In November 2021, the African Futures Institute (AFI) in Accra invited Ghanaian architect, Kofi Essel-Appiah as guest speaker for the evening. Working from his firm PREDIOS in Accra, his professional work reflects a mix of experiences from his diverse background, travels and international collaborations. One of his works, ‘The Monologue’ (a seven-storey apartment block in Cantonments, one of Accra’s upmarket neighborhoods) was the subject of a thought-provoking presentation, in which Essel-Appiah ignited the question most culture-oriented architects and designers love to philosophize endlessly about: the relevance of expressing ‘African’ cultural identity in architecture in today’s global world. This article analyses Essel-Appiah’s work in an attempt to spark a conversation on expressing African cultural identity in contemporary architecture.

The front facade of the Monologue, a contemporary expression of geometrically composed quadrilaterals, rectangular compounds, and trapezoids, was inspired by the patterns on a piece of Kente cloth, a popular product of a traditional art form of weaving in Ghana. In the architect’s search to give the building some form of cultural expression, he chose Kente’s geometric pattern, and through a process of abstraction, he settled on the design for the facade which could be interpreted by architectural critics as ‘modern.’ At this stage, its authentic cultural identity fades into obscurity and the facade assumes a universal modernist cubist feel. This article raises the question of how literal or abstracted cultural expressions in architectural design should be in order to reflect an African identity in architecture.