Past an A-Board that reads ‘Accra Redefined’ and up the wooden stairs of an old, somewhat ramshackle 1915 building in Usshertown, two buildings down from the Fort, is a space that is quietly changing lives. At the top of the stairs, the cooling breeze blows through the many wide open windows around the one-roomed gallery. Through the rear window, the Gulf of Guinea, blue and sparkling, darkens to azure on the horizon. Fishing boats bob in the water, a reminder of the industry that still powers the oldest part of Accra. Inside, an exhibition researched by historian Nat Amarteifio, charts the 450-year history of Jamestown: the slave forts, the heady late 1800s alive with department stores and music clubs, the decline of the area starting in the 1920s as the port moved east, the war, independence, and the challenges of 21st century West Africa… it’s a compelling story and one lived out by the residents today in Jamestown.
So what exactly is ArchiAfrika Design & Architecture Gallery? Its genesis was a dream, a philosophy, an idea of how design and architecture, if intelligently implemented, can make a real and lasting impression on the world, on a city, on a neighbourhood. Its chief patron and the driving force is architect Joe Addo who has worked across the world, including a 16-year spell in Los Angeles.
“I got involved with the advocacy of architecture; how we use architecture to get involved with the local community. There was very little discourse about this and I wanted to start a creative platform for it. ArchiAfrika’s Adventures in the Diaspora discussion series was the result, which then led to the ArchiAfrika Gallery.”
The explicit goal is to: “promote design strategies developed within the continent which address the challenges of our future and engage the next generation of professionals in this critical dialogue.”
The ‘mothership’ is this Jamestown gallery, and it is here the work has begun in earnest. In the past year or so, the project has seen the gallery built and a series of three-month long exhibitions, a screening of an animated film onto the walls of Ussher Fort, and one memorable event in dilapidated building next door, known as the Old Kingsway Building, where films were screened, a hiphop concert held and talks about the history of Jamestown. “The community came out to learn about their history,” Joe says. “It shows that the power of design must be harnessed for public spaces.”
And the plans of the area are continuing at pace. A café is now open across the road, and a green garden park with a ‘Solarkiosk’ has been built right next to the gallery. It will bring visitors and tourists to the area to spend money with local vendors, but also provide a focal point for the community.
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