ASF-UK Open Dialogues: Local Vs Global Debate 23rd April

8 Apr

If anyone is in London over the next two months please do drop in on these events. The second entitled Local Vs Global was inspired by the workshop and hopes to pick up on some of the issues debated in Ghana.

Local Vs Global @ Live Projects Symposium

8 Apr

Six months since departing Ghana Sophie and Ben are presenting the workshop as a case study at the Live Projects Pedagogy International Symposium at Oxford Brookes University in May 2012 (See link below). It should be a very interesting event with a broad range of contributors, we will also be submitting a poster for the exhibition accompanying the event which we will post here next month.

Critical reflections on Live Projects with a view to co-creating a pedagogic best practice framework
Thursday 24th – Saturday 26th May 2012
Oxford Brookes University, Headington Hill Campus.

‘A three-day international symposium by and for live project educators, live-project community participants, live project students, practice architects involved in community co-design, University management involved in community partnership projects, and live project practitioners and participants from associated fields and disciplines.’

We have also produced a workshop overview that is on the ASF-UK webpage and are working on finally publishing the proceedings from the symposium in the next month.


Moringa Seed Bank ready for use and workshop reflections

7 Nov

The final few weeks in Ghana flew past. In Darmang Bernard fitted the gutter and we painted the walls with a glue/pozzolana/water mix. One of the local boys planted some small bushes at the base of the structure to help with any erosion. The Seed Bank is ready for use, VPWA want to harvest some of the leaves from the site to test the quality and the drying process so are building a drying rack to be installed next week. A lot of people passing the site from their farms have expressed an interest in the structure, and on coming inside commented on how cool the space is with the insulated roof.

It is worth mentioning here that two weeks ago there was some un-seasonal heavy rains and many areas of Accra were flooded (see links below) 43,000 people have been effected and there has subsequently been an out brake of cholera in the city. Areas of Pokuase were waterlogged and a bridge on the Pokuase/Kwabenya road was washed away. Darmang also suffered with further damage to the road through the village. One of the issues observed by the workshop team was the erosion which was effecting the buildings and infrastructure of the village also the waste water build up in areas and poor sanitation. Last summer there was a similar crisis in Accra in July, this type of weather has been linked to climate change with predictions that flash flooding along the Gulf of Ginea will become a regular event. Needless to say sustainable water management is a huge issue, especially in the context of climate change adaptation.

So this is ASF signing off from Ghana for now, VPWA will be keeping us updated with the further work that is done on the Green Ghana Initiative also the Darmang development document of which our strategies will form part.

In the next few months we will be uploading documentation of both the symposium and the workshop. We are also working towards the idea of a platform or ‘knowledge community’ for sustainable development of the built environment in the region with international and local partners. We will continue to use this blog to explore these topics and welcome comments and feedback.

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Render Complete and visit to HTM

22 Oct

On Monday this week I visited Hosing the Masses (HTM) in their office in Dome, Accra. It was a really interesting morning full of lively debate on what sustainability means in Ghana. Housing the Masses was founded in 2009, they work with low-income communities on issues surrounding housing, participatory planning and inclusive urban development. They work with other local partners including Peoples Dialogue and international agencies such as UN Habitat. HTM have been at the forefront of projects such as defining what a slum is in the Ghanaian context, and mapping informal settlements in Accra using survey tools, community participation and GIS.

They currently have a housing programme on site in the North of Ghana, they have been using CEB (Compressed Earth Blocks) to try to keep down costs and make the project more sustainable. There have been challenges in using earth, especially in training local labour. HTM create ‘work gangs’ for their new build projects, members of the community are trained in construction and involved in all stages of the building process. In the future they are looking to introduce other sustainable local materials such as bamboo to keep costs down.

We discussed the idea of a platform or ‘knowledge community’ for sustainable development of the built environment. One of the issues raised was the complexity of the issues here, for example not knowing where materials are sourced especially timber, sand, and stone. One of the key points was more public advocacy including radio (which is the most powerful medium in Ghana) and better promotion of materials like Pozzolana. HTM is a dynamic organisation with progressive ideas, I look forward to any future collaborations with them (for further information see Ellen’s HTM presentation in the symposium tab of the blog).

In Darmang this week our mason Divine started the rendering of the earth walls. We discussed the content of the render, I was keen for an earth/pozzolana/cement, when I arrived on site he had started with sand/pozzolana/cement. We agreed to compromise and add more pozzolana and sieved earth in the next mix. Divine had not used the Pozzolana before and was not confident replacing the cement. For alternatives to be more widely accepted materials need better promotion as mentioned before. While this was happening Phillip and I painted the timber frame with an oil based paint, we treated the inside and the doors with creosote, not very environmentally friendly but unfortunately the only option in Darmang.

When Divine had finished with the render we compacted more soil inside levelled this and put a layer of concrete, in this mix we replaced 1/3 of the cement with pozzolana. The moringa seed bank is almost ready for use, next week Bernard our carpenter is coming to fit a gutter for rainwater collection also to build some storage for seeds and a drying rack for the leaves out of what is left of the timber. I will be giving the walls a covering of pozzolana/white glue/water which we have tried on a small section and works quite well.

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A Question of Culture

15 Oct

In the coming weeks at Brookes we have a series of debates around the subject of culture and tradition. I thought I’d share the topics with you and see if anyone has any interesting thoughts. The first Topic is:

‘Culture is enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training’

Be grate to hear peoples comments.

Kumasi Visit – Mat-To-Fore_INBAR_KNUST

14 Oct

The last week has been quite busy!

On Monday I visited the Mat-To-Fore site with Charlie and Simon from the Sabre Trust. The site is in the small village of Kotei about and hour from Kumasi. I was really impressed with what the team here had achieved.

On Tuesday morning we took a detour en route to the INBAR office and visited an Ashanti Shrine. The shrine had been renovated with help from UNESCO and CRAterre and designated a UNESCO world heritage site. It was one of the only surviving examples of true Ashanti architecture. Next stop we spent a few hours with Micheal Kwaku in the INBAR office, discussing all things Bamboo; housing,charcoal,bicycles,treatment etc. We also talked about a platform in Ghana for sustainable development of the built environment especially in the forms of documentation training and more workshops. After the meeting I showed Charlie and Simon the Bamboo School designed and constructed by INBAR and BRRI.

On Wednesday I visited the Architecture department at KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) to meet with a senior professor S.Afram to discuss future workshop collaborations, platforms for sustainable construction also the challenges and opportunities for practitioners in the field.

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Timber Frame Finished

6 Oct

This week our carpenter Bernard completed the lightweight timber frame which sits on top of the earth walls. There were some tricky details as the earth construction is quite organic in shape. While this was being built around us Philip and I fitted the rest of the roof soffit with old 50kg rice bags stuffed with dried plantain leaves – as they are the most available material on site.

In addition to this I met with Nii, a workshop attendee who works for the Ga West Municipality. He is hoping to design a prototype school using earth blocks in partnership with the department of rural housing. We visited their office and they have been using compressed earth blocks in a number of local projects (see pic of noticeboard), we are hoping to arrange a further meeting to push this idea forward.

Next week the walls of the Seed Bank will be plastered using a pozzolana cement mix also a screed put on the floor. I will be visiting Kumasi to see the Matt2Fore project site and promoting the workshop in the architecture department of KNUST.

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Local Knowledge and the Timber Price Hike

1 Oct

Things have slowed a little this week, this has given us a chance to reflect and spend time on site with the carpenter working out some final details.

After a break from building at the beginning of the week, we returned to Darmang on Thursday and noticed that all the cracks in the earth wall had been repaired and a darkish earth plaster had been applied. Our neighbour Robert explained that it was his wife. When we spoke to her later to find out her technique we were really surprised to learn that the plaster was earth, water and the inside of an old battery* (which gave the dark colour)! She also told us that a good material to use for this is the waste product from palm oil production, which is a stringy orange organic matter, as this helps to bind the earth. As well as being a huge help to us, Mrs Osei’s intervention and advice demonstrates the importance of working with the local community, and shows that in this context traditional local skills are still relevant.

We spent the rest of the Thursday in Nsawam buying wood for the top half of the structure. It will consist of a lightweight timber frame – much of the inspiration for the details has come from looking at the local kiosks and chop bars. It is worth noting here the price of wood – a simple timber frame and door with mosquito netting and mesh is going to cost almost the same as the rest of the structure put together. In the afternoon we put a protective coating on the rammed earth walls – a mixture of water and white glue which just acts as a surface hardener. We picked up the technique from Stumble Inn in Elmina and used it on some test walls last year.

Friday was spent beginning to fit the underside of the roof with the bags filled with straw/coconut husk/banana leaf. We decided to use the central member of the palm frong for this given its length and strength. In darmang and most local towns and villages in this region they are used in earth wall construction, roofing and as panels. We talked to Robert about sourcing some and managed to get around 30 lengths for minimal cost. Halfway through the process of fitting the first section there was a thunder storm with a very strong wind. Even right under the roof we were still getting quite wet from the spray. The timber frame will be quite open so we are now discussing using plastic sheeting that can roll down and be fastened in storm conditions – we are hoping that this could be water bags sewn together by the local seamstress.

As it was Ben’s last day on site we met with friends and community leaders in the evening to discuss progress and the future. A lot of the work done in the workshop and beyond is now being consolidated and will form a part of a Darmang Development Strategy being put forward by VPWA and other local stakeholders.

The carpenter Bernard is starting work on the timber frame on Monday, and I will be fitting the rest of the roof. I will update the blog next week with progress of the structure and more information on how our work will be feeding into a wider strategy.

*We have since discovered the inside of old batteries are used in Ghana for a number of things including blackboards in schools.

One week on – An Update

23 Sep

A week after the participants went home we wanted to update everyone on the weeks progress. As you can imagine its been somewhat slower pace with our 4 hands instead of the 32 we had last week, but things have moved. The roof is now on and fully braced including pegging and tying. We’ve varnished all the bamboo. We mixed some pesticide in with the varnish for the untreated bracing pieces to see if this helped prevent infestation. We dug a drainage channel to carry the run off from the roof, and filled this with sand and stone to prevent erosion.

Yesterday we (reluctantly) took the decision to dismantle the middle section of the adobe block wall. Large cracks had been forming and this part of the wall was very weak. To rectify this, we laid a new foundation coming in at 90 degrees from this wall. Top of this we built a small return which has now been tied in to the original wall and all built up to the same height. It took a couple of days, but is now complete, and hopefully this should make things much simpler in the long run, especially as the timber framing goes on next week.

So with the exception of a few aesthetic details, our role on-site as builders should be at an end, and we can revert back to doing the paper based architectural stuff and hand over to the carpenter/mason to finish off the structure next week. Fingers crossed we should be able to report back with the final product in a few days time. Photos of all of this below.

Raising the Roof

21 Sep

We arrived on site on Monday a little bit overwhelmed with the challenge of finishing the structure, this quickly depleted as our local workforce arrived and began to help us make more earth plaster. We were hoping to get the roof on first thing but with no sign of the carpenter we carried on bracing the structure using split bamboo and bamboo pegs.

The carpenter and his team arrived after lunch and began on the tin roof, we were almost done when the rain started light at first but quickly turned into a storm! With us protesting at how dangerous it was to be working in these conditions the carpenter finished the last few sheets.

It was amazing to see how much water the roof was creating – we also became aware that our drainage channel had been dug too far in and the water was forming a new path dangerously close to the pad foundation for the bamboo. With the help of our trusty foreman Kujo we redirected the rainwater and made a note to rework our drainage strategy when the ground dried.

Tuesday was`spent finishing the bracing and working out details for the lighter timber frame above the earth walls. We had some help from local boys to re-dig the drainage channel – just in time for another downpour!

We will be returning to site on Thursday to work with the carpenter on the rest of the structure, also to try to fit a gutter to help us utilise the water from the roof. We are also hoping to arrange a meeting with the village elders when construction is complete to get feedback on our posters and to introduce the wider ideas such as water management developed as part of a ‘village strategy’.