The African House: Debate at the DVD Launch at ARCAM
8 Dec, 2009 - ArchiAfrika
Family house along Kintampo - Tamale Road, Ghana

Immanuel Kwaku Sirron–Kakpor, born in Ghana and now student of the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam reviews a debate on the African House, held at ARCAM on 30 October 30, 2009 in Amsterdam. The review was published in the ArchiAfrika Newsletter of November 2009.
The African House – To define an African House in Diaspora or on the African continent is a big challenge since the continent wide indigenous qualities vary, which is partly due to adaptation to weather conditions. Nomadic Fulani in east of northern Upper Volta live in tents made of woven fibre mats, while in the southwest of the northern Upper Volta, the same Fulani are farmers, living in thatched houses build with mud-brick. In Ghana the linear village settlement with the main public space abonten (main street) with a two or three storey chief house (ahemfie) still exists in the countryside while in the metropolis, springing up like mushrooms, one find gated communities with modern buildings following imported architecture from the west, the new trend for the elites.

As an African, now living in Netherlands, my first encounter with homelessness and a definition of home/house was when I was at the age of 11, living with my Dad in Hohoe – Ghana.

We were living in well gated home, a family house at Hohoe, with all modern facilities possible at that time - electricity, water etc. But sometimes the tap water didn’t flow, so we did have to wake up early in the morning, sometimes around 05:00am, to fetch water outside our comfortable place called home. It was than when it came to my notice that people were sleeping on the street corners. Later in the day I asked my dad, why is it that those peopleare sleeping on the street? The answer was, they don’t have any home/place, because they don’t have a family. I was a bit confused because I didn’t understand the relationship between family and a home, but in those days as kid you didn’t ask too many questions at once.

Here I am in autumn 2009, in Amsterdam, “Europe”, walking down the street from Central Station to ARCAM to a DVD presentation of The African House, a research and debate project to enrich and power the Diaspora for future sustainable environment. And once again I am asking myself, what is the African House, does it exist or is it the “home” that my Dad spoke of which is family and socially coexistent as the core of the place and space?

The Setting – ARCAM of the European House
A very well crafted interior space at the heart of Amsterdam, which, I am sure, was not chosen for the presentation because of the interior space, but rather for the location, the political and financial position of ARCAM. If the final presentation were to be held at Bijlmermeer, I am sure 70% of those who attend the presentation will not attend the evening presentation. Because, the public space of Bijlmermeer is not felt safe for the majority of the Dutch population.

The Debate – A place called a Home
The debate has a bit more of a political tone than I aspect, which reminds me of the current Dutch integration debate.The one missing link in the current Dutch integration debate is the Diaspora Space concept. A concept, which allows both parties to take advantage of each other potential abilities, static society with rules vs fluid immigrant communities.

The general opinion was that it is very important to give space to immigrants. Not only physical space, but also opportunities to explore the abilities of the new found home. An other thing striking me personal was the statement of Ms. Ola Uduku about the myth of the return home of the elderly Africans, which is making them having a “foot in both worlds”, never feel fully at home, neither here nor in Africa. The newcomers need to be prepared better for that, immigration means losing your home a bit. Living permanently in foreign land and making that place your home.

It will always be a problematic for immigrants all over the world to adapt to their new place and call it a home, because of culture differences and financial inequality, and to allow them in negotiating their own space. On the other hand it takes two to negotiate, so if the other party is unwilling to compromise, than you can’t maneuver your way through. I have been asking myself for a while now how many immigrant technocrats there are in the building sector in Nederland. How many project developers or housing corporations are owned by immigrants, how many immigrants have top positions in these organisations, while most of the areas where the immigrants live are planned, designed and executed by those two parties.

To me an African House in Diaspora is not about a having compound housing typology somewhere in the “Achterhoek”, because the weather conditions, but also the idea of a family cluster as compound housing will not fit in the Dutch culture. Even in Ghana thisis changing. But it will be good if the African technocrats in the Diaspora have the opportunity to play a role in crafting their spaces for the masses by making use of the other non physical elements of compound housing or other aspects of the building typologies from the African continent. For example one could think of a concept based on sharing common space with different families
Immanuel Kwaku Sirron - Kakpor
Immanuel Kwaku Sirron–Kakpor is a student of the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam. Born in Ghana, he moved to the Netherlands in 1994. He studied Architectural Design BA. Recently he initiated an educational study project - Ghana Atelier - on informal settlement at Ayigya, in Kumasi, Ghana. This project was executed as collaboration between the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies - Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture. From all these institutes, 6 professor (two for each institute) 36 students (12 students per institute) were involved. Ghana Atelier was awarded the 2nd Parallel Cases Award for the contribution for this year’s Parallel Cases Exhibition, part of the 4th International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam. The jury consisted of Liesbeth van der Pol (NL), Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands, Dieter Läpple (Ger), Professor of Urban and Regional Economics at the HCU Hamburg, Emiliano Gandolfi (I), architectural critic and Floris Alkemade (NL), architect and urban planner.

Colin Duly: The Houses of Mankind: 1979
Paul Oliver: Dwellings: 2003

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