The Design Through Discovery team at Delft University of Technology

The Design Through Discovery team at Delft University of Technology

We’re expecting visitors! Early in October, Mmofra Foundation will be welcoming three members of Design Through Discovery, a six-person multi-national team of students based at the Delft University of Technology (TUDelft) in the Netherlands.
They’re flying to Accra for a full month to learn about and add their input to our Playtime in Africa initiative, using a participatory approach that will put them in touch with the community we brought together for our May charrette.
The other three members of the team will pay a follow-up visit in January.
Needless to say, we like DTD’s approach to the project – they want to make a concrete impact in child-focused urban design, and they believe in taking knowledge and inspiration from both local and global sources. We’re firmly on the same page.
Here’s some more about them in their own words:
The crew is formed by two strategic designers, two interactive designers and two integrated product designers. The team members are Maria Isabel (Brazil), Diego (Mexico), Ana (Italy), Janna (The Netherlands), Marc (Spain) and Fernando (Mexico). 
Our experience abroad includes India, Kenya, Portugal, Brazil, Taiwan and Germany. From these experiences we have realized the way practices vary from culture to culture, highlighting the importance of design research and context exploration for reaching more meaningful, inclusive and long lasting solutions.
By looking, listening and learning with a neutral perspective these techniques appraise errors and embrace surprises. Open sessions with kids and semi-structured ones with other members of the community will allow us to introduce ourselves to the community while sharing expectations about the playground.
Their project is on Indiegogo, with some nice Willis Bell prints up for grabs for supporters.
Check out this video by DTD team member Maria, which uses Bell’s work to illustrate their pitch – and look out for more on the visit itself next month.

We have the wonderful recycling business Trashy Bags – neighbors of ours, based around the corner from the Playtime in Africa site – to thank for introducing us to program facilitators Esther Blom and Boukje Vastbinder at TUDelft!

Mmofra Language Club participant in ceremonial kente and beads

 The story of beads is the story of time:

Of human life and history.

The story of beads, my very dear child

Is yesterday, of today, and ever.

                                                             Ama Ata Aidoo


Speak to me of beads, Grandma.

Speak to me

Talk to me of beads, Nana,

Talk to me.

She brightened up immediately

She looked at at me with a welcome smile

Grnadma pulled up a stool and sat

She listened well to me and asked:

You want a tale on beads, do you?

You want a tale or two

I’ll tell a tale or two to you

But to speak to you of every bead

In words that sing and dance like them

You and I shall surely need

More than my life in hours and days

More than your life in weeks and years.

A million lifetimes is not that much

If beads be the theme, the thought, the thing

We dive for beads, we swim, we float

We mine for beads, we comb the woods.

                                                                 Ama Ata Aidoo

Poems are reproduced from Ghana: Where The Bead Speaks by kind permission of the authors.

Thomas Gbemu is 9 and lives across the road from the Mmofra compound in Dzorwulu with his family.  His father is a professional driver and was hired for the last week of May 2012 to take charrette participants around Accra.  His mother is a versatile petty trader. Both parents are enthusiastic supporters of Mmofra.

Mavis at shop in Dzorwulu neighborhood

Thomas and Dela's mother Mavis at her neighborhood shop

The Gbemu family has 3 older girls, and 3 younger boys who have all been participants in the Mmofra language club program. Thomas was very curious about the charrette and was a frequent visitor to the proceedings at the compound when not in school.
Thomas, a member of Mmofra Foundation Language Club, looks at a catalogue

Thomas looks through a Mmofra catalogue

He even joined some  older students in an exercise to imagine the changes being proposed as Amowi, the charrette’s convener explained the importance of children in the process.
For Thomas and his brothers, the park will be a place to run and play, to imagine and live for a short time in a child’s world of made up stories and adventure.
Dela at Mmofra Foundation

Dela at Mmofra Foundation

Children in Ghana are often pushed to concentrate on their studies, sometimes crowding out the importance of creativity and play as preparation for life.  An easy thing to do when resources are few and there is only one official children’s park in central Accra.
Young charrette participants design their playground

Student design input in chalk.

The students gave us their opinion which was to include fast, slow, over and under, a wall to write on, and a place in the shade. The building, pata structure and amphitheater will be used for storytelling, cultural exposures (dancing and singing) and performances. The library may also serve as an education center open to parents and caregivers.
Something for everyone, and from an accommodation point of view even the kitchen sink is included, to provide a place for occasional events as well. Maybe cooking classes using produce from the community garden?

Ken Smith from Architecture for Humanity facilitates a prioritizing session.

With so many choices, one of the more difficult  aspects of the charrette was deciding which elements were priority and how they should be placed.
The day before I left, Kobla the driver took me to a beach near Accra and brought his three youngest children along, Thomas and his two younger brothers Dela who is 7, and the 3 year old Edwin. Thomas, Dela and I took a long walk up the beach creeping to the water’s edge as the waves pulled back into the ocean, then racing up-beach as the water rolled in again.  It was a game to stay away from the water (Dela is afraid), which turned to kicking it to stay back and making a sandy wet mess in the process.  We found shells and made a sand fort with high walls to protect the shell houses (placed for the Aunties and Uncles) and set an emptied coconut on the wall to serve as the fort’s water tank.  Thomas dug a moat and engineered a drainage ditch to drain the high waters.  All was good until a big wave drowned the fort and its vulnerable houses.  Thomas wants to try again for a better drainage system.

Dela and our sand fort and civilly engineered drainage system.

Play at the beach is great.  Play across the street or in a park not far from blocks from home is even better, now a step closer to becoming a reality.
Stacey is an architect from South Dakota specializing in sustainable thinking and design. She spent a week in May 2012 with Mmofra Foundation as part of the Playtime in Africa charrette.

It’s a pity this article from the Ghanaian Times didn’t make it online – it’s a glimpse, albeit a brief one, at the pressures on public space in Ghana’s cities:

“Mr Kwesi Hutchful, Tema Metropolitan Director of Education, has expressed concern over the rate at which open spaces in the Tema metropolis are being converted into shopping centres, leaving children with few places to play.

The situation, he noted, had forced most of the children to go roaming the streets and exposing themselves to danger, and therefore urged the Tema Metropolitan Asssembly to take steps to protect the few open spaces left.”

Cities need shopping centres, but they need playgrounds too. Browse our Delicious bookmarks for more articles on child safety issues in Accra and beyond.

We invited a group of young Mmofra Foundation members to contribute their own ideas to the Playtime in Africa design charrette. After all, the park and library will be for them.
First of all, we invited them to come up with a definition of a charrette they could relate to…

Charrette definition

What does 'charrette' mean to you?

“A charrette is an intensive design and planning process which brings together people from different backgrounds to explore ideas for a particular site.”

Their input in gathering ideas and documenting the event was invaluable. You can see the outcomes of  these brainstorming sessions in our gallery of notes and sketches from the charrette.

Teenagers brainstorm at the Playtime in Africa charrette

Brainstorming about music features

Teenagers brainstorm music features at the Playtime in Africa charrette

Capturing ideas

Elisabeth Sutherland records a Playtime in Africa session

Recording the charrette discussions

Day two of the charrette coincided with a Mmofra Foundation session, giving visitors a glimpse of the energy and creative play the Playtime in Africa project is all about.
Schoolchildren enjoy a Mmofra session during the Playtime in Africa charrette

What it's all about - a Mmofra session during the charrette

Youth facilitator Elisabeth found time between directing sessions of Summer Shakespeare Ghana, a Mmofra sponsored project, to animate the teen design huddle and lead the report-back .  Mmofra alum David dropped by to help out as well.

Now that you’ve seen the official outcome of our Playtime in Africa charrette, we thought we’d share some of our participants’ own notes and sketches from the event.
From architects’ drawings to teenagers’ brainstorms, these documents record creative reflection, discussion and collaboration between people of all ages, disciplines and walks of life – just what we needed to kick the project into gear.
Getting started
Architect Stacey McMahan’s notes from the public discussion on day one capture some of the problems and potential solutions that underpin the Playtime in Africa project.

Stacey McMahan's Playtime in Africa journal Two pages from Stacey McMahan's Playtime in Africa journal

Stacey McMahan's Playtime in Africa journal A page from Stacey McMahan's Playtime in Africa notebook

Working together
Local teenagers brainstormed ideas for the concepts ‘Park’ and ‘Play’, and explored particular site features, including musical elements and treehouses…

Brainstorm notes from the Playtime in Africa charrette - Tree feature ideas Brainstorm notes from the Playtime in Africa charrette - Play ideas

Brainstorm notes from the Playtime in Africa project - Park ideas Musical play elements - group brainstorm notes from the Playtime in Africa charrette

…while another team collected ideas for facilities, services and outdoor space possibilities.

Ralph Sutherland helps take notes during a Playtime in Africa brainstorm sessionFlipchart list: facilities and services

Stacey McMahan takes notes on outdoor space at the Playtime in Africa charrette Flipchart notes: Outdoor spaces - from the Playtime in Africa charrette

Mapping it out
After brainstorming, we put our ideas down on post-it notes and got busy sticking. This process helped us figure out where each element should be placed on the basic site map.

Map and post-it notes from the Playtime in Africa charrette Post-it notes on the Playtime in Africa site map

All of this helped the final concept to take shape through refinements of daily sketches by the design team including project lead Ralph Sutherland, Architecture for Humanity design fellows Stacey Mcmahan and Ken Smith and KNUST School of Architecture students Kooko Odonkor and Emmanuel Ofori-Sarpong.

Planting and topography notes Playtime in Africa concept - chalkboard sketch

Annotated site concept for Playtime in Africa Sketch: Building plans for Playtime in Africa site

Alternative visions

Phoenix-based architect Lila Cohen couldn’t attend the charrette, but submitted this stunning sketch of an ‘armature’ solution. We’ll be working elements of her vision into the masterplan for the site. Download her accompanying text from our Google Docs folders.

Armature in Accra - concept sketch by Lila Cohen

Kye Kye Kule!

Kye Kye Kule (tcay tchay koo lay) is a call-and-response children’s chant with corresponding body movements.  Popular in its home country Ghana,  it has been adapted by musicians (usually with the alternative spelling Che Che Kule which we’ll use for the verse), and is now a global game or warm-up activity.  Children from Scandinavia to South Africa have learned this engaging chant in their own special way.
(Each line is repeated)
Che Che kule
(hands on your head)
Che Che kofinsa
(hands on your shoulders)
Kofi salanga
(hands on your waist)
Lala chi langa
(hands on your knees)
Kum!  Adende!
(hands on your ankles)

As part of the Playtime in Africa Initiative, we have been thinking about inventive play, and how even the simplest objects can offer hours of fun…with a little bit of imagination.
Adventures of a Cardboard Box, a short film by Temujin Doran, is a perfect example. Enjoy this lovely story, and maybe it will get you thinking outside (and inside, and around, and under) the box!

Has it been some time since your last visit to a museum? If so, you don’t have to wait any longer: spend this afternoon exploring the collections of the Virtual Museum of Contemporary African Art!
Front page of the Virtual Museum of Contemporary African Art
The VMCAA, a project of the AfricaServer Foundation in the Netherlands, houses artwork from countries all over Africa, and you can access it all no matter where you are. Start your art appreciation tour with two of Mmofra Foundation’s featured exhibition artists, Larry Otoo and Glen Turner.  Happy browsing!

First Light by Larry Otoo, via the Virtual Museum of Contemporary African Art

First Light, by Larry Otoo


Future of the Past II by Glen Turner,  via the Virtual Museum of Contemporary African Art
Future of the Past II, by Glen Turner


Young girl playing with cloth "sails"
Come and sing with us.
Come and dance with us.
Come, let us toss you in a ring.
and we scream like tree bears.
We climb trees
and hang down from the limbs like bats.
We sit beside anthills
counting the ants as they pass in and out.
Come then, and share with us
the happy things we do.
Come and share all the happy games we play,
Sails-in-the-Wind, from Playtime in Africa by Efua Sutherland and Willis Bell, reproduced by kind permission of the Estates of Efua T. Sutherland and Willis E. Bell,  All Rights Reserved.