Former US Embassy, Accra, Ghana

Added by Yojana Vazquez, last update: March 10, 2013, 1:00 am

Former US Embassy, Accra, Ghana
Exterior View of the US Embassy at Ghana. May 05, 1959., source: US Department of State Website
5° 33' 6.0984" N, 0° 11' 54.2508" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Administration (ADM)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The architectural advisory board of the US State Department's Office of Foreign Buildings Operations (FBO) awarded Harry Weese the commission for the consulate in Ghana in 1955. The site consisted of one and half acres for the consulate building with 7.39 acres of staff housing. The housing was originally two buildings with a total of 8 apartments, at a later time, three more buildings where added. On March 6, 1957 the status of the consulate changed to an embassy after Ghana became an independent sovereign state. Construction of the 8,000 square foot embassy was completed in 1958, the dedication occurred a year later in 1959.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Commission: 1955 (c) / Completed: 1958 (c) / Dedication: February 12, 1959 (e) / Closure: August 31, 1998 (c)
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architect: Harry Weese; Structural Engineer: Frank J. Kornacker and Associates; Mechanical Engineer: Kravolec and Best
Others associated with Building/Site: Donald W. Lamm was the Consul General during the shift in status from a consulate to an embassy.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): No exact date could be found for its demolition, but it occurred between the closure of the embassy in 1998 to the construction of the new embassy in 2005.
Current Use: N/A
Current Condition: N/A
General Description:

Architect Harry Weese began his design process by visiting Ghana and being inspired by the country's traditional architectural styles. The Wa Na houses in Northern Ghana, which had tapered buttresses supporting a horizontal mud-brick structure, influenced Weese so much that he designed the embassy as an inverted Wa Na house.

The embassy structure consisted of a main floor elevated on concrete columns and an opened ground floor, connected to each other by an open double staircase. Visible from the outside were white columns that tapered from the roof to the ground, going from 16 inches at the midpoint to 6 inches at the ground and roof points. On the ground points, the columns rested on pins that allowed for movement during high winds and earthquakes. Weese designed the walls out of mahogany louvers, allowing for ventilation of the main floor and light reduction. The roof overhanged so as to protect the building from sun and rain. The main floor plan was a square with an inner square courtyard surrounded by offices. Weese didn’t include much ornamentation besides the Great Seal of the United States on all four exterior walls.

During the 1970’s, after a series of violent acts, the FBO asked Weese to redesign the embassy. After finding no plausible solution for a safer embassy, the building was finally closed in 1998.

Construction Period:

The embassy building was under construction from 1957 (c) to 1959 (c).

Original Physical Context:

The embassy was located in Accra, Ghana’s capital city.

Technical Evaluation:

During the 1950's the FBO constructed its advisory board for abroad embassies. Part of the program was for an architectural style that represented America during that time,which did not include "renaissance palaces...nor glass boxes." The board required all the architects to visit the site and design a building that was American but spoke to the local culture. Harry Weese met all the needs, as his design was a modern interpretation of the local traditions, using local and inexpensive materials.

Mahogany was widely used in Ghana for bottle crates and wasn't used for buildings because of termite damage. Weese raised the entire structure on concrete columns and used the heartwood along with modern preservatives to ensure the longevity of the structure.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Architect Harry Weese took into account the climate in Ghana for his design of the US Embassy. Weese made sure to use local materials and incorporate the local architectural style versus the modern concrete box designs being erected. He took into account the hot climate by overhanging the roof and having operable louvers. The embassy won a series of awards including an Honor Award for Architectural Installations for the use of the native mahogany. The Ghanaian government loved the design from the beginning and wanted to negotiate buying it from the US State Department. After the embassy closed the building was used for the Ghanaian Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs.

Harry Weese was a prominent Chicago architect during the 1960’s and 1970’s, designing hundreds of buildings throughout his life. Some of his most known buildings in Chicago include the Metropolitan Correctional Center (1971-1975), the Time & Life Building (1969), and the Washington D.C. Metro Public Transportation System (1966). Some of his restoration projects in Chicago include the Adler & Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre (1967), the Field Museum (1960’s), the Orchestra Hall (1960’s) and Printers Row (1970’s), which he helped developed into the city’s first loft district.

The embassy at Accra, Ghana was done early in his career. His design was a breakout from his normal designs and a vast change from the modern architecture during the time of Mies van der Rohe and SOM of glass and steel.

General Assessment:
Text references:

"A Guide To The United States' History Of Recognition, Diplomatic, And Consular Relations, By Country, Since 1776: Ghana." U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Web. February. 2013.

Accra NEC. U.S. Department of State, Web. February. 2013.

"American Embassy in Accra, Ghana" Architectural Record 30 (February 1960): 69

Bruegmann, Robert. The Architecture of Harry Weese. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. p96-99

Hughes, William P. "New Face for America Abroad." Time Magazine. 76:2 (July 1960): 26-28

"On the Life and Work of Chicago Architect Harry Weese." Chicago Magazine, Web. February 2013.

"Second Group of American Embassy Buildings" Architectural Record 119 (June 1956): 163

"Starting A Tradition." Time Magazine. 69:9 (March 1957): 76

"U.S. Embassy Accra, Ghana." Architectural Record 121 (June 1957): 197-202.

Recorder/Date: Yojana Vazquez / February 2013
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