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Development Visions in Ghana: From Design Schools and Building Research to Tema New Town

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2022

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This article investigates a series of development strategies pursued in Ghana from the mid-1940s under British colonial rule to the early independence period of the 1960s, seeking to understand how the pace and location of development affected the wider built fabric and especially housing production. While two contrasting visions emerge — of rural extractive agriculture versus industrial urban manufacturing — the impact of these endeavours was most strongly felt in the accompanying housing developments. Attempts to create a new artisan school capable of manufacturing building materials, and a laboratory tasked with developing new local building materials, sought to preserve a mainly rural-based population and lifestyle while reducing costs and making dwellings more durable. However, with advancing industrialisation and rapidly expanding urban centres, efforts to accommodate this change with revised urban boundaries and new construction standards failed adequately to address the housing issues and revealed fundamental problems in the governance of newly urbanising and suburban settlements. Could the solution be to ’start again’, to build a new town without the difficulties of the past? This was the approach of the elected nationalist government that commissioned the new town of Tema, east of the capital Accra. As one of the grand projects of the then prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, Tema has been the focus of much scholarly attention, but a new source has recently come to light that changes understanding of the project. The notebooks kept by Michael Hirst, one of those charged with its design and realisation, show how Tema became an unwitting design school with its own series of trials and tests performed by a team of newly qualified architects. It was not only a political new beginning, but also an experimental attempt to create a new urban environment built on the promise of an industrialised future.

Research Article
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2022