Charlotte Langhorst is a German Art Historian and the founder of accrascope an organization with a mission to, ‘promote Accra’s architectural heritage and encourage more Ghanaian scholars to research, document, record, and write about Accra’s urban environment.’
Combining her love of art & architecture with urban planning, she’s come up with these 9 tips for building sustainable, resilient cities in West Africa, starting with Accra.
1. Urban planners do not have to invent everything from scratch
In the 1940s and 1950s, British architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew designed various buildings and housing projects in Ghana. The National Museum built in 1957, is one of their greater works.
“Fry and Drew studied in great detail, the climate, the indigenous social structures and conditions of urbanization. They did not transfer a Western architectural ideal, as many contemporary architects would. They developed ideas and architectural prototypes suitable for the African Tropics. The result was a collection of aesthetic architecture that was climate friendly and is even today, modern and sustainable.”
Langhorst says she urges local urban planners to look for and borrow the most appropriate, or what she calls, ‘right’ ideas to design more resilient infrastructure for Accra.
2. Think outside the box: How can you make infrastructure attractive and practical?
“If you ever have the chance to visit the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Accra you will be surprised. The building looks like a solid bastion from the street but it is actually a great example of climate-friendly architecture combining low-tech materials with high-tech finishes.”
The L-shaped embassy is a favorite of Langhorst’s and one she says should be in the heart of every urban planner. It’s roofing provides shade, plus space for ventilation and solar panels have been installed that supply 70 to 80 % of its power. An elaborate air conditioning system pumps condensed air through the building while the window blinds are programmed to open in the morning and close when the sun sets.
3. Live what you believe
Langhorst’s advice, “do not only love your own home, love your city and cherish its benefits”.
“Look at Ghanaian architect Joe Osae Addo. He is dedicated to the preservation of architectural monuments in Accra, and making the city an enjoyable place.”
The Ghanaian architect’s private house has become iconic in the region. Built with local materials, it is as breathtaking as any contemporary home found in the region.
4. Education is the key to responsible urbanization and a resilient city
Langhorst encourages Accra’s urban planners and architects to share their knowledge with local communities across the city, in simple, fun and creative ways.
“Local communities should be involved in the process of sustainability. The Jamestown Chale Wote Street Festival takes place every year in late August, and promotes urban gardening, sanitation practices, and playgrounds for children in an area considered to be poor and known for its failed and aging infrastructure.”
5. Appreciate and use what you’ve got
“West Africa offers a lot of building materials — beautiful wood, bamboo and clays — that fit the environment far better than the glass facades we are starting to see everywhere. Just visit the old American Embassy in central Accra designed by Harry Weese. It’s made of concrete and tropical wood.”
From her time in Accra, Langhorst says investors tend to focus on Western architectural designs that aren’t ecologically or economically compatible with the sub-Saharan region. She says architects must be ‘bold’ and draw their inspiration from traditional techniques and express a unique Ghanaian visual.
6. Get out of your comfort zone
Langhorst says both foreign and even local urban planners need to ‘get out’ and discover all parts of the city,
“Get out of your car, your house, walk around and study the city you live in. You can even ride your bike to discover Accra. Do not always look out for the deficits.”
7. Nurture young, innovative thinkers
“Young architects, urban designers and artists can change Accra dramatically.”
Langhorst says she believes financial and political support should be made available to Accra’s young change makers. Similarly she says, educational institutions and non-profit organizations must create more opportunities for youth by investing in programs that encourage them to develop solutions to the city’s resilience problems.
8. Get support
Accra’s urban planners face a range of challenges to get local communities and the city’s elite to show their support for greater sustainability and resiliency. Langhorst says having engagement at all levels in a community is key to success,
“I think African entrepreneurs, local chiefs and politicians should be motivated to support urban resilience as much as foreign institutions. Only their participation will make this process effective and encourage the everyday citizen to become more interested in their environment and how it affects their way of life.”
9. Speak up
For Langhorst, she says bringing change can be as ‘simple’ as talking about what’s needed most more publicly.
“Protest! Civil society has a voice and does not have to accept irresponsible building projects that undermine the city’s resilience in a crucial way. Urban planner should represent the people and know they can protest against construction sites that affect the social structure of a district and promote segregation. Be political and protest for sanitation and water supply, and be a critical citizen.”
More on our Road to Resilience series
To learn how countries can improve their cities’ infrastructures, see the targets set out in, Goal #11 of the UN’s SDGs for 2030.
For more stories about community resilience efforts in Accra, including Charlotte Langhorst’s thoughts on how ‘Accra is like experimental jazz‘, follow our Road to Resilience series and tweet us at @africarizing using the hashtag, #Rd2Resilience.