The Northern Chapter of the Ghana Institute of Architects [GIA] organized an event dubbed ‘Legendary Evening’ at the amphitheatre of the College of Arts and Built Environment of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology [KNUST] on the evening of Tuesday 19th November, 2019. As the theme portrayed, the audience were blessed to be in the presence of a legend in Ghanaian architecture and practice in the person of architect Ernest Banning. He is among one of the only few people who have managed to successfully run an architectural firm [Modula Grup] both in Kumasi and Accra for decades and has been able to stay relevant over the years under various political regimes.

The event was patronized by architects practicing within the northern chapter of the country, mostly those in Kumasi. Lecturers and students from the Department of Architecture of KNUST also graced the event with their presence to get their fair share of the wisdom that was about to be sprinkled on all of us. His presentation for the night was structured under various headings starting from how he started life through to his principles and projects as follows:

Brief Life Journey

Architect Ernest Banning mentioned he was born in Kumasi, Ashanti New Town popularly known as Ash-Town to be precise and he attended Mfantsipim school.  Young Ernest Banning had strong interest towards civil engineering and architecture, but eventually decided to read architecture at KNUST.  He declared that he has always being a hands-on individual and for that reason wanted to go straight into practice after architecture school. This made him a bit hesitant to accept a teaching offer in the university when he was approached but later accepted at the intervention of the then Vice Chancellor.  He taught for a while and got a scholarship to study project management outside the country.

As a young architect and lecturer, he got the opportunity to work practically in the field of architecture in 1979 after the coup d’etat in Ghana. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council [AFRC] made a request from the university to appoint professionals to be on a committee they were forming. Due to the fact that he was young, he was drafted to be on the committee by Professor Owusu Addo who was his mentor, knowing that architect Banning had always wanted to be part of what happens in the field of architecture. Architect Ernest Banning left the University in 1992 to pursue full time practice of Architecture.

Ridge Towers pictured at the far left. Image (c) Akua Tsetsewa Yawson

Architecture as a business

Concerning this topic, which was the favourite of most of the audience, architect Banning stated that “architecture as a business is a serious business”. As funny as that might sound in the ears, that is the fact, architecture is a serious business. Surprisingly, this was a talk on the business aspect of architecture that the content was not focused on making money. Rather He emphasized on the responsibility architecture as a business puts on the shoulders of architects. He added that architecture is a business that provides services and this makes architects carry a huge responsibility in providing their services.

Architect Banning then went further to categorise the various forms of responsibilities that architects must be aware in their dealings or practice. These include primarily:

  • The responsibility to clients which mostly comes in the form of advisory service.
  • The responsibility of abiding by statutory controls.
  • The responsibility to your staff by ensuring that you create a conducive environment for them to work effectively and to the best of their abilities.
  • Coordinating responsibility of the design team
  • Supervisory responsibility
  • Responsibility to society
  • Responsibility to the architecture profession
  • Responsibility to the architect’s own organisation.   

In addition, he stated that most architects allow the money-generating aspect to override their thinking towards all inclusive responsibilities and finished off on the subject saying all these responsibilities put together is what makes an architect ready to serve his or her client properly.

Banivillas Hostel. from Google images

Design Principles/Philosophy

Architect Ernest Banning took the time to elaborate on the principles that have guided him to be successful in his over three decades of practicing architecture and running a firm. The following are what he has used over the years to aid him in his journey.

  • Integrity: have integrity because it is what will make your clients trust you.
  • Cultural Responsiveness: he reminded and entreated architects and students present the need to be culturally responsive towards clients and context. He encouraged the use of traditional architecture elements such as courtyards, wide overhangs etc because they all have a role in ensuring our buildings function effectively.
  • Democratic architecture: he advised architects should be democratic with their designs by understanding what clients need instead of imposing preconceived out of context ideas on them. He further mentioned that having a discourse with the client will help you (the architect) appreciate where the client is coming from in order to better comprehend him or her.
  • Value for money: architect Banning drew attention that architects ensure clients are getting value for their investments by guaranteeing the highest standards of works are achieved. This will safeguard that buildings will have the integrity they deserve.  
  • Sustainability: on this topic, he mentioned that buildings should be made efficient and a profound statement he made was that we were already building sustainably but now we have thrown them away and are copying blindly. He urged architects and student architects to ensure they incorporate sustainable measures in designs instead of throwing glass around buildings; rather architects should be culturally responsive. He however clarified that there are certain projects such as high rise offices that you might not be able to do away with glazing; in such situations he advised that proper balance of the glazing should be entertained supported with solar shading techniques.
  • Creativity: when it comes to creativity, he explained that some aspects of it can be positive and others negative. Due to this he encouraged that architects and designers become inclined to positive creativity. He then challenged that we should make buildings habitable beyond the beautiful and creative facades since that is part of what positive creativity should be. He also encouraged architects and students present not to be afraid of spending too much time on designs or coming up with design options. This is because your first design should be able to provoke responses to improve on the design. Architect Ernest Banning called attention to the importance of detailing in architecture and urged architects and students architects to incorporate this attitude in their works both in the interior and exterior of buildings.

Selected Projects

Trust Towers, Accra

from Google images

Ridge Towers, Accra

Image (c) Adansisem

Kofi Annan ICT Centre, Accra

from Google images

Bank of Ghana Central Bank, Takoradi

from Google images

Royal Basin Hotel, Kumasi

from Google images

Banivillas Hostel, Kumasi

from Google images

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Founder and Senior Editor of ArchPosé. An Architect, blogger and editor with unwavering interests in youth driven programs and issues concerned with the development of the built environment of Ghana/Africa. A volunteer at heart, speaker, programs coordination and anything related to progressive, positive, passionate mindset change for development. Follow me on Twitter/Instagram @danielmolesarp and email me at dsmolecule@gmail.com

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