April 23, 2009
by Canadian Architect
While other university students prepare for summer jobs, summer school or their last shot at international travel before “real life” sets in, a group of Ryerson University students is preparing to embark on an adventure that incorporates all three: a school-building mission in Ghana. Led by Ryerson’s Department of Architectural Science, a multidisciplinary team of 25 undergraduate students, three professors and two recent Ryerson alumni will travel on May 3, 2009 to the village of Kpedze Todze in Ghana for one month to establish a pre-school/kindergarten facility for approximately 50 local children.
The Ryerson group, encompassing Architecture, Interior Design, Early Childhood Education, Fashion, and Image Arts, will assess the existing educational site and building, and design, construct and furnish a new facility.
The Ghana Project is intended to be the first phase in a series of small buildings in an academic village for Kpedze Todze, a Volta-region village located not far from the regional centre of Ho. The plan is to conceive a two-classroom facility, including latrines, for approximately 50 children (4-5 years of age), two teachers, and two assistants. The Ryerson team will be creating a template for this village and leaving it with the people of Kpedze Todze to establish roots.
“With a relatively high literacy rate, low violence and good health care, Ghana is a success story in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Ian MacBurnie, Associate Professor in the Department of Architectural Science and Project Head of the Ghana Project. “Building schools is building community and anything we can do to help the country’s educational system flourish can make a real impact on Ghana’s continued success. The Ghana Project is the perfect example of Ryerson’s focus on innovative career-ready education, providing students with a link from the conceptual to the real, by having them not only design the school, but build it and interact with the community.”
Experiential learning is a priority at Ryerson, with such opportunities embedded in the classroom, in specialized learning activities, in the community, in the workplace and internationally. The Ghana Project will provide students with hands-on field experience, community involvement and the chance to partner internationally with another academic institution, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana. Together, with the assistance of faculty (KNUST), local professionals, and the villagers themselves, the students will conceptualize and realize their designs, actually building the school while earning course credits.
In 2007, MacBurnie led a similar international building initiative. The Home In Muzaffarabad project saw a small group of undergrads and new alumni travel to Pakistan to provide earthquake relief in the form of a more sustainable prototypical home for a rural community of 28 families.
Another element of experiential learning the Ghana Project students will have the chance to explore is working in a team with other disciplines, as they would in the workforce. The Ghana Project draws on Ryerson’s expertise in a number of areas in order to leave the townspeople of Kpedze Todze with a completed school that’s ready to open its doors to children:
The bulk of the team, including the Project Head and Engineer, hail from the Department of Architectural Science. The design/build team will design the site/structure. The building will feature locally available building materials, including wood, concrete, rammed earth, and will embrace local building techniques, technologies, and traditions. The team from the School of Interior Design will furnish the school and will work on the interior architectural spatial development of the new structure, while the Early Childhood Education team will work with local educators to discuss curriculum and will also advise the design/build team on how curriculum development influences the design of the classroom. The team from Ryerson*s School of Fashion will be designing uniforms for the school’s students in the tribal tradition, using kente weaving, and the film studies team from the School of Image Arts will document the students’ trip and the build progress for a documentary feature they intend to submit to the Hot Docs festival.
Everyone can follow the students’ adventures and architectural progress daily on the student-run Ghana Project blog at http://ghanaschooldesign.blogspot.com. Updated content from Ghana, including photos and video, will also be available throughout the duration of the Ghana Project at