Playtime in Africa Initiative

Two girls playing the traditional game Oware on the Playtime in Africa site.

About the project

At Mmofra, we have used informal, outdoor space for our programs for many years. We are advocates for open space in the built environment for children, as well as child-centered design of outdoor and indoor spaces – and we believe the need for them is even more pressing as Ghana, and the African continent as a whole, continues to urbanize.

Now, with the help of an international network of architects, planners, engineers, educators and artists, we are turning a two-acre plot in Accra’s Dzorwulu neighborhood into a sustainably designed, child-focused park concept. Join the discussion over on our Facebook page!

Images from Playtime in Africa Site, Summer 2013

How it began

The cover of the original Playtime in AfricaOur inspiration comes from Playtime in Africa, a pioneering photo essay by Efua T. Sutherland and Willis Bell. Published in the early 60s, the book captured the imaginative games of children all over Ghana.

Fifty years later it remains remarkably current, showcasing a timeless sense of joy and playfulness that has too few outlets in urban Ghana today. Take a look inside Playtime in Africa on YouTube!

Determined to demonstrate that playspaces and creative play are both vital and achievable, we began building contacts with professionals and like-minded people all over the world, from the northwest United States to South Sudan.

You can dig deeper into the project’s background on our Pinterest and Delicious pages. They showcase articles, videos and images that underpin our ideas and inspire our work.

Visual inspiration (Pinterest)

Background reading (Delicious)

The charrette

In May 2012, the ideas our network had generated began to take physical form. We fed them into three days of intensive design work at the Accra site, led by Ghana-based and visiting experts, and with input from local teenagers and community leaders.

Architect Ralph Sutherland helps to sketch out site plans at the Playtime in Africa charrette

Playtime in Africa site concept

The result was not only the site plan you see above, but a range of strategies for sustainability, resource management and context-sensitive construction.

Sketch for foundation recommendations, by architect Stacey McMahan

“Foundation design needs to take into account the high water table level and soil salinity.”

Sketch for roofing recommendations, by architect Stacey McMahan

“Generous overhangs provide shaded porch space and help keep the building cool during the day … A roof sloping to one side will provide simplified rainwater collection opportunities.”

Stacey McMahan, architect

Interested in seeing more material from the charrette? Check out some of the links below…

Participants’ photos (Facebook)

Maps and surveys (Google Docs)

Sustainability strategies (Google Docs)

The response

We hosted two unique public conversations on urban open space and play as opening and closing book ends to the charrette. Accra residents from all walks of life contributed valuable insights with remarkable enthusiasm.

The site

In the heart of Accra’s Dzorwulu neighborhood, Mmofra Foundation has long maintained two acres of undeveloped land as a green urban oasis.  Host to a flourishing market garden in the recent past, this site will now gradualy become the home of the Playtime in Africa park concept, blending the existing greenery with sustainably designed indoor and outdoor spaces.

Take a closer look at the location on Google Maps.

View of Mmofra Foundation proposed centre site

Why is Playtime in Africa necessary?

  • Ghana’s population is young – 40% under age 15, median age of 21
  • The country is rapidly urbanizing, and there are no public spaces for children outside of school grounds
  • There is no culture of public green space utilization in Accra, an urban area of about 2 million people
  • As a result, children create their own play spaces, often in unsafe or unsuitable environments
  • A rote-learning model dominates in education, leaving few opportunities for imagination and creativity

What next?

As Accra-based architect Ralph Sutherland helps us to develop a masterplan, U.S. collaborators like Friends of Mmofra and MIIM Designs, LLC provide long-distance networking and ideation support.

We are already creating small modular elements and new playspace features using or reusing what we find around us.  The great thing is, even without a single permanent structure yet, “placemaking” is underway as the foundation kids and other groups make themselves at home here! We are actively seeking partners and supporters to help us accelerate the pace of this process. With one or two constructed anchor areas, we expect onsite activities to take off!

Get involved

A core aspect of the Playtime in Africa initiative is the formation of an international network of like-minded partners, supporters and volunteers.

We are especially interested in partnerships in the areas of landscape architecture, natural playground design and management, and environmental engineering.

  • Ideas and skills
    Architecture, landscaping, outdoor play specialization, planning, engineering, graphic design, horticulture, construction, arts and artisanship, outdoor light and sound specialization, media and marketing
  • Equipment and labor
    Tools, equipment, plants and materials – and people to work with them!
  • Purchases and donations
    Sales from the Willis Bell Archive and donations will all go towards funding the project
  • Support and feedback
    Help inspire us and promote our work through TwitterFacebook, Pinterest and Delicious

If you think you can help us, email Amowi Phillips at info@mmofraghana.org.

Press coverage

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