2011 Open ARchiTecture Challenge: Ghana


Goal of the challenge is to design and build units of a model arts village in Ghana with a budget of $42,000-$62,000 and earth under the feet. The competition is a part of the Foundation’s ongoing project: tapping local resources for sustainable development in the African settings in the 21st century. We are interested in design solutions that integrate art into architecture for a more sustainable future. Join us! A grand prize winner and twenty top finalists and will be chosen. Show the world how to re-invent the African semi-suburb! Establish your name, and contribute your ideas and designs to a real need.

Competition Starts: April 7, 2010.

Deadline for all Entries: November 13, 2010

Date Results will be Published: January 7, 2011

Project Location: Abetenim near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana

Contact Detail: Nka Foundation, Box Up 1115, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi,Ghana (http://www.nkafoundation.org; nkaprojects@gmail.com).


On 10 acres, with a budget of $42,000-$62,000 and earth under the feet, design+build for all of the following: Multipurpose Arts Center, Residential Courtyard that sleeps 21 persons, Community Kitchen, Courtyard for arts studios and a Recreational Sports Ground as a part of the Arts Village. The production budget of up to $62,000 includes materials, labor, and infrastructure. The challenge is that the design should be easily built from local materials and local labor at low cost, and that provides a comfortable and multi-use of space for the international arts community in a rural part of Africa. We emphasize low budget, but cannot compromise quality.


Enter the competition by first by sending JPEG* images of your conceptual drawings that you plan to develop, in order to avail the design process to all prospective users of the space for questions and contributions to resolve any production concerns. Second, send the final images, one-page CV/ Résumé, and a statement about your design proposal (includes time budget, materials and the financial component). Entries will be judged on: (1) success with the goal of the challenge, (2) practicality of design, and (3) visual/ aesthetic appeal to the degree the design explored a relationship between art and architecture. E-mail entries to nkaprojects@gmail.com, africoae5@gmail.com. For additional information go to http://www.nkafoundation.org.

*we request that your online jpeg submissions be compressed and sized for web, please make sure to keep a copy of your files in HIGH-RES!


+ $1000 cash prize

+ Full board residency to build the design on location.

+ Lavish press coverage in and out of Africa

Out of the twenty top finalists, one grand prize winner will be chosen by the judges to receive the grand prize and the highest honor of the competition. In addition to the grand prize, 2 Runners Up (Second and Third Place) will be selected to receive cash prize of $500 and $300 respectively, based on the popular vote online. All who participated in the competition from start to finish will be allowed a two-week free stay at the arts village. All submissions must be work that is original from the designer. The winners will be determined by a jury of architecture and art professionals.

The grand prize winning project must be executed between August 2011 and August 2012.


(1) Tropical Comfort (optimum natural ventilation and greenery to break the dry season)

(2) Sustainability (low cost and quality work, maximum use of local resources, etc)

(3) At least 70% single level house units

(4) A desire for standby renewable energy (solar, wind, etc)

(5) Spaces designed with artists and designers in mind (e.g. the multipurpose center for the arts that has: (1) large stage area for performing arts and conference presentations, (2) art exhibition halls, (3) toilets &1 bath, (4) offices, etc.); the Community kitchen would have a spacious eating area, cooking unit (with cob oven), pantry, office, etc.)

(6) A desire for an acoustic room as an audio recording studio

(7) Low maintenance requirements for our climate

(8) Open Source Share (The goal is to design a social space while making the design process and design documents open to all prospective users of the space for questions or suggestions to generate a more practical design for the climate. All designs and ideas will be published and shared on nkafoundation.org and we may exhibit them in gallery/ museum settings to inspire others. Others may use, improve and adapt them. For this reason, conceptual drawings, designs and presentations should be completed in a clear, reproducible manner).


The challenge is a part of our ongoing project: tapping local resources for sustainable development in the Anglophone, Lusophone and Francophone African settings. Goal of the art+architecture project is to design for a model arts village that would consist of: (1) private residential units (first phase), and (2) Communal Center (second phase). This challenge is for the second phase of the experimental project.

Our social project takes in the theoretical frame of the book, Architecture for the Poor: An Experiment in Rural Egypt by a known Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy. In it, Fathy puts forward that an informed person can, in fact, self-build durable, aesthetic and highly functional buildings without using expensive materials. In light of the challenge we ask: How does Fathy‘s theory translate to action within West Africa at the turn of the 21st century? We reckon across spaces, earth is an abundant and inexhaustible natural resource and one of humankind’s most thermally efficient and ecologically sophisticated building-capital. In indigenous cultures, earth homes are, in fact, designed and built by people (owners) using their intelligence, ability and local resources to their fullest extent.

Interestingly, the central problem the project addresses is “The Great Forgetting” of earth as resource for sustainable housing projects such as for the arts, especially in industrially developing nations of West Africa. In West Africa, from the cities to the low-income villages, earth architecture is fast giving way to modern dwellings (made of cement-blocks and corrugated zinc-roof that are expensive and thermally and acoustically problematic). Regrettably, architecture in our times has become increasingly mechanized, as are becoming some areas of the arts; yet, a quarter of the world population does not have access to adequate housing. On the fringes of environmental issues, a range of disciplines in study, research, and practice associated with building structures of earth have re-emerged in the modern era. In the last few decades, global use of rammed earth, mud brick, compressed earth, cob, and several other interesting techniques testify to the resurgence of building homes of earth.

Along these techniques, we are developing a model arts village in the Ashanti Region of Ghana for replication in other parts of Africa. The village is designed to create a relational space for creative men and women in earth architecture, earth art/ land art/ earthworks, engineering, and others to come for residency projects. From an aerial view, the site would look like a big piece of land art with many parts that entail earth architecture, and environmental sculptures and in between would be persons from different nations in cross-cultural interactions. For the locals, it will mean a resolution to the age-old problem for people of artistry- painters, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians, designers, and others who require low-cost and expanse of space in which to live and work; and for persons in the arts from around the world, it will be a contact point for artist-in-residence for community-based arts projects, cross-cultural conferences and environmental retreats in evidence-based society.

Our key objective is thus to demonstrate the use of the earth under our feet as a valid alternative to modern home building methods in Ghana and neighboring countries of the Sub-Sahara. The project’s role is a “pump-priming” one: to get best practices in contemporary earth construction adopted in a particular zone by developing an arts village and training the younger generation, regardless of gender, then to gradually withdraw and move on to other suitable areas to develop yet another arts village.

We are optimistic that through the ARchiTecture (art+architecture) project, cultural bridges and technological transfers will be accomplished.


Our Arts Village at Abetenim is in Ejisu-Juaben District in the Ashanti Region. Abetenim is off the Accra-Kumasi road in the rural community about 15 minutes from Kumasi. The district lies within Latitude 1° 15’ N and 1 ° 45’ N and Longitude 6° 15’W and 7° 00’ W; it has four urban settlements that are Ejisu, Juaben, Besease and Bonwire. Juaben about 2 miles from Abetenim, is the nearest urbanized area. Juaben has a palm oil mill that yields palm fibre-ash and a research center for our project. The Juaben Government Hospital is the major health facility around the Abetenim Traditional Area. The project acreage is along a main road. Like much of Ghana, few of the roads are tarred.

The District is in the middle of the Deciduous Rainforest zone. The relative humidity is generally high. The range is from 75-80 percent in the Rainy season and 70-72 percent in the dry season. The mean annual rainfall is between 125 cm and 180cm. Nationwide, there are two main seasons, the raining season and dry season. The raining season is from approximately April to September followed by the dry season, which starts by October with the Hamattan wind blowing from the Saharan Desert and ends in March each year.

On the acreage are fruit trees such mango trees, palm trees and an orange orchard. The rural area has an abundance of local resources suitable for the project, such as expanse of land, needed raw materials and low labor costs. Within Ejisu-Juaben District and environs are cultural sites such as Bomwire Kente Village, Ntonso Cloth Printing Village, Ahwia Carving Centre, Bobiri Forest Reserve/ Butterfly Sanctuary, and the cultural centres of the historic city of Kumasi. The construction participant may start with a study of the traditional architecture of the region. The visitors can also participate in several traditional events such as funerals, naming ceremonies, and festivals. Interestingly, Royal Akwasidae is held every six weeks at the Royal Palace of the Asante King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. In practice, there are far more local resources to tap to execute project in accordance with the disciplinary orientation and project/ idea of the individual participant.


We seek to encourage simple structures with features that optimize sustainability and can readily be applied to future designs. Sustainability encompasses diverse viable aspects of the system such as the artistic, the social and the economic, and the most beneficial solution will be the one that best balances the disparate aspects. The following is a description of the features, and is broadly split into artistic, economic and creation-research aspect, but as with sustainability, everything is interwoven and the categories are in name only.

Artistic Consideration: The competition is a design+build ARchiTecture project. By design+build we imply the person will design the structure, come to immerse in the environment for possible modifications, and with assistance from local master builders and local labor will build the structures. By ARchiTecture, we imply a combination of the best of art and architecture in the design and construction with earth and other materials from the environment. From the artist’s perspective, it may be taken as an architectonic artwork that is habitable; and from the architect’s vision it may mean an architecture that is also a monumental sculptural piece. And, the rest is open to the participant’s visualization and craftsmanship.

Economic Consideration: The cost of the Communal Center is critical to the brief, with $5,000 (U.S) allocated per unit. Water supply is by on site borehole, water tower and pipe distribution. Electricity is by public power grid. However, the design requires use of earth and other locally available materials, with the construction technique kept simple, so a focused crew of under-skilled members of the community can easily lend labor.

The most fiscal aspect may be the roofing; quality roofing is necessary. Stabilized and weather proofed earth vaults and domes, living roofs and cast earth roofs are quite alluring, and not yet proven options in the region largely because of the demands of the climate. Zinc roofing is commonplace but not a quality option. They are the cheapest of the metal roofing materials, but zinc roots emit excessively heat during the dry season, rain falls noisily on them, and they last only a few years. There have been contemporary experiments with thatch roof as resource. The most popular and pricey are the aluminum sheets. However, the roof system has to overhanging by at least three feet off the wall to provide protection from the elements.

Construction has to uncomplicated, with the truss proving the most challenging detail. Pre-made windows frames made of thick timber are available to provide reinforcement and lower the cost. The windows, doors and fittings can be those of quality purchased off the market or commissioned locally with not much difference in price if they are not too complicated. Currently cast earth by formwork, stabilized earth bricks, and cob are proposed for wall construction, but this could be rammed earth, earthship, or another if winning designer considers that preferable.

Creation-Research Consideration: We assume that a meaningful conceptual solution to the design+build problem would require some form of research on the project region. We expect that once onsite and immerse in the environment, the participant may have esthetic or practical cause to de-conceptualize a part of the offsite design. Hence, the participant and crew would start with a study tour of the traditional earth architecture in the district. We will be assisted by a local master builder. Our team will not only be looking at the mud wall structures, we will also be looking at the roofing methods. The survey will lead to conclusions about what are the best earth architecture practices in area and how they inform the planned arts village project. Using the information and the abundance of local materials, participant would think over the design in concert with local conditions.

As noted, Juaben, the nearest urbanized area to Abetenim has a palm oil mill that yields palm fibre-ash and a research institute for our project. In consultation with the research institute in the district that has established results in road construction with palm fibre-ash admixtures, we can explore possible uses for earth building and construction of pathways to link the units. The primary materials would be laterite –the red subsoil on site- which is rich in iron, and the fibre-ash. Other binder admixtures such as with straw, cement, lime from local spring, and pulp from African Cactus and other latex trees can also be explored to know what is most fitting. The stabilization process starts with the mixing of the aggregate and binder components in a concrete mixing system to get out the air bubbles and make the mix denser by aligning the molecules in the mixing process. We think that the properties of the different mixtures can be regulated by changing the proportion of different components to optimize the properties to create durable structures.

Open ARchiTecture Challenge is a project of Nka Foundation (http://www.nkafoundation.org), an artists’ cooperative with focus on the arts for human capital development. The Foundation is incorporated as a non-profit seeking company under the laws of the Republic of Ghana. One way to achieve the objectives is to draw on Western and non-Western traditions to create an international arts village in Ghana, as a starting point for an emerging network of arts villages in the Sub-Sahara. After this first competition the Foundation will continue to promote the implementation of more Open ARchiTecture Challenges, realize more designs, organize new projects and stimulate the emerging arts villages to adapt designs to the local conditions.

Come! Let’s generate choice for those who say they are economically underprivileged despite the abundance of inexhaustible local resources. Establish your name, and contribute your ideas and designs to a real need. For additional information go to http://www.nkafoundation.org.