Development Cooperation in Technology and Management, CH-9000 St. Gallen, Switzerland (pp. 5 – 7). Beck, U, Giddens A, and Lash S: Reflexive Modernization: politics, tradition and aesthetics in the modern social order, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1994. ibid.,