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Black firms vie for Ghanaian vision

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Ghana's president and the King of the Ashanti have invited Britain's black architects to produce an urban design masterplan for the country's capital, Accra. The Society of Black Architects (SOBA) is managing the limited competition for the city.

Entry is open to teams of architects but the lead practice must have at least 50 per cent black leadership - the criterion for SOBA practice membership.

The move is being seen by SOBA as a boost to black architects who are notoriously under-represented within the profession. Of the 30,000 UK architects, just 70 are black. There are only 10 UK firms that qualify for SOBA practice membership.

The society would like the numbers to be more reflective of the black population, which stands at about seven per cent UK-wide and 30 per cent in London.

The competition follows a SOBA visit to Accra last year during which the King of the Ashanti and Ghana's President Kuffyor were impressed by an exhibition of members'work. Entrants will be asked to present their vision for the city and how it might adapt over time. They will also be asked for more specific plans for a new presidential palace.A budget proposal will be an element of the competition.

Because of a history of political instability in Ghana, only limited development has taken place since the 1960s. Accra, unlike cities such as Kuala Lumpur, has not suffered from some of the urban design mistakes of the past 20 years. The city masterplan will be an opportunity to apply the lessons that have been learnt about planning and sustainable development.

SOBA's business forum coordinator, Elsie Osuwu, said: 'When the king and president set the competition they said they wanted black professionals to feel they can work anywhere and be the best in the world.' She said the restriction of entry to SOBA practice members - rather than individual members - was set by the king himself, who was weary of the tokenist use of black architects in order to enter competitions. She added: 'The strict entry criteria of the competition will encourage firms to look at the roles they give to their black architects.'

The judging panel will include CABE commissioner Dr Sunand Prasad, Eva Jiricna, former chief executive of the Royal Fine Art Commission Frances Golding and managing consultant of AimLink George Asafo-agyei. Jiricna said she thought the competition was a 'brilliant idea' and a 'fantastic project' and she was looking forward to the judging.

'I'm just sorry I couldn't have joined them, ' she said.

SOBA and CABE are holding a joint seminar to look at the lack of cultural diversity within the architectural profession. Twenty top commercial practices have all accepted the invitation to attend.

Discussion will focus on practices' equal opportunities policies, the low numbers of black members in the profession, and the role large firms could play in recruiting more black architects. The seminar is on 10 October.

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