The 1946 Town Planning Scheme for Kumasi included provision for a new polytechnic that the Kumasi Education Committee had eagerly requested. The new institution was to be ‘given a commanding position worthy of its importance’1 and a site at the apex of Stewart Avenue in the center of the town was proposed (on the site of the current Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital). Some five years later, the Kumasi College of Technology was finally inaugurated, and the colonial government agreed to provide £4.5m for capital expenditure, and a further £350,000 from the Colonial Development and Welfare fund.2
The Stewart Avenue site was eventually rejected and instead a generous plot was offered by the Asantehene to the east of the town. Harrison, Barnes and Hubbard architects were initially approached to design the masterplan. They were the architects for the University of Ghana in Accra, but declined the Kumasi commission because of the difficult nature of the site ‘whose undulations were considered to make coherent planning a problem’.3
The more formal set-piece and axial design they proposed in Accra would not readily translate to Kumasi. Maxwell Fry, the architect of Ibadan University, was also approached but the committee decided that ‘with the need for speed, we cannot go on as we have been doing with the Maxwell Fry type’.4
They also felt other architects should be given a chance and Fry and Drew were already commissioned to design numerous projects in West Africa. James Cubitt was approached and agreed to take on the commission with Kenneth “Winky” Scott. Cubitt had studied at London’s Architectural Association, and was running a large practice in West Africa, designing several libraries throughout Ghana, and Scott had an equally impressive portfolio of projects. Unlike Barnes, Harrison and Hubbard, Cubitt saw the potential in the flowing landscape and forests of the proposed site, and likened the topography to that of Aburi’s botanical station, noting that the landscape was one of the first things he considered,
‘On a site of this extent, about 2.5 square miles, and with difficult siting problems for the actual buildings, it is probably sensible to bring the ground in to help’.5
Cubitt was appointed in 1951 to develop the ‘architect designed’ buildings, and to replace the temporary structures built by the college to house 200 students who had relocated from the Teacher Training College at Achimota. The college decided to relocate to Kumasi to free-up space for the University of Ghana expansion.
Cubitt’s design concept sought to pragmatically orientate the buildings on a north-south axis to minimize the solar gain, but equally important to Cubitt was the desire to develop a design in the ‘grand manner…but not grandiose’. The teaching area, halls of residence, and ceremonial buildings formed three distinct groupings of home, work, and sacred, each with a distinct architectural coherence. The small-scale low-density staff quarters were to act as a ‘foil to the larger work’,and were placed along sweeping avenues that cut through the forest.
The Engineering Block was the first faculty to be completed, a long linear building stretching to 160. The distinctive reinforced concrete “Y” beams support a timber roof, as well as allowing light and ventilation over the whole floor area. It was a reimagined version of the saw-tooth factory roof. The “Y” beams project beyond the line of the façade to create a distinctive rhythm as well as permitting the entire envelope to be opened-up whilst the flat roofs were to house water storage tanks until a mains supply was installed.
Further grant applications were made in the early 1950s to the colonial office to fund various projects including the Library with provisional plans prepared by Cubitt.7 He proposed a deep square plan which he acknowledged was unusual, as the preference was for narrow buildings to aid cross-ventilation at the time. However, the project was not built. Due to various delays, and arguments over cost and quality Cubitt and Scott’s work on the campus ended abruptly with only a small number of staff bungalows, Engineering, Pharmacy, and General Teaching Blocks completed. Cubitt’s involvement in educational projects continued elsewhere and he went on to design the University of Nigeria at Nsukka, and University of Ife (between 1957-1961), and two campuses for the University of Libya at Tripoli and Benghazi (from 1965).
John Owusu-Addo returned to Ghana after training in London, and working with Winky Scott, was appointed Architect-in-charge for several large buildings on campus. He worked in collaboration with many eastern European architects (in particular Miro Marasovic) who had come to Ghana providing technical expertise as part of Nkrumah’s non-aligned political position. The legacy of these collaborations can be seen on campus ranging from the towering halls of residences down to the finely detailed Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge (by Niksa Ciko).
A remarkable set of period perspective drawings of these buildings is also held by the Development Office worthy of any museum collection.
There was clearly a need for an architecture school within Ghana, and by December 1955, initial enquiries on forming a new school were being made by College Principal W. E. Duncanson to the Advisory Committee on Colonial Colleges.8 Four months later, Professor James Adam Louis Matheson from University of Manchester and Professor Robert Gardner-Medwin from University of Liverpool were commissioned to visit the college, and to compile a report on a possible suite of programs, including a professionally accredited architecture course.9 The idea was for a two-year common foundation program with specialism from the third year in architecture, planning, or surveying. By June 1956, Charles Iredale Hobbis had been appointed Head of Department and further discussions took place on creating a Building Development Centre with the West African Building Institute and Ministry of Housing.10 Hobbis designed the new architecture school building that sits alongside workshops constructed in swishcrete and with experimental roof trusses
The lack of available textbooks was addressed by collating lecture notes from the lectures and the emerging campus served as a live demonstration masterclass.
Architectural history was taught from purchased slide libraries, but with an emphasis on the ‘social role of architecture in human development’ rather than stylistic development. This theme was also addressed at the School’s inaugural address by Anthony M. Chitty who urged the students to critically challenge the modernist architecture that was being built around them and to seek out a new architectural expression for that place.11 These were ideas that Chitty would go on to test in his own projects for a bank in Baghdad and university campuses at Nairobi and Lusaka.
At KNUST the main focus in the late 1950s was on providing sufficient accommodation and teaching spaces, but the legacy of Cubitt’s masterplan left an important vacant spot on the campus. Photographs from the time show the grand ceremonial road disappearing over the hill at the highest and more significant part of the campus.
Only the library had been built on this spot and the intention was for a large assembly hall for graduation ceremonies and events, along with a university chapel arranged to form a quadrangle overlooking the campus.
Careful studies were made by the architects Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn to ensure the new structures would be visible when ascending the hill with a large tower campanile acting as an ‘eye-catcher’.
The commission was made in 1960 with a brief to design a 1600-seat auditorium with an additional 700-seat theatre, as well as ancillary spaces such as dressing and green rooms. Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn also designed the extension to the Effia Nkwanta Hospital at Sekondi in a similar manner with over-scaled structural elements and an uncompromising concrete grid solar shade
Their proposal in Kumasi was eventually amended to include just the Great Hall with a carefully designed covered ante space open to all sides with dramatic staircases cutting through to the heavy concrete mass above.
The campus contains some of the finest architecture in Ghana from this period set within a dramatic and beautiful natural setting. It is a perfect retreat for study and scientific enquiry, whilst the collegiate residences bring together students from across the country and beyond.
It is rather easy for architectural writers to bemoan the loss of buildings without having to deal with the practicalities and often competing demands that the owners and users face – however, the KNUST campus is precious place and the architectural quality of its early architecture should be treasured and viewed as creative artefacts - they are part of the nation’s cultural assets (as are the architectural drawings). It is important that this is not construed as museumification or zealous conservation – buildings must change and be repurposed – but with a knowledge of the architecture and design intent to ensure the fortune is not mistakenly discarded with the dirt.
KNUST does not lack ambition, a quick tour of the campus reveals some vast projects in progress, but what is driving these designs and how do they respond to the site contours, original design agendas, climate, and energy consumption?
There needs to be a clear design agenda for the campus and not a sporadic approach to development –especially when new buildings of this scale are being procured.
Without a vision, the campus will perish.
1TownPlanning Scheme for Kumasi, 1946, PRAAD, CSO20/12/19, p32
2 “CommonwealthSurvey”, 12th November 1954, National Archives, BW90/445.
3 General Policy of theKumasi College of Technology Science and Arts in Gold Coast National Archives ref: CO 554/344
4 General Policy of theKumasi College of Technology Science and Arts in Gold Coast National Archive sref: CO 554/344
5JamesCubitt, Recent Buildings in the Gold Coast, Architectural Review, May 1956,p230.
6 JamesCubitt, Recent Buildings in the Gold Coast, Architectural Review, May 1956,p230.
7 The National Archives, Kew, Application for grant to build library atKumasi College of Technology, CO 554/349
8 See The National Archives, Kew, Kumasi College of Technology: training in architecture,BW 91/468, 8t December 1955.
9 SeeGardner-Medwin, R. and J.A.L. Matheson “Report to the council of Kumasi Collegeof Technology, Gold Coast, on Professional Education in Subjects Allied toBuilding” Kumasi, Ghana, 1956. Matheson would go on to be the first VC atMonash University, Australia in 1960.
10 TheNational Archives, Kew, BW 91/468 Kumasi College of Technology: Training inArchitecture
11 Chittyworked with Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton in London before forming his ownarchitecture practice in 1937.