Lab Project

Tamale Territories Research

Gordana Kranjac-Berisavljevic, Ibrahim Mahama, Selassie Atadika, Akosua Obeng

Gordana Kranjac-Berisavljevic, agricultural engineer and professor

“When you are here in Tamale, you don’t know what is town and what is village, everything is mixed. The difference between the rural and the urban is very blurred. It is all interconnected. People are moving into the emerging town environments. Ghana is becoming predominantly urban. The fact is that people live in urban environments, everywhere. The population concentration is in the urban area, where people come to town and stay. They often work informally and still want to live their life like in the villages. They also want to eat the same things which they have eaten in the villages. This creates diversity, cultural exchanges, but at the same time promotes imbalances and instability.” “In Tamale, we have a lot of land tenure issues. Everybody is just scrambling for land. People don’t like to live in multi-story houses, they live in individual houses. That puts pressure on the land and people live in the areas which are not really suitable for building, such as the drainage zones, the downstream area of the dam or the flooding stretches. Tamale is situated in  a relatively flat area, there is a lot of rain in the rainy season and some localities are quickly flooded. But the people still live there because of the problems that they have to face in possible relocation and in finding suitable place. The land in Tamale always belongs to somebody, normally to the local chief and he will sell even the lands not meant for construction. The government agencies have a supervisory role. They say ‘don’t build in the drainage canal’ but if the owners want to sell it, they will go ahead. Because of the land pressure, food production within the town boundaries is reducing, thus compounding the problems of poorer city dwellers.”

Ibrahim Mahama, artist

“In the silo here down in Tamale, Nkrumah Voli, you find the bats and the snails and all those living things. And we have to consciously make a decision. And how to leave these living things to be within the space as you use the space. People say, oh you can just use gas and kill them. Let’s just get rid of them and have the space. But what if you can coexist with them? Because they are witnesses within the space already. They live there. So if you could intelligently create some kind of a system that would allow them to be there so that we will be sensitive to it in a way that we create experiential things within the space. It is a very different thing because now the sensibilities become very different. For me those two things are important: The living things as they are in terms of life and breath and everything. And the living things in terms of inanimate objects that are there and allow us to confront history, time or spatial politics in a very different way in which we have to consciously be able to connect and intervene within them instead of destroying them. You have to go outside of what you do as an artist or architect in order to make that choice. We are never really ready to go beyond traditional thinking.”

Selassie Atadika, chef

“When we talk about food, the beginning is agriculture. It allowed us to settle and create communities. You realize that when you work at a community level you will not throw things away. This element is going to this place, this part is going to be eaten by humans, this part is going to be eaten by animals, and this is another by-product… Everything is used for something else. At the base of every traditional food culture there is no waste, you will use every part. We share food, we always invite people. That is just part of our culture.”…“Rice is a labor-intensive crop. It needs a lot of effort and energy. So traditionally, we decided to use it for special occasions and not every day. Now in Accra people eat rice twice a day due to convenience and the low cost of imported rice. We aren’t factoring in the effect it has on local rice farmers or producers in general.  We aren’t looking at issues of bio-diversity. We need to respect rice. We need to give it the value that it deserves.”…“My philosophy around food has been trying to give culture, community and cuisine a chance to intersect with sustainability, economy and the environment. In terms of design, these elements are all connected when I am creating a dish. Sometimes the seasonality is the ingredient what I start with. I look at the story I want to tell about that ingredient. I play with culture. Some of my dishes are shared in the tradition of communal dining. So how will the dish be shared on the table? I try to bring in the environment by understanding what other elements we are putting on that plate. Looking at the sustainability of that ingredient but also the economy it stimulates. Is it locally produced?”

Akosua Obeng, architect

“Currently, the perception of locally-sourced materials (e.g. earth, wood) in Ghana is not very positive. People associate locally sourced materials especially natural materials with the past and with rural settings.  As a result as their income increases and they get ready to build they look to foreign “modern” imported manufactured materials as being better and more forward looking than local and natural materials. Consequently, when Architects propose local and natural materials to clients, they usually have a negative view of the proposal.  As architects, we address this negative perception by using local and natural materials in aspirational buildings and also by designing “show” buildings where we are the Client. By using both timber and rammed earth in Tesano lofts, we think we have successfully demonstrated that local material are neither backward nor inferior but can be modern, aspirational and iconic.”“The application of natural materials in the built environment is a great way to create an identity through architecture. It connects us to the past and at the same time we have the opportunity to make a new story with ancient materials that fits into the modern era.”