This Designer Fills Unfinished Buildings With New Meaning

woman sitting in the middle of a construction site
This Designer Fills Empty Buildings With MeaningCarlos Idun-Tawiah

Above: A site-specific installation in Accra featuring work by artists Patrick Tagoe-Turkson and Serge Attukwei Clottey.

The word limbo has myriad meanings, from religious to secular, but all relate to a sense of being in between. The same goes for architectural limbos, according to Haitian-Ghanaian designer Dominique Petit-Frère. With Limbo Accra, the spatial-design studio she founded in 2018, Petit-Frère takes structures suspended in interim states and explores their creative possibility.

Most of Limbo Accra’s projects, as the studio’s name suggests, are realized in the Ghanaian capital, along with other developing cities. Accra is fertile territory for Petit-Frère’s explorations: It has a rich, and troubling, architectural history (the centuries-old coastal fortresses once used for gold export and later for the enslaved immediately come to mind) and a yet-undefined modern architectural vernacular. “Most of the people building here are Ghanaian, but they carry a foreign aspiration,” Petit-Frère says. “I’m responding to that rather than challenging it.” The goal is to give uncompleted buildings a new purpose. “In Accra we are constantly building, but we don’t have a single form of recreational public space,” she adds. “We want to contribute to the build-out of West Africa and ensure that there’s a human element embedded in it.”

woman sitting in the middle of a construction site
Architectural designer Dominique Petit-Frère. Carlos Idun-Tawiah

Through collaborations with local artists, each cement carcass transforms into a point of discovery for the local population. Visitors might question the architectural vestiges of colonialism: why so many unfinished structures litter the area; why traditional building materials have fallen out of favor; and who exactly these edifices and the urban planning benefit. With interventions not just in Ghana but also soon in the United Arab Emirates—Limbo Accra is participating in the 2023 Sharjah Architecture Triennial—Petit-Frère’s global intent is becoming a reality. Her project is simple, but the outcome is powerful: “These skeletal structures are a canvas to help us envision new futures and new attitudes.”

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This story originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE

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