Tema Manhean - INTI - International New Town Institute

Tema Manhean
Article by Michelle Provoost

In 1952, a year after Kwame Nkrumah became the first Prime Minister of what was then the British colony of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), the decision was made to build a brandnew harbour as part of the ambitious Volta River Project. [1] For the relocation of Tema, a small fishing village that stood in the way of the new development, the English office of Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew and Denys Lasdun was engaged.

Although there was a plan for a whole new city to be built on the site of the demolished village, it was decided not to incorporate the villagers in this new city. Instead, a separate settlement was designed (Tema Manhean) so that the villagers could keep their own identity while still improving their living environment. This decision caused a serious dilemma: because of its authenticity the tribe was condemned to remain an enclave of traditional living, while next door in the new Tema modern progress unfolded in all its attractiveness.

Fry and Drew developed a social and participatory hands-on approach, working in cooperation with the African chiefs. In Old Tema, they started mapping the existing fishing village spatially and socially, and examined the cultural traditions and the social structure. The process initiated for the resettlement of the villagers was remarkable, since it involved participation of the residents to a degree uncommon at that time, even in Europe. The main problems the architects encountered had to do with the power structure within the village and conflicting interests of residents, as well as discussions about identity, respect, individual versus collective interests, social structure and last but not least, money. It took seven years and some bulldozers to convince the whole community to move.

After an initial plan, which was rejected by the villagers, Fry and Drew designed the new village based on the hierarchical organization model of an English New Town. It consisted of four neighbourhoods and one central area; functions were zoned. All the institutions of the ‘modern welfare state’ were placed in the centre: the schools, shops and a marketplace, as well as the chief’s palace and a fish smoking area. The houses were designed to accommodate traditional compound-style living with extended families. Their layout was flexible, so families could enlarge the number of rooms themselves. The houses consisted of a series of repeating standard types of circular, rectangular, diamond and star shaped compounds. A sanitary block with toilets, centrally located in the neighbourhood, was shared by two or three compounds (160-600 people). The original design of the houses, of which a prototype had been built, contained a flat roof. Since the villagers deemed this to be ‘only fit for pigeons’ and not dignified enough, the design was changed into pitched roofs.

Keith Jopp, Tema. Ghana’s new town and harbour (Accra: Ministry of Information, 1961), p.43

While improving the basic conditions of water supply, washing, cooking, storage, latrines and hygiene, Fry and Drew also respected the traditional family structures and dwelling habits by including social elements like the veranda. In vain they tried to maintain the indigenous building traditions; the houses were constructed in sandcrete blocks and corrugated steel roofs. However sensitive, the rather formal design of the village was not suited to all Ghanaian habits: for instance, the running of a small shop out of one’s home. Fry and Drew basically designed four living quarters, but local culture could not be denied: small shops popped up everywhere, right from the start. The inhabitants were also disappointed by their ‘authentic’ living – the houses in Tema Manhean were just as expensive as those built in Tema, but as in traditional African villages, they lacked electricity and in-house bathrooms and running water.

By now, Fry and Drew’s creation has become a slum. The choice to respect Tema village as an autonomous entity to safeguard the identity of the villagers has made the area into a ghetto: living circumstances are worse, housing and amenities are cheaper and less attractive than in Tema. The original houses are hardly recognizable between the many extensions and ‘illegal’ buildings erected between, above and around them. It is a poor, polluted area, surrounded by industry, that looks longingly at its next-door neighbour Tema, where everything seems better and more hopeful.


[1The Volta River Project included the building of an aluminium smelter in Tema, a huge dam in the Volta River (now: Akosombodam) and a network of power lines installed throughout southern Ghana.

Originally published in: DASH #12-13 – Global Housing. Affordable Dwellings for Growing Cities, 2015




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