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Harnessing a melting pot of skills for a community project

Foreign Affairs and Haduwa Arts & Culture Institute

Harnessing a melting pot of skills for a community project
By Caterina Testa -

The [applied] Foreign Affairs - [a]FA - of the Architecture Institute at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts is a laboratory geared to investigating spatial, infrastructure, environmental and cultural phenomena in the rural and urban regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Organized as a series of workshops with a clear-cut topic and equally clear-cut mission, each project involves a study trip to map the area in question and its rural growth models in order to create spaces for art and community activities.

Projects are conceived as a learning experience in which the development process is as important as the end result. Prevalently commissioned by NGOs, cultural institutions and art collectives, programs are developed through a process based on dialectic and dialogue. They also have to make use of available material. As a result, the conventional relations between architect, community and client, as well as between student and teacher, practice and theory, are here set-aside in favor of shared ownership.

Beginning in 2012, the cooperation between [a]FA and the Haduwa Arts & Culture Institute, an experimental art and culture institution in the Ghanaian city of Apam, led to the design and building of a pavilion to host events near the village of Abrekum on the African coast. Part of a larger artists’ district, this huge bamboo pavilion is the area’s focal point and the flagship structure of the Haduwa Institute.

Standing on the ocean’s edge, the pavilion is an imposing landmark inviting visitors to enter and experience a new form of open space.  Designed to shelter from the sun, wind and rain, the domed bamboo roof comprises three groups of arches oriented in as many directions, and is large enough to host a wide range of performances.

The primary structure is a grid in bamboo, a readily available material with all the structural and technical properties required for this sort of unimpeded space. In...

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