Apr 162010

Porches and a Courtyard at Kokrobitey Institute

Renée Neblett, founder of the Kokrobitey Institute in Ghana, has asked me to come and lead some furniture design and architecture seminars.  It’s as stimulating a prospect as I can imagine anything could be.

When she was planning the Institute with the help of architect Alero Olympio, according to Ruti Talmor, Renée realized “in the most fundamental way, that building the site was not just about the nuts and bolts – it was as spiritual as it was physical.”  She said that she wanted the buildings, and the school that they housed, “to look like they belong to Africa”.  She had discovered that one of the most important aspects of a building is its character, its potential to vivify the meaning of a place.

The most important meaning of the Institute’s place may be that colonialism – not only in Africa – wrongly taught that a single, imported point of view is superior.  People acquired a taste for European styles, and discounted their own traditional ways.  Kokrobitey is out to debunk that attitude, fully and finally.

A Kokrobitey House

Renée and I have talked about the importance of helping students realize that the primary rule of design is that “you do what you can with what you’ve got”.  At first take, that sounds like advising people to settle for the circumstances that life has handed them.  But it’s not.  On the contrary.  It’s an invitation to all thinkers to celebrate and broadcast their own heritage and assets.  A designer who pays close attention to functionality, durability and ergonomics, and uses the materials and techniques that are locally available, produces valuable, marketable products.  Always.  Sometimes magical ones.  And that, my friends, enhances the well-being of both producers and consumers.  All of them.  Everywhere.

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5 Responses to “Kokrobitey Institute, Accra, Ghana”

  1. Tom Hatfield says:

    Rob, after visiting Vanuatu for the second time I completely understand the need for indiginious people to protect and nurture their heritage. They are beginning to do this there, and in the procress share with us some of their traditional ways, lessons we could take lots from, medicine, food and shelter just to name three. I found a great deal we could learn from their more ‘simple’ ways. Also, I noticed that they were much healthier than us, strong white teeth from no junk food. Absolutely lovely people.

    • Rob Edley says:

      I saw some of those people in your FaceBook album, Tom. You’re right, there’re some great beauties amongst them.
      BTW, I hope to build the Kokrobitey seminars into a series of workshops in several different places. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to figure out how and where to do a similar workshop in Australia? U got any ideas?

  2. Deborah says:

    Rob, this will be a magical collaboration! I can’t wait to hear how you respond to the aesthetics of Ghana (so many peoples and histories) — doing exactly as you say, working with the materials at hand to create beauty, strength, and functionality. Bringing ergonomics and a Western sensibility to the process there should be exciting…. and may yield some much more comfortable seating!

  3. Tamara says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring words!

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