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Opinions of Thursday, 25 July 2019

Columnist: Kwaku L. Keddey

Sir David Adjaye; a messiah or a hindrance to architectural practice in Ghana?

Sir David Adjaye Sir David Adjaye

The recent “DropthatChamber” campaign in reaction to the proposed 450-seater parliamentary chamber project in Ghana has brought to the fore, pertinent issues centered on procurement irregularities in the design and construction sector.

Arc. Dr Ekow Sam, one of the most-accomplished Ghanaian architects has petitioned the President of Ghana over alleged procurement breaches in the award of some Government of Ghana (GOG) contracts to Adjaye and Associates.

The Ghana Institute of Architects (GIA) has also expressed worry over the delay of GOG to reconstitute a board for the Architects Registration Council (ARC).

The absence of an ARC Board has led to a turf war between the GIA and the ARC over the eligibility of Sir David Adjaye and his firm Adjaye and Associates to operate in Ghana. The GOG must be proactive in finding an amicable solution to the problem.

Sir David Adjaye

Sir David Adjaye is an exceptional architect and an inspiration to many young architects in Ghana and abroad but we cannot in anyway pardon him if indeed procurement breaches occurred in the award of some of the GOG contracts.

The public must be furnished with all the processes involved in commissioning him to design the National Cathedral and the new Parliament Chamber.

Assuming the allegations of procurement breaches are true and proven to be true by the relevant authorities and rule of law, then I will be persuaded that he has only taken advantage of a weak system.

However, the problem goes beyond Adjaye and Associates.

Even if by some miraculous means, Adjaye and Associates is barred from participating in bidding for GOG projects, another firm will quickly fill the void.

Considering his reputation, connection to Ghana and his uncompromising stand on high design standards in his projects, I would encourage him to collaborate with as many local architecture and planning firms as possible.

The question many colleague Ghanaian architects have asked in the last month is how much of the financial gain of Adjaye and Associates from projects in Ghana will be channelled into architecture pedagogy and capacity development in Ghana.

The time is ripe for him to demonstrate that he indeed wants to see an improvement in architectural practice and training in Ghana.

Our political leaders must also find a better way (legally and ethically) to take advantage of the talent of Sir David Adjaye because he has a lot to offer Ghana.

I do not think any architect will cry foul if Adjaye and Associates receives 20 private design commissions yearly in Ghana.

It will be a shame if Sir David Adjaye’s reputation is tarnished because of the maladroitness or unwillingness of some government officials to follow laid down legal procedures in the award of government contracts.

International design competitions as a remedy

International design competitions supervised by a reputable jury is always important to minimise political interference and bias in the award of design of iconic government projects.

Competition gives opportunity to young architects, students of architecture and small-sized firms to compete with the biggest architecture firms in the world.

A classic example is the 1971 design competition for the ‘Centre Georges Pompidou Building’ in France where less experienced Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano teamed up to compete with major architectural firms. There were 681 entries but the 34-year-old Renzo and 38-year-old Richard had their breakthrough because of a strong jury which included Oscar Niemeyer, Philip Johnson and Jean Prouve.

If we want Ghanaian architects to thrive internationally, then we must learn from the best practices in Europe and America. Ghanaian architectural firms such as Archetype, Mobius Architecture, Arc Aura Architects, Archxenus and Keystone Architects are undertaking remarkable projects in Ghana.

These firms abound with talents and need an enabling environment to showcase their innovative ideas globally.

The government must, therefore, enact policies which will ensure a level playing field and allow for fairness in commissions for monumental projects.

The way forward

The role of architects, city planners and urban designers have taken an overly significant meaning in the 21st century in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the numerous environmental issues associated with climate change and urbanisation.

Climate change studies continually give predictions of increased drought and flooding in sub-Saharan Africa.

Architects, city planners and urban designers, thus remain vital in the development of resilient and sustainable cities.

The GIA is a partner GOG cannot do without. Let us find a common ground to enhance discussions that will proffer solutions to the ills of our cities.

Let us also find ways of encouraging graduates of the Free Senior High School Policy to pursue studies in architecture, city planning and urban design in order to strengthen efforts at climate change resilience and adaptation in Ghana.

The future of architectural practice in Ghana is definitely bright and Sir David Adjaye is welcome on board.

(Caveat: This is my personal and professional view and is not intended to discredit the integrity of any person or institution.)

The writer is a Member, Ghana Institute of Planners and Associate, Ghana Institute of Architects.E-mail: