Kofi Akakpo

MArch I

“Functional Follies” for an African Urban Slum

Advised by Mohsen Mostafavi

“The challenge for Africa is no less than the restoration of its intellectual freedom and a capacity to create—without which no sovereignty is conceivable.”1 

The general attitude toward architecture on the African continent is that it must primarily deal with needs, or that it should be involved in a retrospective exercise that imagines what could have been prior to European colonialism. This attitude denies Africans the freedom to create by looking within; instead, it insists on African creativity only as a relative other to whiteness, giving the impression that colonialism is the constant present lens through which to see the continent. This thesis rejects that notion, instead daring to imagine what is possible when African architects are allowed to dream, even while designing within difficult contexts and with limited means. 

The folly in architecture is a symbol of perverse indulgence often reserved for the architecture of the wealthy. Follies are individual sites for architectural expression and exploration. In this way, they allow the free exploration of architectural form. This thesis explores the erection of a series of “functional follies” in Agbogbloshie, an urban slum in Accra, Ghana. In a tradition where beauty divorced from tradition is an alien concept, these follies assume a usefulness that makes it possible for them to be assimilated into the community. These follies, therefore, act as both indulgent elements of beauty as well as tools to reintroduce traditional social and spatial relationships into the community that have been lost in the exodus from rural communities to the current urban reality. 

1COVID-19: An Open Letter from African Intellectuals to Africa’s Leaders,” accessed May 27, 2020.

Digital Spiral tower with figure

Perspective view of plaza, showing a cluster of connected buildings.

A series of six images showing different buildings and walkways.
Circulation follies (top row) and Meeting House, Mallam’s House, and Warchief’s House (bottom row L to R).

A series of four images showing individual buildings and walkways.
Clockwise from top left: Theater House, Chief’s House, Pasture, and House for Commoners.

Animation showing one building with additional buildings subsequently added to form a cluster.
A single folly aggregates with other follies to create new urban densities.

Animation showing aerial view of buildings and roads being added to a densely built area along a river.
A few scattered follies can densify over time across the site to create new and more complex urban networks.