AFRICA - Building a Library and Community in Ghana

By Marcia Faye With Colleen Humer
Adjunct Assistant Professor IIT College of Architecture
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Ghanaian students using the library/study space constructed through
an IIT College of Architecture design/build project
Photo: Frank Flury

The rural village of Twifo Hemang, Ghana, was home this summer to a group of IIT College of Architecture students and alumni, who, under the leadership of Associate Professor Frank Flury, built a library/study space for secondary school students.

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East elevation showing the volumes of the building
Photo: Frank Flury

The two-semester design/build project, completed in July, came to fruition through a suggestion made by Ghana native Teddy Mensah (ARCH ’13), who had worked with Flury on an earlier design/build project.

“I believed that this project would bring different communities together to take on a common issue,” says Mensah, noting that design/build projects offer students the opportunity to understand team building and problem solving in real-world situations. “The idea that it came true gives me hope. It shows how people can commit to a cause and how strong that force is.”

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Ghanaian students
Photo: Frank Flury

The IIT students became acquainted with many members of the Twifo Hemang community—from the children, who teased them each day, to Chief Otumfuo Amoa Sasraku III, who made the erection of the building possible.

“By living in a small community for two months, we got to understand the culture,” says Penelope Phylactopoulos (ARCH ’13). “The locals made us feel welcome, like Johnathan, who worked at the corner market and would always find a way to show his appreciation for the project, which was very motivational.”

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Detail of the custom-made screen blocks allowing cross-ventilation
Photo: Frank Flury

One unique aspect of the Ghana design/build project was that the library building was made entirely with hand tools; the students ripped boards using handsaws and even mixed concrete manually. They also built furniture and shelves with the help of faculty member John Kriegshauser, who runs the college’s shop program. In their first year of study, IIT students begin the process of learning to use tools; by the fourth and fifth years, some, like the 16 students in Ghana, build a complete building.

The library building—one enclosed room attached to a covered outdoor space—is concrete with an outer wall of custom-made blocks featuring a leaf pattern. Not just decorative, the perforated skin allows for ventilation of the building while also giving the structure its notable character.

Fifth-year architecture student Oluropo Sanni admitted that while he had never worked so hard in his life—10 hours a day at six days a week of manual labor—the team’s work on the project was worth the effort.

“It not only gave us field experience but also allowed us to make an impact in the lives of the local community,” he says.

Mensah and Flury are hoping to erect a second building in another village during summer 2014.

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IIT architectural students building formwork
Photo: Frank Flury
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