Almost a decade ago, Architect Samuel Opare Larbi wrote an important and fascinating article on the Architectural History of Ghana. This bold and swift survey covered some of the major highlights and it had a lot of ground to cover, not least because so little research had been produced at that point on the history of architecture in WestAfrica.

The past decade has seen a proliferation of publications on ‘tropical modernists’, late colonial architecture, and more specialist studies on educational projects and socialist-country collaborations. Finally, we are beginning to see a celebratory appreciation of these often radical and progressive projects.

Yet, despite the rapid and growing interest, there remains some vast clefts in our understanding, especially in terms of the ‘first generation’ of qualified Ghanaian architects. Design233’s recent article on John Owuso Addo is part of our quest to rectify this gaping silence and to begin a series of biographical and contextual articles on the Ghanaian design pioneers.

The task is far from straight-forward as the sources and references that are essential to write even recent histories are not readily available. Archives are notoriously vulnerable if they were kept in the first place, and the other mediums such as professional journals and magazines rarely feature the works of these freshly qualified professionals. Rare examples survive such as a serendipitous photograph, or perhaps a scribbled note, rather than a dedicated and systematic reportage. For example, the photograph showing eminent modernist Edwin Maxwell Fry alongside one of his assistant architects illustrates the point. Who is this well-dressed and earnest collaborator? We know more about the building depicted on the drawing (Opoku Ware school in Kumasi) than we do about the person responsible for designing it.

Edwin Maxwell Fry with unknown assistant architect, c.1950s. Private Collection