I, like many others, am often dazzled by the brilliance of the great starchitects, and I cannot help but feel a deep pride when I see David Adjaye’s name in the headlines as he wins yet another competition.
I live in Ghana and although I’m bombarded left, right and centre with various versions of the “Africa Rising” narrative, I cannot ignore that the majority of people in my city Accra, do not live in the best conditions. Yes there is a growing middle class – we keep being told this – but what exactly the financial power of this middle class is, we are yet to find out. Now I know the city conditions intimately because I’m a city girl, but travelling frequently to Kumasi and Cape Coast shows me that it is not much different in the more rural communities. We need architects who recognise where they are from and realise that doing flashy new headquarters for big multinational companies does not reflect easily on the living conditions of the people who make up the majority of our various populations.
Am I suggesting that all architects devote themselves to charity, forgoing the millions they dreamt of making in architecture school? No, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Francis Kere, a man my friends must be tired of hearing me rave about. I call him the perfect modern-day Robin Hood without the unfortunate propensity for committing crime. He has his firm, and yes he does the big projects, and yet he remembers who he is and where he is from so he does non-profit projects too. He uses his influence and financial power gained from doing starchitecture to uplift the lives of ordinary people in Gando through beautiful architecture.
We need more architects like Francis Kere in Africa. I say you can do it, and Francis shows how you can.