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Is culture still in existence? I keep asking myself. As we have engulfed ourselves with our day to day routines of our life, we have continuously ignored our cultures. Though it seems to be fading away, a section of us have tried to apply them to our lives, thereby not letting it completely die away.
To me culture is societies transmitted behaviour patterns, belief and all other products of human work; it also allows people to adapt to their environment to further their own purposes rather than depending on a natural way of life to achieve their goals. Culture also provides a concept of history thereby providing us a principle of unification showing how far a group of people or a country as a whole has developed over the years helping to shape the lives of people.
We could never do away with culture since it helps in defining who we are, but there is this confusion between culture and tradition since people keep on misinterpreting both ideologies. As its always said tradition keeps going on since it's the beliefs or customs which are taught by one generation to the next often verbally, without the need for a writing system. Traditions are always also presumed to be ancient and deeply important since it definitely highlights the importance of a certain institutions.
Questions are being continuously being raised if culture does truly work; one might find that a very strange question, since culture is something which doesn't work or fail neither is it imposed on a person but it is rather fundamental to the person. The meanings people add to their lives are not separate from their daily activities. The impact of culture is really of a huge scale thereby making it not easily answerable because it is not separate from social structure, economics and other features of human activities.
There is definitely a strong relationship between architecture and culture, since architecture is a form of expressing culture. Within the architecture field culture gives us this gauge of what we should aim at and how we should go about achieving that goal, in another sense culture definitely helps shape architecture. But the problem is you cannot take historic elements of a people and place it in your design, then draw a conclusion that you have attained that part of the design of which you have kept the culture of those said people. You have to truly understand the needs of that people and the functions that work within their environment, since there would be that sense of rejection of your design, if it doesn't fit in with the conforms of the people.
Though people would accept cultural developments, which would take place over a period of time buildings that are built and are not in tune with the people's culture, surely would not reflect them.
A scenario which I recall was when a young white man arrived in Ghana; my home country, from America equipped with his camping gear to research more about our culture and architecture having a pre-judgemental thought that the country would be like a wilderness, but he was shocked by what he saw. It was far from what he was taught and told at his university. In his own words he said it looked like New-York. For some of us it would be a very good feedback of how the country has developed to get this far, if it is being compared to New York. But for some of us it breaks our heart since it doesn't give a first-hand account about the cultures of our country
So what has changed? In all honesty a third world country would be very happy to be compared to a first world nation like America but at what price? We losing our true culture? Through the colonisation of the British you can see the huge contrast between the architecture of the nation's capital which is Accra and the Northern Region of the country which some of us refer to as the village side, but to me the architecture of the Northern Region reflects more about our culture and tradition. As I said earlier on though you can take the historic elements and incorporate them into your design of the building it doesn't necessarily reflect the true culture of the people. The city's architecture has been influenced more with the European Vernacular of designing, different types of buildings are being built with the intention being there to reflect our culture and tradition but to me it isn't really successful though we the people just take the building as it is and move on with our lives.
The traditional designed buildings look more self-imposed within the city though the buildings are trying to convey a message to visitors coming within our country that our culture and tradition is still flowing, but we the citizens know is not the truth since it's disappearing rapidly from the main capital.
To the people in the Northern Region of the country the architecture of the city would be a whole new world opened up to them if they were to witness the difference; in terms of the design of the buildings due to the fact that the buildings are trying to duplicate some cultural elements located around there. Though some of the architecture is not successfully working around the city you could see a glimmer of our culture being reflected by the people within the city to celebrate it. The Coastal side of the city shows our fisherman at sea fishing to feed families during dinner time. We have also got hawkers around selling traditional clothing to people. Though that young man said the city looked like New-York he didn't experience our true culture within the city's metropolis, he just only got to witness the European Vernacular design of the buildings.
We've got several buildings within the city which are trying very hard to break through the European design of a building into that Ghanaian Vernacular with a set goal in mind to try and represent our culture. But what is truly a Ghanaian Vernacular themed building? To me it's not only the shape or exterior of the building it's also what goes on within the space; that is the functions of the building.
So though the design of the building may tie in with our culture, the function of it plays a major role. This is where the European styled buildings seem to fail. The National Theatre of Ghana is an elegant and imposing theatre which has a very complicated construction moulding and a novel exterior feature. When looked at from a distance the whole structure resembles a giant drum. Some say it looks like a gigantic ship or a seagull spreading its wings, but to me the features look more of one of our local drums, when viewed at from the top.
A drum within the Ghanaian communities play a very important role with the different tribes, and every type of drum has a very symbolic meaning to it; this is where the National theatre almost succeeds in trying to show off our culture. The type of drum the theatres form resemble is the DONDO drum also known as the talking drum, which is undoubtedly one of the oldest drums in existence in our country and its history can be traced back to ancient Ghana Empire times.
Its pitch can be regulated to the extent that it is said that the drum starts to talk. The Dondo is a widely used drum in Ghana but it is especially by the Ashanti Tribe. During the Empire times it was used to send messages of happiness, sorrow and war to other tribes through the beating of the drum. Many variants of the talking drum exist with essentially the same construction. Though the exterior of the building tries to achieve a Ghanaian Vernacular the experience of the building and its functions I think make it a bit successful .The theatre helps promote the development of the performing arts in Ghana, and also to develop and promote the cultural arts. It also engages in cultural functions as the Government of Ghana may assign it .These functions of the building helps drives the cultural aspect of the country, though the architecture is helping a bit.
Entering the interior of the space you could feel it evoking our culture and tradition, I don't think people realise the enchanting feeling the designers created when you walk through the space. The place is filled with two of the main colours of the country gold and brown, the colours which help keep the cultural and traditional theme going. The big drums and the big glass cases housing some of the local clothing also help light up the place. The gold ornaments and ivory trinkets some representing the different tribes of our country shows of culture from our fore fathers until these present days. Some would say it is packed with too many things which make the place tacky, but it's honestly one of the beautiful and maybe thought provoking spaces in Ghana. But again that marble flooring ruins that cultural and traditional feel, since it brings upon that European feeling but gazing upon the cultural elements within the space you are reminded again that you are within a space which is showing off the cultural aspects of our country.
The National Theatre of Ghana The DONDO drum
Though the architect tries to succeed by adding elements of our culture into the design he doesn't really do enough, since him the architect feels he has done enough to highlight our culture but if it wasn't for the function and use of the building it would have failed miserably.
A structure which I feel succeeds in calling itself a Ghanaian Vernacular building is the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, I do think this building succeeds because it is not let down by the design and its functions. The Mausoleum also known as the Kwame Nkrumah Park is the final and last resting place of the first president of Ghana, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. It is dedicated to him for his outstanding campaign to liberate Ghana. The Entrance to the site is from the 28th February high street just along the coast.
The Mausoleum provides a front for the statue of Nkrumah covered in bronze; whereas the museum is subterranean it's placed in a position that does not compete with the mausoleum for attention. Rhythm, contrast and harmony are the main key principles used in the designing of the building. Those three key principles in the design begins to show how the architect has researched and investigated into depth about the different tribes and clans within the country by understanding our cultures well, since those are the main qualities some of the tribes apply to their day to day cultural activities.
Inside the Mausoleum houses the personal effects and publications of the first president which shows his life history and struggles to attain the independence for Ghana. The body is buried under a catafalque within the Mausoleum raised in the centre of the park with symbols which reflect Ghana's culture and history used to portray not only Nkrumah's vision to promote Africa's personality, but also to show the different cultures people have used to adapt to their environment, through the development of the country over the years. These symbols definitely makes the average Ghanaian to appreciate the design of the space; shows you the level of understanding the architect has attained about the cultural elements of our country. The full statue of Dr Nkrumah wearing a cloth in bronze is sited at the exact location where he proclaimed Ghana's independence. As you approach the main way heading into the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum you will see springs on either sides of the walkway. Each spring has seven bare-chested squatting statuettes of horn blowers, who seen to be welcoming the arrival of people into the mausoleum.
The horn blowing statuettes represent an important tradition that goes on within all the different tribes and clans, but horn blowing is mostly done by the Akan Clan, which is located at the Ashanti Region of Ghana. The tradition of horn blowing begun when a traditional priest was instructed by the gods to release their powers through the sound of the horns, which would enable the gods to protect the nation. It's said that the horn spirits were unable to withstand the colonialist invasion, but clearly they still maintain their power today. The rationale behind this practice is that the sound emitted from the horn is a spirit that dispels evil spirits. This design feature helps play an important function at the mausoleum to keep that culture theme going within the space. It always warms my heart to see the statuettes, since an important feature of the people of Ghana is being respected.
Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum
The Horn Blowing Statuettes
The design of the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum itself represents swords which have being turned upside down; this within the local circles symbolizes peace. The type of sword the mausoleum resembles is the AKONFENATA, a double edged sword symbolizing impartiality, fairness and justice mainly used again by the Akan people.
All these reasons mentioned above to me aids in making this structure a successful Ghanaian Vernacular designed building ,since the architect and his designers have really paid attention to every cultural practices which are being conveyed by all the tribes and clans throughout the country.
To a tourist this building would only be another mere structure which is just trying to exhibit what Ghana represents; the peace loving and humble nation, but to us it shows off our deep rooted culture which goes on day in day out in our lives. Though some of our cultural practices have been neglected the rest which have been able to survive throughout the cultural development years of our country and worldwide, has been blended in well within this structure to keep them alive.
Culture is said to be remarking practices every day, so what are these main cultural elements which are included within the design representing? How have we the people channelled all these practices to this present day Ghana? Since you can't always be stuck in the past but have to move on into the present times. In our everyday life practices some of these important cultural elements which have always been relevant since our forefathers have been transcending into modern day, making them available for everyone to practice them without the meanings tied to them being lost. Be it funerals, parties or swearing in ceremonies of heads that would govern large institutions.
The first sign of the horn blowing practices is when you are leaving the nation's major airport which is the Kotoka International Airport you would notice the another huge statue in modern day clothing, appearing to be blowing a big horn to signal the arrival of people into the country or welcoming them into the country, some say the statue is front of the airport is also trying to dispel the evil spirits which some people are arrive with into the nation. This shows you how we are still trying to convey our own cultural practices to help keep them going, not only would you find the horn blowing statues at the Mausoleum or the airport, but at several round outs which lead into major towns centres and bus terminals you could also spot some of these statues, they all play the same role; hence they representing the same meaning.
Under funerals before the body is sent to the cemetery for burial you could also hear the horns been sounded out through loudspeakers, they have been recorded on compact disc's and being sold to people so they can still have that notion that they are dispelling evil spirits away from the funeral grounds. This is one very common practice which is being used throughout the country, since it is not everyone that is fortunate enough to get horn blowers under important functions. People would always want practice this cultural element so providing it to the masses on compact discs has been a very good way of bringing it into the Modern era. One of the few various ways we could help keep some of our cultures in existence.
Walking through the streets of capital; Accra ,you could also spot some people wearing our local cloths sewed into modern attires trying also to bring that local cloth culture into the modern era ,you would notice that bronze statue of Kwame Nkrumah always wears that type of cloth. Not only would you see it being worn on special occasions but people do wear them on a daily basis. The drumming aspect of our culture has not also disappeared in our everyday modern lives. Daily you could hear the drums being played on radio and television, trying to convey the message that the daily news of the nation is about to be read or signalling the start of a new day. Not only during those instances, but functions like naming ceremonies of babies or during funerals the drums are also played to send out a message of happiness or sorrow respectively. Though we have moved onto the present day, the cultural practice which our forefathers begin is still being recognised.
The swords which were being represented at the Mausoleum are also an important cultural element which is also being used during these present days. During swearing-in ceremony of the new president it is used hand-in-hand with the bible symbolizing that the president would make sure he or she would maintain impartiality, fairness and justice; some main themes of our culture, it is not only a practice which is done during the oath swearing ceremony of the president but also during every day swearing in ceremonies of people who are going to head large establishment which would be providing wealth to the nation.
So though all these practices were being used during the past we have found out ways of bringing it to this present day, though a lot of cultural development has taken place.
By using contextual forces such as culture and historic elements Modern architecture has been able to be given that sense of meaning when buildings are being erected within different locations enabling it to have a role to play with the cultural experiences of the people. Though that phenomenon of Modern Architecture shows the advancement of we the people, it at the same time constitutes a sort of insinuated destruction of our cultural traditions and values. It might not be an irreparable wrong because it sometimes aids in the advancement of ethical and mythical basis of humans. In order to get on that road towards modernisation it is always necessary to take on the old cultural past of the nation to achieve a successful project. We have to forge a national spirit and cultural revindication and take back what he have lost during the colonial era because after all it is our cultures we are talking about here, we have to make sure these cultural aspects of our nation have to be channelled into designs which would be pertaining to the nation. It is a fact that not all cultures can sustain and absorb the sudden change of modern developments; we however sometimes have to revive those old and dormant cultural practices in order to drive some of these modern developments forward.
We have to at least make that jump of understanding culture as not something given and relatively changeable but rather it is something which has at least today be self-consciously cultivated. One way of achieving that goal are the architect and his designers sensibly looking at the uniqueness of the site and location, when deriving the formal aspects of any given project.
Previously this interplay between modernism and culture within the architecture field could still be afforded with that possibility of maintaining some general control over the shape and significance of the building fabric, but fortunately for us the functions of the building has enabled us to achieve that goal of what the building was designed to represent. I really do hate to see that happening since it is like people are disregarding our cultural practices and activities, thereby designing a building which they feel is right for the people without even trying to find out how the citizens would react to it, since every person in the world or every nation have their own cultures that have governed their lives and are still governing them to enable them to achieve some goals for their needs.
It is very difficult to say a building truly shows off our culture, in a formal way it is trying to display itself as a formal expression. The idea of just making shapes to fit into the context of the metropolis of the city to have an artistic value to it, solely depending on its visual aspects and its medium. Buildings in a formal way are trying to emphasize compositional elements such as colour, line, shape and texture, though we try to succeed in adding elements to keep a nations cultural theme going ,it does not really go into depth by conveying the messages of realism context and content. The context of the work including the reason for its section and the historical background are often deemed to be of a secondary importance. But people do argue that the representational elements such as our cultural practices which are included within the design thereby making it a successful, must somewhat be intelligible but still try and convey the message of creating a building which communicates the idea of its intention behind the design. We can always create a structure which we could call a Ghanaian Vernacular building but if a person sees it and doesn't really grasp the concept of what the building is trying to achieve forgetting its function, what have we really achieved? It is very hard to use solely the structure of the building to achieve some goals not that I am denying the fact that it can be done, to a common person it would still look to them as just another form of a building not until they have approached the building, gone into the space to witness its functions to see what the building is trying to achieve.
It is very clear that the presence of architecture in the daily lives of citizens makes that evidence of its eliminable cultural presence, when we approach architecture as a whole industry while making it well suited for the purpose in well certain instances, fails to allow for the role of it forming part of a community's culture.
Reading through an essay written by Adolf Loos entitled "Ornament and Crime" he makes a claim that Ornaments are no longer organically related to culture and therefore no longer the expression of our culture, this to me points out two main things which are coming together. One being a statement of intent telling us that modern architecture clearly defines itself in relation to culture and also asking how today the relation between architecture and culture be understood? He tries to make architecture seem as more than just a building and thus thought in terms of a differentiation of the economy from the cultural elements, also suggesting that the possibility of architecture's relation to culture is a question whose vision cannot be readily escaped.
While the knowledge of the science involved within architecture and also technology provides us with the technical know-how on how to select materials and choosing the right construction techniques, culture always definitely provides us the guidance on what we should achieve in the building's we plan to design, Informing us where to do a design and when to do it. Culture on a large scale incorporates the importance of all aspects of human endeavours, in this way it is what helps to shape architecture.
The goal of architecture has always been to understand what the people want and delivering that final end product to the users. But we do not necessarily have to strictly conform to the peoples cultural belief, we also have to strive to upgrade the people's own understanding of their culture's within the communities, hence always bringing something enriching to the table since that's what we architects always try to achieve. Visiting various different areas you would definitely see how people differ in terms of their cultural ways so we the architects have to always pay particular attention on as to how the citizens of the communities or nation are going to react to the building which is going to be designed for them. It is always however important to note that the culture that is registered is neither unified nor self-limiting.
It is a fair enough point that architecture cannot really represent a culture from the way the building is built or how the design looks like. It is how you make the citizens buy into the building by its use to help show off the identity of the people; showing them in their everyday situations. This is the only way we can distinguish ourselves from other groups.
During the different periods of architecture evolving, it has recorded the impact and influence that culture has played of its time and place, therefore allowing architecture to be a great source of reference of different societies and countries. Though most people would argue with the fact that there is this strong relationship between architecture and culture, there are some who would think otherwise. Making a strong claim that architecture has nothing to do with culture, thereby making them develop their own ideas and claims that they are breaking free from the bonds of culture of the past eras. It is delusional for an architect to be thinking this way since we all contribute in promoting a different kind of culture in these present times. Since culture is always evolving it is always going to influence architecture in one way or another and it is forever going to provide an inspiration for more creative ideas.
Definitely the cultural input would differ from country to county so people are always going to react differently to design which are intended for them not having a relation with the people. So a goal should always be set out to find a way of understanding what the people want and to fulfill it through the final product. The awareness of wisdom and knowledge in all various fields such as economics, law politics etc. including architecture are synthesised in a way of life that is being reflected in culture.
As long as architecture remains an activity of us humans it can never be influenced by the culture of human societies it is always evolving so in the process it provides inspiration to architecture thereby allowing it to reach higher creativity. I for one do believe that architecture is surely a product of culture and without culture some designs would never have conformed to their respective locations. It has definitely set a gauge for us on how to go about our designs and it would definitely continue to do that for years to come.
Chris Jenks (1993) Culture, Routledge, London.
Hal Foster (1983) Postmodern Cultures, The Cromwell Press, Trowbridge
Joan Ockman (1993) Architecture Culture 1843-1968, Rizzoli, New York
Mike Featherstone (1990) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, Sage Publications, London.
Peter Adler and Nicholas Barnard (1992) Asafo, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
Architecture and Culture
Akan State Swords
The National Theatre of Ghana
Joseph S. Kaminski
Ghana: Asante Elephant task blowing
Talks about architecture being a product of culture would forever raise arguments. But we as people have to see That culture is a very broad subject, which would always play important roles in our life. Most arguments being raised about this topic should not be looked at with a depthless mind but rather have to dig deep to see how culture is always shaping the face of Architecture. It definitely provides a gauge for what we should achieve and aim at when designing a building.