Envision Ghana’s cities and towns turned into self-sustaining ones with beautiful greenery, aesthetically appealing environment, affordable housing units plus artificial streams playingly gushing out of city parks and gardens.
How about secluded areas transformed into habitable spaces that seamlessly blends into other parts of the city?
This is the focus of a brewing project in possibly Ghana’s largest female run Architectural Company- Arch Xenus (AX)
In an interview with Business World Ghana, Nana Akua Birmeh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Principal Architect of Arch Xenus, explains the importance of architectural vision to augment the city’s existing planning layout.
“Architectural vision provides a sense of space and place to create an emotional connection with the built environment; additionally, the avoidance of total hard landscape enclosed in impermeable boundaries will allow for the reduction of flooding in most parts of the city.”
She adds that planning a city requires a certain amount of soft-landscape in well planned public spaces; squares, plazas, parks and gardens which work as socialising hubs and double as sponges to allow rain water to be absorbed naturally.
She recommended the concept of sponge cities as the ideal way of building a city as research suggests that sponge cities when done properly, could reduce perennial floods and improve water quality.
The Genesis of AX
Although, Nana Akua Birmeh, CEO of AX and Agnes Ofosu- Appiah, Projects coordinator were school mates at Holy Child High School in the Central Region of Ghana, they never planned working together.
It was after Nana Akua’s personal projects multiplied and organically morphed into a practice, that Agnes and her team joined the company then at its nascent stage.
For Nana Akua, getting into architecture, a male dominated field was as a result of her mother’s career guidance.
“Roles perceived to be the preserve of males have never been a hindrance on my part. I was “blackmailed” by my mother to do architecture. I was an artist and she wasn’t happy about it. So, in opting for Visual Arts in Senior Secondary School (SSS), it was on condition that I will carry it out to offer a course she deemed more appropriate- Architecture.
“After SSS, I had no choice. In this case however, mother knew best. I can’t imagine being anything else but an architect.”
Agnes on the other hand made a personal decision.
Scouting through university courses after Senior Secondary School (SSS), now Senior High School (SHS), she believed she would be able to transform the skylines by studying architecture.
Growing up in Ghana’s second largest city, Kumasi, she saw a lot of old storey buildings which communicated to her a past time of wealth and aspiration. As a result, she wanted to add ‘modern’ to the skyline, one building at time.
Additionally, the discouragement received from senior male members in the built industry due to concerns of gender and wealth encouraged her to purse it even more. ‘I believe this was due to the cultural protective instinct’ she added.
While women are gradually gravitating towards architecture, the profession still remains male dominated.
According to archdaily.com, only 30%-35% of architects in the United States are female and in South Africa, female architects make up only 21% of the total percentage.
Challenges- women getting into architecture
Both concur that the gender card doesn’t play in this case as architecture as a profession is challenging in general irrespective of gender.
According to Nana Akua, she started the architecture course with 120 other students at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), but there were just half of them left by graduation time.
“The other half that left school before graduation were a mixture of men and women; the course is challenging and strenuous for men and women alike,” she added.
Family friendly working environment
Built with a family orientation in mind, the company has a nursery that accommodates nannies and mothers back from the stipulated 3 months maternity leave and a play area for older children.
Currently, with equal number of both genders employed, the men are not left out as they are allowed to bring their babies or children to work if their wives’ workplace is not accommodating of children during working hours.
With tireless efforts of dedicated staff, the company has been honoured to work on varied projects such as commercial and retail facilities, single residential, multi-residential, mixed use, hotels and resorts, educational buildings, civic and health facilities.
The company is also behind the design of financial institutions like Universal Merchant Bank (UMB) and the refurbishing of Ecobank Capital office.
Although, they focused mostly on private projects in the past, they have been drawn to a few national projects this year, with the aim of offering a positive transformative impact in the society.
As a result, they have worked with related agencies on the revitalization of the surrounding areas of the Elmina Heritage Bay. It is expected that the intervention will offer augmenting facilities to an otherwise rich tourist site and boost tourist visits which have in recent years plummeted.
Taking it a notch higher, Arch Xenus through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, has been involved in Legacy Projects such as the refurbishment of Holy Child School library and bathrooms as well as the Wesley Girls High School art room and sports field refurbishment.
The company have partnered with Imperial Charity Foundation (ICF) and The Rheumatology Initiative (TRI) in the design and refurbishment of Korle-bu maternity ward, 10 kindergartens in 10 regions project and the Korle-bu infusion room just to mention a few.
Recognition and award
Nana Akua Birmeh was listed as part of BBC’s 100 inspirational and innovative women breaking the glass ceiling in 2017.
She also won the Architecture, Design and Décor category of the Forty under 40 awards the same year.
By Pamela Ofori- Boateng / Business World Ghana ©