Ghanaian housing design methods have evolved over time and a walk through different parts of Accra will reveal a dynamic mix of buildings that could give you a snapshot of the demands of the particular era in which they were built. Building design, like fashion, is not static but keeps evolving to suit the times. The building environment is influenced by a number of characteristics such as the materials available, building technology and many others. The Ghanaian building scene remains no different and here is how building design has changed over time.
Before the arrival of the Europeans in Ghana, the traditional Ghanaian architecture was mainly influenced by the size of the family or group in the settlement, religious beliefs as well as considerations of climate. Most pre-colonial buildings were mainly made of clay and roofed with thatch or palm branches. The buildings were designed in courtyard style. This enabled all members of a particular lineage to live within the same compound. The building design of the mud houses aimed to harness the communal culture of the people and support the establishment of the extended family system. The mud houses made sense for their coolness in the hot tropical climate and the traditional Asante building, for instance, is listed as World Heritage Property by UNESCO because of its impressiveness in terms of construction, design, cleanliness and comfort.
With the arrival of the Europeans came the introduction of new building material, technology and design to the then Gold-Coast. Buildings in the colonial area were made of cement, marble and polished wood. They had a blocky and sturdy design with open balconies, rooftop verandahs, grand staircases and arched windows. The windows were mainly made of wood with pitched roofs to adequately shed water during rains. These buildings were formidable as castles and forts and also served as living quarters for colonial masters and prisons for slaves. Schools, churches, post offices and other administrative buildings were all designed in like manner, as most local buildings begun to mimic the designs of the Europeans in the colonial era. These designs were carried through even after independence and today, some of these buildings, mainly found in coastal parts of Ghana such as Cape Coast and old Accra neighbourhoods like Osu, Asylum Down and Adabraka remain functional.
Post – Colonial Era
After colonisation, a number of Ghanaians had been westernised or, at least, received formal education. There was access to more sophisticated building material and furnishings from all across the world. The Ghanaian had also developed exotic tastes and these tastes reflected in the building designs. Buildings in the post-colonial era were less stocky than those in the colonial era. Most buildings were made out of cement blocks and roofed with corrugated iron or slate. Terrazo-decorated walls and floors were also popular during this era with windows made of glass louvre blades and rubber netting. Most people also employed designed blocks to decorate their porches and the top of their walls. These buildings were mainly detached houses occupied by a nuclear family since the extended family system was gradually fading out.
Today, economic growth and the increasing international community has greatly influenced building designs in Ghana. Modern Ghanaian buildings have distinct shapes with very clean cut lines as well as large and prominent windows. There is an emphasis on large open interior spaces and an expansive use of glass and wrought iron. Most traditional building elements like wood are usually added to improve aesthetics of the home. Contemporary buildings in Ghana are designed to take advantage of natural light and ventilation and are big on environmental friendliness and energy conservation. These buildings are usually designed by both local and international architects who can be credited with the increasing number of high rise buildings and eco-friendly developments in Accra. A popular landmark that greatly captures recent Ghanaian building trends would be the building developments in Airport City. These modern designs are not only limited to commercial property but residential property as well. There is an increasing demand for modern apartments for rent in complexes sporting amenities such as pools and gyms. Several beautifully designed homes can also be found in and around Accra’s prime neighbourhoods like East Legon and Dzorwulu.
Building in Ghana requires huge financial commitments and the trendier the building design, the greater the cost. The shift to modern building designs could either be attributed to the increasing wealth of Ghanaians or globalisation. With increasing foreign investment in the Ghanaian real estate scene, the most pertinent question that lingers on the mind of most home seekers is whether to build or to buy? Each option certainly provides merit and demerits however, it still remains that whether bought or built, these buildings are likely to take after modern building design in Ghana. Culture is truly dynamic and the evolution of our building designs can be said to be a reflection of our current knowledge, technology, finance and tastes as Ghanaians.