Ghana’s forthcoming African Futures Institute, founded by Ghanaian-Scottish architect and acclaimed educator Lesley Lokko, has launched its website. Included in the institute's list of prestigious board members is Sir David Adjaye OBE.
The African Futures Institute (AFI) will be a postgraduate school of architecture, located in Accra, Ghana, that embraces the continent's creatives and innovators while providing them with a space and freedom to “pursue a truly transformative agenda.” The website will host the AFI’s calendar of events, links to free lectures and talks on YouTube and Vimeo channels, and information about its educational program.
The AFI has an ambitious agenda. At its core, the school aims to become a world-class teaching and research institute, with African and African diaspora students, professionals and policy makers as its primary audience. In a brochure for the AFI, a series of thought-provoking questions emerge, and there is one that asks, “What if a new African school could teach the global North how to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion at the heart of the built environment pedagogy?”. For Lokko– who founded the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa– this issue is a personal one, especially considering her short tenure as the dean of architecture at the Spitzer School of Architecture in New York. After less than a year, Lokko resigned as a “profound act of self-preservation,” citing the inflexibility of U.S. academic structures, a lack of meaningful support, and the lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, among her reasons for leaving.
Recognizing the need for a new model of education, the AFI will combine Lokko and Adjaye’s decades of experience to create not only a place of learning, but also a place of leadership that offers a unique perspective to today’s social, cultural, technological, and environmental challenges, or in other words, a pan-African think-tank. It aims to unify science, the arts, and humanities while offering some stability in the sometimes distant and hostile relationship between academia and practice. Part of its method of achieving this is to allow practices and professionals to engage in a myriad of ways, including through special subject lecturers, co-collaborators, exhibitors, part-time tutors, and more.
“This project has been almost a decade in the making, so it’s incredibly satisfying to see it begin to take shape,” said Lokko in a statement. In late 2021, the AFI will partner with Adjaye Associates to formally launch the initiative by hosting a series of talks, seminars, and discussions. During its first year of operations, the AFI will focus on building a strong platform for more public events and talks. There are already various series of talks that have been announced, including a pan-African speaker series, a Black Atlantic speaker series, talks focused on case studies, a series of conversations that explore the relationship between public health and architecture, and many more. Among some of the speakers are artist Olalekan Jeyifous, architect Francis Kéré, and Christian Benimana.
As for the actual school, the opening date has yet to be determined, and renderings haven’t been revealed just yet, however, there are some details that give a glimpse into what we can expect from the physical space. Per the press brochure, it will be an “inner-city campus in the center of Accra” and will comprise five spaces named after Adinkra symbols. The planned spaces will incorporate Adinkra symbols into the school’s architectural features and each symbol name will represent the following spaces:
Aban: administration, offices, cafeteria, galley, lecture hall
Akoma: studio, seminar spaces
Fihankra: workshop, FABLAB
Musuyidie: apartments, gardens, bar
Dono: AFI’s online community & platform with The Mix
“Architecture has always struggled with the concept of diversity, often adopting a policy-driven and box-ticking approach that does little to change architectural canon in any meaningful way,” says the AFI press materials. “However, the rising profile of Black architects and academics over the past few years has given new confidence and agency to students, who are now rightfully demanding concrete institutional change.” With the founding of the AFI, there is hope that Africa– a continent that has been both disregarded and exploited for centuries– will be established as a “key location for the production and development of new knowledge” and a site of “thought leadership across the built environment disciplines.”
Academic programs at the AFI, scheduled to kickoff in August 2022, will include a two-year immersive Master of Architecture (M Arch) Part 2 program, a post-professional MSc in Architectural Design, an MA in African Architectural History and Theory, and shorter courses open to recent graduates who wish to further develop their skills. There will also be something called “Unit X,” which is the AFI’s unit-at-large that will “locate each year in a different African context, in partnership with local collaborators, to explore a wide range of ideas, opportunities and context-specific challenges to develop appropriate and creative responses, culminating in an annual publication, exhibition or conference.”
The M Arch Part 2 program will allow students who successfully complete the course to directly apply for Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) accreditation. Through partnerships with collaborating institutions, the AFI will also offer individual candidates wishing to pursue a doctoral qualification specialized and individual supervision. Additionally, access to FOLIO: Journal of Contemporary African Architecture– Africa’s first peer-reviewed publication of African architecture– will allow the dissemination of student and staff work, while a planned partnership with the research arm of Adjaye Associates will allow the AFI to catalog its accomplishments through print and other forms of media.
The path to the realization of the African Futures Institute is an interesting one and the launch of the school’s website is a small step in the right direction. There is still a ton of work to be done to ensure that AFI can live up to its aspirations, and we have yet to see designs for the forthcoming campus, but with everything presented publicly thus far, we are eagerly anticipating future phases of the AFI. Design233 will be covering this project more as further developments are presented.