Progress Report

INTERNATIONAL PROJECT RESIDENCY: Call For Arts & Design Professionals in Ghana

Mail AttachmentGhana: Nka Foundation announces a call for project submissions from designers, architects, artists, and schools for its International Project Residency for a concentrated period of time from 1 to 6 months. In rural Ghana, the foundation runs Sang and Abetenim Arts Village, which are living learning centers that invite persons from around the world to immerse in local culture and put their practice to the test through projects in the arts and rural architecture. Vacationers, student interns, recent graduates and professionals are all welcome to our arts village.

Our village provides a unique opportunity for students to learn by doing on our current project or use their initiative to propose and complete own project to translate theories learnt in classrooms to practice. For the professionals, you will find the hands-on project and full-on experience with local culture a pause from your office/studio work to rediscover the rudiments of design and artistic nuances that can refresh your practice.

Individuals and project teams interested in participating in the program should e-mail to / for application. No application fee required. Inquiries for organizational and education partnerships are welcome. See our photostream on Flickr:, and


Progress Report 10X10  SHELTER CHALLENGE

(How to Reinvent Vernacular African Mud Hut)

The design-build team of Karolina and Wayne of Atelier Switzer has completed a 10×10 Shelter Challenge at Abetenim Arts Village in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.The 10×10 Shelter Challenge is a hands-on, design experience focused on learning-by-doing in African architecture that is run by Nka Foundation till October 2013.The challenge is to design and build a learning shelter that measures 10 feet by 10 feet in a location outside of the Western culture, most precisely deep in the village in Ghana, where the convenience of development has not reached.  The goal of the shelter is to suggest a relationship between art and architecture by maximum use of local materials.

Karolina and Wayne of Atelier Switzer are both architects with about 8 years of experience in Europe and the United States.They, along with 5 builders, had 6 weeks to conduct the site analysis, design and construct their proposal which consisted of a pavilion that made use of corrugated zinc roofing over rammed earthen walls.  Here are photos from the just concluded project stay at Abetenim from September 7 to October 17, 2012.

Here is one of their progress reports from the site:

“…We are happy to report that construction is underway on the workshop and that the team here is working well together to make this project a collaborative one.  The first few days were spent observing the local earth-building methods and the condition of these structures- including the projects of past Abetenim Arts Village residents.We finally settled on constructing a rammed earthen building which would feature in essence two rooms: an “indoor” room and “outdoor area” for conducting classes- both of which would be sheltered beneath a large shed roof.Our site is a clearing adjacent to a sprawling mango tree, and visible from the road leading into the Arts Village.

Several reasons led us to pursue the rammed earth construction method.  Practically speaking, the local soil is an ideal mix of sand, clay and gravel, as well as being readily available.  The method of formwork and casting the earth is also a skill that is easily learned by almost any builder.  With a proper foundation and roof overhang, the earthen walls should prove to be very durable and serve as an example for the village that an earthen building can be both contemporary and withstand the natural elements over time.  Finally, we were inspired by the daily sight of residents using a large pole to pound fufu (the cassava diet staple).  This pounding is exactly the same method used to ram the fresh soil into the forms… which has led to our project being dubbed â€œobruni fufu” (white man’s fufu) by the local builders.”

Project Details:
Gross Area: 140 sf
Total Area (footprint): 496 sf
Project Cost: 6,500 Cedi (equivalent $3,500 USD)
Construction Duration: 5 weeks

The rural design-build challenge proffers a change in the way the young creative practitioners think about their work in our interconnected world.  As the participant, your ability to generate a locally responsive design concept is only one aspect of the site-based design challenge.  Unless your team is many in number, you must find a way to engage the community throughout the construction process.

One of the primary challenges you will face is to effectively communicate your idea to the community. Keep in mind that this is a multi-faceted obstacle, for instance:

  1. Unless you speak the local dialect of Twi, you will be dependant upon the community coordinator to interpret your intentions. This can be taxing for both the designer and the coordinator.  Local builders also have little to no experience with drawings.  You should plan in advance how best to illustrate your project to enable the local builders bring their gifts to the project. Simply stated, learning to deal well with the cultural and linguistic differences will turn what seems a difficult task into a most rewarding experience for everyone.
  2. There is a stigma associated with mud architecture, and the community is likely to resist any attempt to utilize it.  The sentiment is that mud buildings are only for the very poor and impoverished. However, their belief is not ungrounded. The local community has many examples of cob constructions which have eroded over time due to poor construction and water damage.
  3. As in most developing areas, the people of Abetenim will likely prioritize earning a daily wage over volunteering for you project. Your challenge will be to negotiate a wage that is fair to everyone involved, at the same time encouraging the community to view this project as one beneficial for themselves.  Expectations for typical wage rates can vary greatly depending on the person involved.

The Abetenim project site is a rural flat land.  The top soil is red earth mixed with gravel that is right for cob construction or the rammed earth method.  The nearby forests provide lumber for house roofing for a population of about 500 peasant farmers, small scale traders and craft persons.  The site-based 10×10 Shelter Challenge is open to all students and graduates of design, architecture, art, engineering and school teams interested in rural projects in Africa. For the local community, the realized space, as the design team of Karolina and Wayne of Atelier Switzer puts it, thus serves as an “example for the village that an earthen building can be both contemporary and withstand the natural elements over time”.  For students, the design-build challenge is a unique opportunity to learn hands-on the intricacies of working with vernacular constraints of economy, material and social dimensions in a real-life project aiming to sustain social harmony through art and architecture.  In the process, the student will to learn to design what is build-able to make a well rounded graduate.  For the professionals, you will find the hands-on design and construction experience a pause from your office work stress to rediscover the rudiments of architecture and nuances that can refresh your practice.

The 10×10 Shelter Challenge will run till October 2013 involving the following sessions: February 10-March 10, 2013; May 1-30, 2013; July 7-August 7, 2013; and October 3-31, 2013. Join us!  Show the world how to re-invent the vernacular African mud hut!  See press release on the 10×10 Shelter Challenge at and Enquiries  /