Playtime in Africa: a mission for safe and verdant urban recreation

Playtime in Africa: a mission for safe and verdant urban recreation

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Dec 04, 2012
  • comments

"The median age in Ghana is 21; 40% of the country is under 15." The Mmofra Foundation can readily count off the reasons why creating urban play spaces is so important. The country is rapidly urbanizing, and there are no public spaces for children outside of school grounds. There is no culture of public green space utilization in Accra – whose metropolitan area is home to 2 million people.

"As a result, children create their own play spaces, often in unsafe or unsuitable environments," Mmofra states. What's more, Ghana's education system is based on rote-memorization, leaving "few opportunities for imagination and creativity."

Mmofra's aim is no smaller than changing the paradigm of public space in Ghana.

Last summer the organization invited local and international experts to convene in Accra and charrette a park for the Dzorwulu neighborhood that would become a foundation for recreational reform. Two of our veteran design fellows joined the discussion.

For the uninitiated, a charrette is an intensive design and planning process which brings together people from different backgrounds to explore ideas for a particular site. Ken Smith and Stacey McMahan were perfectly familiar with this concept, and brought their informed perspective to the project.

"The mission of the park and library is to create a place for the holistic cultural development of children. The park and architectural elements need to work in harmony to create a memorable experience," the design brief declares.

"Architecture can be designed to passively teach children and adults about their past, about Nature and appropriate ways to interact with it through the built environment."

Design Considerations

  • Culture and community in construction. Materials complement graphic patterns and colors. Buildings imbue the building of relationships, goodwill and personal development.
  • Materials and finishes. Pressed stones, tile mosaics, wood carvings, paint and woven fabrics...

  • Reused materials. Impart the value of resources and creativity.
  • Design with climate. Turn a building's long side into the breeze, arrange doors and screens against storms, and try to keep out the pests.

  • Flooring level and foundation. An especial consideration, given the "unpredictable nature of Accra urban development and storm events."
  • Roofing. Adopt available thatch or metal - or better yet, a hybrid.
  • Toilets. High water table prohibits use of septic, all the more reason to use composting models.
  • Rainwater harvesting. For drinking, irrigation and kitchen, considerations include filtration, treatment, storage, pumping and capacity calculations (there's a spreadsheet for that).

Download the full Abstract for Ghanaian Design and Sustainable Strategies (PDF, 348K).

The Charrette

Three days of discussions amongst breakout groups married sustainable & cultural design considerations with Mmofra's broader mission.

Their 2 acre site in Dzorwulu has long been maintained by as a "green urban oasis" that hosts a market garden that is to fit into the playground scheme.

Site demarcation

View of Mmofra site

Day 2 of conversations

Day 2: PrioritizingGroup 2 presents priorities

More charrette images on the Mmofra Foundation Facebook page

Concepts applied to site

Concept plan

At the end of the workshop, Mmofra had a developed design scheme they are advancing to a master plan. We're keeping in touch to see how the project goes - currently Mmofra is looking for volunteers for implementation.

Download the Final Vision Document (PDF, 6.7 Mb).

A note on the document by Ken Smith:
"The navigation identification to each future key program element (such as passive areas for socialization) has one or two corresponding 50-year-old Willis Bell images form the original "Playtime in Africa" book written in 1962 by the Mmofra founder, who is also the mother of the 3 primary leaders of the park initiative Stacey and I worked on. Each program element slide has a forward-looking modern inspirational image to communicate with the community and funders (informing them the park will be modern but based on old play principles)."

Images by Stacey McMahan, Ken Smith, Sharon Benzoni and the Mmofra Foundation