Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RE: Doxiadis

So... I'm doing my GSD MArch thesis on Tema, Ghana: I will consider urban redevelopment strategies for the city of Tema, Ghana--under the contemporary conditions of globalization, international aid and development policy, and the continued relevance of neocolonialism and Pan-Africanism. Tema is a planned city that was built as Ghana achieved independence in 1957 (the first in Sub-Saharan Africa), and was an icon for modernization on the continent: Construction of Tema was linked to construction of an artificial harbor at Tema, and the Akosombo Dam, which created the largest man-made lake prior to China's Three Gorges project. Tema is an industrial city which supports the 18 km-distant capital, Accra.

Doxiadis Associates
designed the master plan of Tema for an eventual population of 250,000, and Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew designed the master plan for Tema Newtown, the relocated fishing village that originally occupied the site of today's Tema port. Today Tema is fully built-out with a population of over 250,000; it has effectively jumpstarted all industry in the country and is now a major industrial and transportation hub in West Africa. Simultaneously, Tema Newtown has become one of the largest slums in Ghana, with a population of perhaps 100,000. The Fry-Drew plan was never fully realized, and the formal Doxiadis prescription for the formal city dissolves at the edges. The symbiotic relationship between the formal modernist planned city (Tema) and the self-build construction and irregular zoning (Tema Newtown) that emerges within a single city--Tema is now a suburb of pre/colonial-era Accra--is the point of departure for my thesis work.

Reading Michelle Provoost's text, New towns on the Cold War frontier, made me think deeply...why is that we (i.e. students/schools of architecture, planning and urban design in the U.S.) never mention Doxiadis, when he built dozens of new cities--more than anyone in the history of the world--but instead talk non-stop about Le Corbusier, Sert, etc. Why this warped history? It is totally not helpful for those of us who are enduring design education in the West for the express purpose of returning to re-think urban design in the global South.

I know about Doxiadis mainly because my Bucky Fuller-era undergrad advisor Arthur Loeb introduced me...but why the total absence from design history in the U.S. when Doxiadis overwhelmingly defined the global standard for urban development in the Third World, in large part due to his strategic relationships with the UN, USAID, Ford Foundation, CIA, etc!?!?

Doxiadis--again referencing Provoost--built modern cities in "Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, and the US"...how much more could this piece of architectural and planning history overlap with contemporary global politics!?

Reading this take on history, I also realize the inherent difficulty in my approach to (conceptualizing) redevelopment in Tema. On one hand, I hope to contribute to the critique of the neo-colonialist imposition of the Fordist city via the nexus of Western "international aid"; on the other, given my education in the U.S., I generally agree with contemporary trends in international development policy, such as the focus on clustered micro-enterprise, performance-based evaluation metrics and macroeconomic stabilization. Perhaps the glimmer of hope is my total allegiance to the idea that until the total (economic) liberation of Africa the entire 20th century is for naught.

Since *no one* teaches/talks about this history, how do we generate truly informed critique of the full picture of Western imperialism in the Third World over the past 60 years...how do we move forward most strategically?


nandoh said...

This is a truly ambitious project and very much needed. Urban development in places such as Ghana is a two-fold issue, a social issue and an infrastructure issue.

The social issue deals with accountability, and the infrastructure issue deal with the actual master plan of a community.

Social issue: when no one is held accountable for anything, things go to waste. There're no zoning laws, no one pays taxes, if you get stopped for speeding, where do they send the ticket? There's literally no way to track people and hold them accountable.

Ifrastructure: the same roads which existed to serve 20 buildings now serve 200 buildings. No new roads are being built, and/ or new roads are not being paved. The entire country and sprawling out with no vision. The economy is booming and new things are being built, but there're no codes to direct people on where to build, or how to build. Essentially, there're no standards for people to follow.

So where do you put your oar in the water? Tema is a good start. A good thesis would be coming up with a great idea and a master plan and phasing it out so that it becomes a practical idea. A great thesis would be how to make the beautiful place you create a place that people can sustain.

Places are not great by themselves, places become great because people love them, and when you love something, you do all in your power to sustain it, and that is the only way African cities can be developed. We have to create environments that we can love and be held accountable for.

Anyway, these are my humble opinions. If there's anything I can do to help, or if you have any specific questions, don't hesitate to contact be either through my blog http://african-architecture.blogspot.com/ or my website http://nandoh.com/. Good luck.

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