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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