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Is the ‘Ghanaian system’ ready for Lesley Lokko or vice versa?

Thu, 22 Oct 2020 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

Lesley Lokko, the renowned Scottish-Ghanaian architecture academic, has announced plans of relocating from New York to Accra “to set up an independent school of architecture”.

She resigned from the Bernard and Anne Spitzer school of architecture at the City College of New York, primarily because she says she “lacked the tools to both process and deflect” how the “‘problem woman of colour’ scenario” manifests in America.

We welcome her back home to Accra, and respectfully ask her to ready herself for the multiple battles she will face.

A few are listed below for our collective contemplation.

First, will Lesley Lokko’s would-be students/mentees accept that certain anachronistic designs should be done away with?

For example open gutters on account of lame arguments of “flash flooding” on the streets when it rains and; narrow windows that stymie both light and ventilation.

Second, is Ms Lokko prepared to live above the fray of Ghana’s National Accreditation Board (NAB) without needing their certification?

For example, is she ready to combat the NAB’s “skirt and blouse” policy which proscribes hiring of faculty with diverse academic backgrounds.

She is an acclaimed novelist, and she studied Hebrew, Arabic, Sociology and Law before settling into architecture.

Third, how about if Ghana’s National Accreditation Board issues a statement declaring her proposed curriculum as “over-training”, that is, offering more than is required for a certificate, diploma or bachelor’s degree programme?

While reflecting on her recent New York experience, Lokko remarked in an Oliver Wainwright story in theguardian.com published 20 October, 2020,

“The black woman arrives in an organisation and everyone is so enthusiastic. It’s treated like the coming of the second messiah. Then she begins to question the organisation and hold people accountable for their actions, and soon she’s targeted and made out to be the problem.”

Lokko says of her New York experience that “Race is never far from the surface of any situation in the US”.

While we empathise with her, we still reject the concept of race.

My mentor calls race a “red herring” for he says “There is only one race- the human race; attempts at categorization are bogus with no scientific basis”.

We, therefore, urge Lesley Lokko to align herself with a new group designated not by the colour of the skin, but as a body of independent scholars and professionals whose language, thoughts and actions – wherever they are, dispersed over the surface of earth and water – are grounded in facts, evidence and reason.

We are intrigued that Lokko “completed a PhD by practise on building her own house”.

She wrote on that subject on 24 September 2005 on theguardian.com describing how she built her house in Accra,

“Much of the instruction on site is verbal, not drawn. The upside is that the design process is much more fluid – you make decisions and compromises as you go along, designing in real time … it’s possible to stride around on site and position doors and windows as the walls go up.

The downside is that the interpretation of instructions is equally fluid. It’s possible to spend hours arguing over where you thought you asked for something to go and where it in fact is. ‘But you said …’ Working without drawings can be exhilarating. It can also be madness.”

Welcome back to madness Ms Lokko. Nothing has changed.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah