The 1951 victory for Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’sParty resulted in some major shifts in the procurement of new infrastructure and housing. For the electorate, housing was one of the most important issues and Nkrumah’s government was quick to recognize this potency.
His plan, announced in 1952, was to build a new port city, complete with innovative and improved housing at the highest standards. Located only 18 miles from the centre of Accra, the new city of Tema would demonstrate Nkrumah’s commitment to industrial development and that Ghana was at the centre of a pan-African vision.
Tema was part of a wider industrialization project that included a new aluminum smelting plant and hydroelectric power station on the Volta River. It was a major project involving international financial backing and set out the major ambition Nkrumah had for the nation during the advent of independence. For such a major project, very little is known about the first team of architects and planners responsible for the execution and delivery.
The first plan for the new town was prepared by the Kumasi town engineer, Alfred Edward Savige Alcock (1902-1991). Born in the United Kingdom, but with his professional life spent working throughout the British empire, Alcock trained as a civil engineer and, after a brief period in Sri Lanka, began working as a Sanitation Engineer in Ghana in 1936. His role and interests quickly developed beyond sanitation towards housing and village design and he was appointed Town Planning Officer in 1945, a post he held until 1956.
Alcock sought to address the problem of expensive imported materials (and overland transportation) by utilizing readily available materials and skills, and he designed the planned settlement of Asawasi, near Kumasi
Whilst Alcock also prepared the plan and vision for Tema, the project delivery was undertaken by Ghanaian architect and planner Theodore Shealtiel Clerk (1909-1965). At the time Clerk was Ghana’s only qualified African architect. He came from a well-connected missionary family who funded his education at Achimota School, where he met Nkrumah and remained a close confidant. He was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship to read architecture atEdinburgh College of Art from 1938, graduating in 1943. He spent time in theUnited Kingdom researching housing projects for the Department of Health forScotland and secured the Rutland Prize in 1943 that funded further research into housing in northern English cities.
At Tema, in addition to his knowledge of housing design, his role required political acumen as the Tema Board contained some of Nkrumah’s political adversaries. Clerk’s time was spent steering confrontational committee meetings and placating criticism. He worked on the new town until his untimely death aged 56 years old.
The decision to build Tema so close to the existing capital raised questions about Accra’s future, and ‘whether the seat of government would also be moved’.3 The Ministry of Local Government pondered whether all efforts should be directed towards ‘making this town the first-class modern city the Prime Minister envisages’ rather than funding Accra with its ‘legacies of the past to hamper its development.’4 Other members of the Accra Development Committee were also concerned about the impact on existing trade, and feared that ‘population, business, trade and commerce’5 would abandon Accra. To prevent this, a special fund was set up for various improvements, including the (as yet unresolved) construction of Marine Drive from Christianborg Castle to Accra Community Centre, with English landscape architect Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900-1996) as design consultant.
Nkrumah viewed Tema as an industrial appendage to Accra, freeing up space and relieving the capital of its gritty industry, congestion, and port. Tema grabbed the development headlines, but the desire was always to retain and ‘improve’ Accra as the capital.
With Tema providing efficient porterage and docks, Accra’s old surfboat harbor and the congested districts of Jamestown and Usshertown could be allowed to decline, whilst making way for the larger commercial and financial offices to expand into the High Street, such as the new Barclays bank designed by Harrison, Barnes, and Hubbard (who were also the architects of the more orientalist University of Ghana).
The Almost Postcolonial City
In 1952 Alfred Alcock prepared a master plan for Tema new town, although he was to have no involvement in the scheme’s execution. Instead a new organization called the Tema Development Corporation (TDC) was founded on 1st October 1953 to develop the new town according to the most modern concepts. A special ordinance allowed the acquisition of sixty-three square miles for the purpose of building a town and port, with TDC acting as local authority and developer. The aim was to prevent speculative development, preserve agricultural land, and ensure various facilities were properly provided, as well as securing a town boundary that would avoid gradual expansion.
The chair of the management committee was paramount ruler, member of the failed United Gold Coast Convention party and Nkrumah’s ‘former foe’, Sir Tsibu Darku(1909-1982). In making this appointment, Nkrumah was acknowledging the old order’s prestige while simultaneously keeping his rivals close and entrusting them (or perhaps keeping them occupied) with high-risk and difficult ventures. As one of ‘the managers for the colonial administration of the African apparatus of government’, Darku, ‘that pillar of chiefly establishment’, lent a certain legitimacy to the project. Darku had experience establishing public healthcare facilities and shared Alcock’s view that, ‘the new town should not be considered solely as a vast housing estate’. Alcock sought to, ‘provide a proper socio-economic balance, local employment (in addition to harbor work) and a representative mixture of social groups’.8
Government-financed factories were built close to the harbor and leased on favorable terms to attract investment,9and the workers housing featured as part of this ‘package’.10Seven residential ‘communities’ were proposed, each further divided into four ‘neighborhoods’ housing 3000 residents, along with shops, schools, and all within 20 minutes’ walk of the harbor.11 Larger boulevard-type roads were positioned around the periphery of the communities with a central spine road leading to larger shops, municipal offices, and cultural institutions in the Town Centre.12
The housing was designed to serve four broad economic/social groups, with various design types for each group. The first dwellings were basic terraces of individual rooms with shared ‘ablution blocks’, intended for migrating single men.13 Known as the ‘labor lines’ they were similar to colonial mining-town housing and were seen from the outset as temporary accommodation for the initial labor force.14 At the other extreme were seven large Group One ‘CEO villas’ and four blocks of apartments for consultants and professionals, designed by the prominent British architects Jane Drew (1911-1996), Lindsey Drake (1909-1980), and Denys Lasdun(1914-2001).
Working under T S Clerk’s direction was a group of aspiring architects, recruited as students from London’s Architectural Association’s (AA) newly established Department of Tropical Architecture (DTA)in June 1955.15 From the course’s inaugural cohort, Dudley (‘Tig’) Duck, Graham Herbert, and Michael Hirst assembled in Accra during the first half of 1956. Here they joined agroup with much greater experience: David Gillies-Reyburn (1925-2010; AA alumnus), Dennis C. Robinson (1921-1981) and Norman Holman (1928-1992); Liverpool School of Architecture alumnus.16 Holman had previously worked on the U.K. New Towns, which served as precedents for the layouts and procedures adopted at Tema; he took responsibility for the day-to-day management of the office, working with Clerk. Robinson oversaw all town planning matters. He had studied at the A.A.’s affiliated school of Planning and Regional Research for Development, before working in British Guiana.17
Housing in Tema
Community 1 at Tema was to be the test case and opportunity for resolving the housing types. The architects were housed in Drake and Lasdun’s flats and maisonettes, which were a clear rejection of the low-density bungalow layout of Accra. The shift in sanitation and service standards was met by equally bold forms of perforated concrete blocks, interlocking geometric forms, exaggerated cantilevers and overhangs protecting the latest Australian aluminum and glass louvres.
It was these projects that were depicted in wire and papier-mâché carnival floats for the Independence Day parade held on 6th March, 1957. Exaggerated models of towering buildings represented the advanced ambition of the town, whilst nautical references paid homage to its history asa fishing village. Yet despite the flamboyant Independence carnival display, Tema was still very much a building site and the problem of how to house 84,000 people was not yet resolved. Drake and Lasdun’s high-end flats would only accommodate the well-paid professional classes: the majority of the new residents required more affordable solutions that could be built quickly.
This process of making the new town and developing mass housing solutions did not follow a prescriptive or predetermined plan, but was rather a series of incremental trials. The process was meticulously recorded on site by Michael Hirst including a substantial photographic catalogue.
Before constructing the Group three and Group four types across the entire town, samples were designed by Graham Herbert and constructed on Sites 19 and 20. ‘Interesting costly prototypes’, noted Hirst, ‘not repeated’18, although they appear to have been later imitated by the Public Works Department near Christianborg Castle in Accra. Other test designs included a cruciform plan: although again Hirst remembered this as ‘costly’, it was a forerunner to the highly adaptable ‘AQ Type’ which could be built in two-, three-, and four-room configurations Cultivating variety and the potential for expansion were crucial. Equally, the desire to create a denser urbanity prompted exploration of low-rise flats.
As rental charges were calculated as a percentage of the construction cost, it was essential to build as cheaply as possible, to make the dwellings affordable for the tenants as well as minimizing capital expenditure. Once a type had satisfied the cost test, climatic comfort became the objective. ‘Good design’, Hirst argued, "entails the provision of window openings on both sides of every room, facing the prevailing breeze, whenever possible, which tends to make the buildings rather long and thin. Such buildings also need the least practicable amount of thermal mass, which would otherwise continue to radiate heat instead of accepting heat from the body."19
Once tested, and fully costed, the work was portioned into smaller tenders (with discounted plant and materials incentives), in order to encourage local contractors to bid and thereby develop experience on a major construction site. In this way Tema, would help develop a local construction industry, serving as a place to learn skills and project management, rather than relying on large overseas construction firms like Taylor Woodrow.20
The process of making Tema allowed for incremental improvement, reflection, and repetition. There was considerable learning on-site with the T.D.C. offices becoming a kind of ‘live’ school.
Hirst recalled that ‘as the workforce increased with more arrivals from elsewhere, the learning-curve steepened rapidly, as each newcomer quickly saw from previous arrivals, what to expect and require’.21 The ‘labour lines’ and ablution blocks were quickly superseded by far more desirable homes and became redundant.
This also affected the Group Three houses, with residents aspiring for bigger and better accommodation to rival Group Two. According to Hirst, ‘the whole of Tema was an unwitting exercise in Social Management, with design responding to aspirational demand, while earnings could be turned into status, especially when such messages reached their folks with undoubted pride back home’.22 Repeating and gradually improving the design, site efficiency, competitive tendering, and construction process all enhanced the process of making Tema. Eventually Group Four housing could be ‘downgraded to a new Group Five’, Hirst predicted, ‘pending their demolition and replacement by higher specification standards’.23 It was an interesting approach that did not offer a single fixed solution but rather a rolling program. It was a planned settlement, but not in the sense of a finished and resolved product. The plan and design method allowed for incremental change, whilst economic and social status was firmly embedded.
Male migratory labor was also being supplemented by a growing female workforce. As Hirst observed, ‘Women formed a major part of the workforce. They carried concrete in head-pans from the mixers to the men doing the pouring of footings or slabs, or they carried concrete blocks on their heads to wherever required.’24
The rural migrant workers were shaping the settlement, not only by building it(and therefore knowing every aspect of it), but also co-designing it. The women adjusted and modified the houses; they made their own cooking and kitchen arrangements that did not feature in the designs; and they established side businesses on the side, often selling produce.
T. S. Clerk is somewhat silent in the minute books and amongst the archives, but that does not mean he was not an important part of the narrative, or had a limited role. It simply means that the tasks he was undertaking were not preserved, or documented. The day-to-day tasks of designing the houses and solving construction problems were left to Clerk’s able team who were living on site and running the architectural projects. Clerk’s contribution was through political negotiations, chairing committees, and through the informal brokering that is necessary to see all major projects to completion. These so-called ‘soft’ or ‘people’ skills require far more nuances, emotional intelligence, and collegiate politicking than they are given credit for. Clerk is not well well-known for a particular building or innovative design, but today over 150,000 people live and work in designs that he brought to fruition through his leadership and acumen.
Clerk was one of the founders of the Ghana Institute of Architects that was formed in 1963. Whilst most of the public relations and negotiating with the existing Gold Coast Society of Architects (GCSA founded in July 1954) was undertaken by Victor Adegbite, Clerk was tasked with drafting the new institutes constitution. He was appointed President with Peter Turkson as vice-president.
1Kwame Nkrumah, quoted in Barbara Ingham and Paul Mosley, Sir Arthur Lewis: A Biography (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,2013), p. 157.
2 Email from Michael Hirst to author, 30 January 2020.
3 PRAAD, GH/PRAAD/RG.5/1/195,A. F. Greenwood, Permanent Secretary, ‘Plans for the Development of Accra’, 28thMay, 1954.
4 PRAAD, GH/PRAAD/RG.5/1/195A. F. Greenwood, Permanent Secretary, ‘Plans for the Development of Accra’, 28thMay, 1954.
5 PRAAD, GH/PRAAD/RG.5/1/254, ‘Plans for the Development of Accra’, 28 May 1951,p. 5.
6 Geoffrey Bing, Reap the Whirlwind; AnAccount of Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana from 1950 to 1966 (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1968), p. 105.
7https://ghultimatenews.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/sir-nana-tsibu-darku-ix-service-to-assin-atandansu-traditional-area/[last accessed 20 April 2022].
8BOD, MSS.Afr.666(3), Alcock, ‘Initial Proposals’, p. 3.
9W. A. Lewis , Report on Industrialization and the Gold Coast,(Accra, GovernmentPrinting Department, 1953) p19.
10See Iain Jackson, Ola Uduku, Irene Appeaning Addo and Rexford Assasie Oppong,‘The Volta River Project: planning, housing, and resettlement in Ghana1950-1965’, Journal of Architecture, 24, no. 4 (2019), pp. 512-548.
11Tema Development Corporation, Report for the Year ending 31st March 1954 (Accra: Government PrintingPress, 1954), p2.
12Tema Development Corporation, Report for the Year ending 31st March 1954, p3.
13 Similar houses were built at Takoradi after the second world war without verandahs or lockers for storage, with rooms of just 12 feet x 10 feet. See PRAAD, GH/PRAAD/GH.5/1/256, AfricanTownship, Takoradi 1944.
14Richard Harris and Susan Parnell, ‘The turning point in urban policy forBritish Colonial Africa, 1939-1945’ in ColonialArchitecture and Urbanism in Africa, ed. by Fassil Demissie (London: Routledge, 2010], pp.127-151.
15Patrick Zamarian, TheArchitectural Association in the Postwar Years (London: Lund Humphries, 2020), pp. 85-92.
16Letter from Michael Hirst to author, 11 November 2019. See also Denis C.Robinson, ‘Development of the new town of Tema, Ghana’, ArchitecturalDesign, 29 (April 1959), pp. 138-140 (p. 139).
17Email from Michael Hirst to author, 30 January 2020. See also Denis C. Robinson‘Otto Koenigsberger Obituary’, ArchitecturalAssociation Quarterly, 13, no.1 (October 1981), p.119. Robinson would go onto work in Gambia, Iraq, Kenya, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Cayman.
18Letter to the author from Michael Hirst, 11 November 2019.
19MHA, Michael Hirst, ‘Africa 16: Design for comfort’, 2009.
20Port Sunlight, UAC, UAC/2/20/BN, Taylor Woodrow Ghana.
21MHA, Michael Hirst, ‘Africa 06: Housing the Workforce’, 2009.
22Michael Hirst, ‘Africa 06: Housing the Workforce’, 2009.
23MHA, Michael Hirst, ‘Africa 06: Housing the Workforce’, 2009.
24 MHA, Michael Hirst, ‘Africa 06: Housing theWorkforce’, 2009.