STEM and Social Architecture with Kuukuwa Manful

STEM and Social Architecture with Kuukuwa Manful
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Though not your “typical” STEM field, architecture intriguingly combines all aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with art and design. Today, emerging subfields of architecture in affordable green building and sustainability place scientists, engineers and architects in unique positions to help protect our environment, while impacting positive social change and development.

Featured today is Kuukuwa Manful, a Ghanaian architect by training with a passion for impacting society with social architecture.

Kuukuwa Manful

Kuukuwa had her secondary school education as a General Science student at Wesley Girls’ High School in Cape Coast. She went on to obtain her BSc Architecture and Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degrees from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. She also has an MSc African Studies degree from the University of Oxford, England.

Kuukuwa has worked as a design associate with the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform project in Accra, Ghana, where she worked on mapping e-waste activities in the area. She was also a West African Design Fellow for ARCHIVE Global in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Prior to that, she was the Program Assistant of the ArchiAfrika Foundation, and also worked as a teaching assistant at the KNUST Department of Architecture.

Today, Kuukuwa and her team run SOCIARCHI, a social architecture initiative that uses research-based, community-participation approaches to design and solve environmental and social problems.

Kuukuwa Manful

“So far, I have and continue to research and theorize about three broad but interconnected topics – African architectural history, Architectural Identity and Sustainable construction materials and methods. My M.Arch thesis for example explored indigenous Asante architecture as a basis for contemporary architectural identity in Bantama, Kumasi. My BSc dissertation examined reasons behind the lack of use of earth building materials in the contemporary Ghanaian built environment, and my MSc African studies research examined how early Ghanaian architects positioned themselves in relation to Modernist Architecture.”

 

  • Do you consider Architecture a STEM field?

“Absolutely – Architecture, especially in this era is a sum-total of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, and good architects more often than not have knowledge in all these fields and apply them constantly in every project.”

  • You seem pretty passionate about social architecture. Where do you get your inspiration from?

“My passion for social architecture comes from an awareness as a young architecture student of the appalling conditions many Ghanaians live in as a result of lack of access to built environment professionals and a lack of funds among others. I’m inspired by the Ghana I see around me everyday – not the shiny veneers of prosperity, but what lies immediately beneath, easily overlooked but always there. I guess I tend to look in between the cracks and in the shadows – and see things the kiosks in East Legon and Cantonments which house families, the nearly windowless houses that exist a short distance away from beautiful, expensive apartment complexes. I see the people who cannot afford architects, the same people being those who need them the most, and that is what inspires me.”

  • What is the purpose behind SOCIARCHI?

“SOCIARCHI uses research, advocacy and design to provide sustainable, context-appropriate design solutions for the most vulnerable in society. It is barely six months old, but it is a result of thinking, experimentation and planning since 2010. Current projects include the construction of a reading area for disadvantaged children in Omanjor; the retrofitting of a school in Adoagyiri for easy access by disabled children, and researching ways to make Accra’s urban environment more liveable for its inhabitants. The aim is to work as much as possible with existing community-based organisations as they usually understand the context best. In Omanjor, we worked with Utopia-Wishlist, which is a group of young professionals working to improve access to education; and in Adoagyiri we are working with Sefakor Komabu and Golda Addo, who are activists working in that field.”

  • Do you think architecture in Africa is making any progress?

“Yes, certainly. Economists and Researchers have described Africa as the last frontier of capitalism, and we have been seeing the building boom associated with this for a while. In that regard there is progress, yet I think more can be done and quicker. My passion for history, identity and sustainability is to blame for this, and I acknowledge my biases here, but I think we (architects) should be using materials that are better for the environment, we should be theorizing and crafting our own unique styles and identity based on our history and culture. Most importantly we must not leave the poor and marginalized behind – they need us the most.”

  • Who inspires you the most as an architect?

“That would be Francis Kéré, a Burkinabé architect. In addition to his practice in Germany, he works to provide beautiful, sustainable social architecture solutions to people in his hometown of Gando. He is brilliant and thoughtful and wants to make the world a better place and I’m continuously inspired and motivated by his work and thinking.”

  • What would you say has been your greatest achievement?

“This is a hard question – the best social architecture projects I’ve led have been group efforts which demonstrate the beauty and power of teamwork.

Individually, I’ve been part of or led a number of projects; I’ve worked in very difficult circumstances and prevailed; and I have won a good number of academic awards and scholarships. These have all been proud moments of personal triumph and validation – winning a full scholarship to study at Oxford for example is one of them.

I think realizing social architecture projects slightly trumps those though. The Omanjor Reading project and its experimental predecessor The Nkwantanang Playground project were amazing. Due to the fact that funds were limited, I took to social media to call for volunteers and contributors, and people came. Most of them I only knew off Facebook and Twitter, some, I didn’t even know. Friends also contributed, showed up to help or both. People with no prior construction experience mixed concrete, laid blocks, painted and planted on both occasions and it was all very heartwarming and beautiful.

Again, I don’t count these as personal achievements even though I led the projects –  but revel in the memories of being part of something so amazing – a shared spirit of goodwill which impacted the people we are working for positively.”