Karen Lauterbach, University of Copenhagen
George Bob-Milliar, Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology
Sandra Boakye, University of Copenhagen
All Images copyright Adjaye Associates. Used by permission.
In early 2017, the President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo launched the idea of constructing a National Cathedral. The president announced the project during Ghana’s 60th anniversary celebrations and part of a series of so-called heritage projects. On 6 March 2017, at the sod cutting ceremony for the project, the President explained that the National Cathedral would fill in “a missing link in the national architecture” and is to be used for national events such national thanksgiving services and state funerals. The vision of the Cathedral project is at the same time to acknowledge the perception of Ghana as a religious nation and to the central role of God for the well-being and strength of the nation. The National Cathedral is envisioned as a national non-denominational Christian worship centre, with room for 5,000 people and containing chapels, baptistery, an art gallery and a museum of the Bible.
The renowned British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye has designed the project. In an interview, David Adjaye explains that he sees the project as one in which adoration of divinity in Ghana’s traditional culture comes together with African Christianity. And for him this is an expression of the maturity and confidence of Ghana as a nation. The architectural design is a combination of Christian architecture, including a particular expression of African Christianity, and an architecture that refers to Ghanaian traditional authority and heritage. The curved roof reflects the curves of a traditional stool, which is a symbol of power and sacredness. Moreover, the roof’s draped form is a representation of the Boaman umbrella that signals chiefly status. Sir Adjaye highlights in particular the symbolism of fabric, which is one of revelation “made for all people to come into union with the Divinity”.
The Cathedral is to be constructed on 14 acres of state land, located in the Ridge area of Accra and close to the State House. Ridge lies in the inner part of the city and hosts a large number of state, administrative and commcercial buildings. The choice of site for the Cathedral is an important element of the Cathedral as a nation-building project. As the architect explains: “This is about understanding the monumental core of Ghana”. Here the monumental core will consist of the State House, Osu Cemetery and the National Cathedral, and will be linked to the Independency Square through a new ceremonial route. The intention is that the Cathedral as the sacred space of this monumental core will “provide a platform to promote deep national conversations on the role of faith in building the progressive and prosperous Ghana we all want”, as the President has explained.
The site of the Cathedral was until recently occupied by accommodation for appeal court judges and other public buildings such as the passport office. These buildings are in the process of being demolished, something that has been a topic of public debate. Some question the particular locality of the project and ask whether it is appropriate to spend public resources on relocating buildings and providing the land. This debate also reflects the symbolism of this particular location, which is one of state resources and state power. These debates show how a national conversation on the relationship between faith, sacred spaces and the nation is already taking place. These debates are not only reflecting grand ideas of Ghana as a nation, but also reflect the concerns of the Ghanaian citizens on the use of state power and resources, and the role that religion plays in this.