It is always an exciting event at Chalewote during the two days of the festival but for us at MESHLabs, the real excitement is on the buildup to the festival, the two weeks leading up to it where we get to engage with the community in preparation towards the festival. This year’s festival was our second [a collaboration between Hassan Salih of MESHGhana, Victoria Okoye of africanurbanism.net and Joseph Ayitio, a planner] even though this was the fourth edition and just as in the 2013 edition we could not pass on the opportunity to participate. The festival was themed “Death: An Eternal Journey Into Limitless Rebirth” and so we decided to make two installations that evokes the theme. Our participation was in two folds. We set off by asking ourselves the question, how can we bring new life to James Town’s sidewalks, open areas and community spaces?
Firstly in order to engage with the community we decided to demonstrate how used car tires (death) could be re-purposed or reused into creating street furniture (rebirth). The larger aim of this was to not just satisfy the theme of the festival, but to encourage the idea of adding value to what would otherwise be considered as waste and how this concept can be used in rethinking public space. This was very exciting and very educative for us as well considering it was our first time doing this. We set out to make six seats but it turned out it was not as easy as we had imagined especially for beginners. In the end, we managed to make two seats and a table which we we donated to public use at the Otublohun square. Not too bad for first timers, right? Check us out at work and engaging with the local community and tell us what you think about our finished products.
The second part of our participation was the redesign of the park between the James Fort on the East and the Lighthouse to the west. This piece of land, according to the locals was once a memorial dedicated to Ghanaian soldiers who fought and died during the Second World War but years upon years of neglect has left it in a derelict state with the only evidence of its former status being a tower and a broken fountain. This present state, which can be considered as ‘Death’, is also symbolic of the state of James Town as well as Ussher Town alike considering that in their heyday, these defined the true origins of the modern city of Accra, contrary to the present state of neglect. We Started with community conversations, idea brainstorming and ended up with urban design-infused ideas re-visioning a ‘Rebirth’ of the memorial park, in an installation titled, Redesign=Rebirth.
During the buildup to the festival, we engaged members of the community especially those living and actively using the space in discussions to get a sense of what design interventions would be compatible with the existing uses. We found that the caretaker was using it as a small subsistence garden and that people normally just sat there at the foot of the memorial tower from time to time for leisure, or to wait for ‘trotro’ since the bus stop lay-by has no bus shelter for waiting passengers. These as well as our own ideas as architects and planners informed our design decisions to reinforce present uses i.e sitting and waiting, by adding bus shelters and street furniture, and a fenced urban garden with curved long bench seating area carved within. We also introduced new uses to foster sense of community such gaming areas (table tennis and pool tables) while also creating a viewing deck (for viewing the ocean) which also doubles as a roof over the roofless public bathhouse right behind and beneath the park, and also creating potential space for retail.
Response from festival
The response we received was overwhelmingly positive with locals especially. Many of them at first glance thought it was an actual project coming soon and couldn’t wait to see it happen. Even when we told them it was just an idea for now, many of them encouraged us to take steps to make it a reality with some even offering to take us to see the chiefs and city authorities themselves. Some locals upon seeing the design would go calling others to come have a look. For some reason, hardly any one of the locals we spoke to had anything negative to say about our designs. It could be that, some might have had their misgivings but kept them to themselves in an attempt not to ‘offend’ or maybe they were just probably blinded by what was quite impressive to them.
On the other hand, we got quite varied opinions from visitors from elsewhere in Ghana and abroad alike. The general disposition was that of admiration for the effort and the design with hints of skepticism to its actual implementation and suitability for the ‘Local people’. One tourist remarked that “this looks like somewhere in California” and was not sure if it would work in a place like James Town. Another foreign architect was not very much impressed with the visuals by themselves and was more concerned with whether the process of designing had involved the members of the community and whether the culture of the people was considered in the design process, to both of which our answer was in the affirmative. Two key personalities whom we had a chance to speak with were Kweku Sintim Misa (KSM), the King of Ghanaian Satire, and Joe Osae Addo, an internationally renowned Ghanian Architect, both of whom were extremely impressed with the effort and the design and were very interested in the ‘What next?’ question.
Overall, we had an awesome experience and we would like to express our gratitude to the organizers of such a wonderful revolutionary festival (ACCRA[dot]ALT), for giving us the opportunity, Ato Annan of FCA Ghana for support with the design and machinery, to all those who supported us in one way or the other and to everyone who came through to check out our installations and giving us feed back.
Next step is to refine our ideas based on the feedback we got from all of you guys and to take steps towards possible implementation. Any support we can get from this point would be very much appreciated. We especially love feedback so you can support us by sharing our story and leaving some feedback in comments below. Cheers!