Thesis Project                                                                                                                            Date: Fall, 2020
Institution: Harvard GSD
Advisor: 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.

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

A close look at the site reveals within the density of the slum, opportunities for architectural intervention.                              

By mapping out major circulatory routes within the slum, we can identify important nodes at the intersections of these circulatory routes that are possible places for intervention.

By bringing the community together to construct 'functional follies' at these nodes, we can begin to reintroduce into the community, important social and cultural elements that were lost during the migration from North to South. 

Simple platonic shapes form the formal basis for these follies.

These forms can then be deployed across the site and through a process of subsequent aggregation, disaggregation, repetition and replication can take on new roles, uses, characters and characteristics. Familiar elements deployed in different ways then allow multiple readings of similar elements across the site.

1. Base Follies
The process starts with the construction of base follies that are made by learning from the predominant structural logic and how space is made in the slum . These modules can take on new 'hats' that allow them to assume new roles, functions, characters and characteristics. 

Space Module_01...

...which is simply a frame and horizontal planks system similar to how space is currently made on the site. The module can take on different hats, that allow it to take on new roles, uses and characters.

Space Module_02...

...which is made up of a frame and horizontal slats system. This module can also take on different hats, that allow it to take on new roles, uses and characters.

A series of circulation follies allow movement between and within follies and connect the follies to the site.
Circulation Module_01

Circulation Module_02

Circulation Module_03

Circulation Module_04 and 05

2. From Folly to Architecture
These base follies are just the initial components of a more complex system. They simply start the process to more complex aggregates. As this happens, these familiar elements take on new roles and enable new readings.

'Watchman's Tower'

'The Well'

'Mallam's House'

'Public Theater'


'Warchief's House'

'Meeting House'

'Slum Chief's House'

'House for Commoners'

3. From Follies to Urbanism

This series continues as the follies build up from a state of simplicity to more and more complex aggregates... a process that is played out across the site. At a certain density, a series of footbridges are introduced to connect these follies, creating a new urban condition. 

Final Site Plan with Follies

The thesis explores how to reactivate the architectural imagination using the folly as a tool. The folly transcends its familiar state to become architecture. The folly becomes building, becomes monument...

...and subsequently becomes urbanism.

You may also like

Back to Top