The University Record, July 1, 2002

Students sample architecture abroad

By Dana Ondrei Fair
News and Information Services

Simeon Anderson (right) discusses his Ghanaian architectural rendering titled ‘A Millennium Lab’ with Michael Kennedy, architect at Lindhout Associates, Inc. and president of the American Institute of Architects, Huron Valley Chapter. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)
The Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP) regularly sponsors study abroad programs that allow students to spend time observing and visually tasting the architecture of foreign lands. In some cases, as is true with the current Ghana, West Africa project, students get to try their hands at designing a building that possibly might be constructed.

Programs and studios are offered in India, Italy, the Czech Republic, Holland and Ghana. TCAUP also partners with and has faculty exchanges involving architecture schools and colleges in South Africa, Korea and Thailand. An essential part of the college’s course offerings, the international studios grant U-M students the prospect of visiting other countries and gaining access to facilities, groups and individuals that otherwise might be closed to them.

This spring, TCAUP Prof. James Chaffers, and nine undergraduate and graduate students flew to the West African city of Kumasi, Ghana. Organized as a collaborative effort with faculty and students from the Department of Architecture at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, and anthropology faculty from the University of Ghana in Accra, the Ghana Studio is one of the newest additions to TCAUP’s international studies program.

In preparation for creating their proposed architectural designs, students went on tours and learned about Ghanaian culture. Focusing on three primary life themes in Ghanaian society—ritual, space and symbolism—the students developed design concepts incorporating the complex African vernacular of spiritual and environmental well-being.

“My collaborative design experiences in the U.S. and abroad continually reinforce what I have come to understand as a fundamental principle guiding the practice of architecture,” says Chaffers. “Designing is first and foremost the act of addressing individual human aspiration and, as such, is fundamentally future-oriented and spiritual.”

The students’ design challenge consisted of a picturesque, tree-lined vista on the Kwame Nkrumah University campus. The desired multi-purpose facility they designed would link the Grand Plaza, the Great Hall and the Queen’s Library, forming the base of a green square (similar to the U-M diag) in which various sports, ceremonies and outdoor activities could be held.

Inside the building, university students, faculty and administrators would utilize the facility’s various amenities: podium spaces for public greeting and ceremonial review; exhibition gallery with sales shop; Internet cafe; 40-seat lecture hall with digital theater; digital simulation lab; demonstration lab; machine shop; GIS/computer station; studio space; dining hall; conference and presentation space; private quarters; and a suite of craft stations for kente weaving, adinkra cloth-stamping, wood carving, and wax-fired metal casting. Visiting scientist-scholars, business entrepreneurs-in-residence, village chiefs-in-residence, craft masters-in-residence, international and Pan-Africanist students-in-residence, and daily visitors would take advantage of the facility’s offerings as well.

After spending nearly three weeks in Ghana, Chaffers and the TCAUP students—Simeon Anderson, Johns Beeson, Jennifer Brzezinski, Michael Dempsey, Kristen Harris, Scott Keck, Jennifer Maigret, Amanda Olczak and Benjamin Yonce—returned to the U.S. to further develop concepts and to assemble three dimensional architectural models as part of their studio project. Once complete, the designs were reviewed and critiqued by local architects and TCAUP alumni.

According to Chaffers, Kwame Nkrumah University administrators could select one of the architectural designs for inclusion in the Ghanaian university’s landscape. The students creating the selected design would have the rare opportunity of being involved in the facility’s development and construction. Although Chaffers says this scenario is a long shot, Kwame Nkrumah administrators are eager to view and consider the proposed designs.