Lab Project

Guabuliga – Well by the Thorn Tree

In 2011, Guabuliga´s Chief Salifu Mahama Tampurie approached Baerbel Mueller, asking for a master plan for his growing village. This request initiated the first [A]FA lab with the aim of focusing on alternative, more dynamic, evolutionary strategies instead of a static master plan. 

Guabuliga: Well by the Thorn Tree started with a transdisciplinary group of six students of architecture, landscape design, and water management and environmental studies. Based on a satellite image of Guabuliga taken in 2004, studies focused on understanding the geometry of the settlement pattern and its environmental context. On-site research was carried out to investigate the status and potential of Guabuliga, with the goals of defining growth parameters, projecting growth patterns, and articulating strategies aimed towards an ecological future for the village. This project phase was based on intense collaboration with the Chief and his elders. Guabuliga’s founding myth—the ‘Well by the Thorn Tree’—served as a conceptual backbone for contextual yet novel spatial and programmatic scenarios. This environmental and infrastructural approach also seemed to be the right strategy in a (rural) context, in which the design and realization of houses and communal structures naturally lay in the hands of the users themselves.  

Parallel to the project on planning scale, each student was asked to work on a narrative mapping in which a specific ‘intensity’ of Guabuliga was identified, and translated into an artistic, documental, or scientific piece. This view from within led to valuable cultural insights,  and in the course of the lab, the potential and challenges of truly contextual, transdisciplinary, transcultural, and participatory work methods have been interrogated: How to deeply read a place and situation? How to enter a space (which is not yours)? How to relate? How to break stereotypes? How to surprise? 

 Guabuliga has been the setting for ongoing [A]FA projects since 2011 that emerged from the initial work on the Growth Plan. This includes the Guabuliga Greenbelt; the establishment of a community-led water board managing water and sanitation resources; ecological dry season farming initiatives; and most recently the New Guabuliga Market.